The European Union’s stumbling Covid-19 vaccination drive, badly shaken by the recent AstraZeneca safety scare, got a boost Friday from the European Medicines Agency, which approved new AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccine production sites.
The agency, an arm of the European Union and Europe’s top drug regulator, approved sites in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. It also loosened regulations for how long the Pfizer vaccine must be stored at ultralow temperatures.
The moves could speed up the Continent’s lagging vaccine production and distribution, which have been plagued by delays and setbacks.
Though the European Union is flush with cash, influence and negotiating heft, only about 10 percent of its citizens have received a first dose, compared with 26 percent in the United States and 44 percent in Britain. The bloc of 27 nations was comparatively slow to negotiate contracts with drugmakers, and regulators were cautious and deliberative in approving some vaccines. And it has been stymied by supply disruptions and shortages.
Europe also experienced a scare over the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine and distribution in several countries was temporarily halted. Most of those countries have resumed using it, after the E.U. drug agency vouched for its safety. But public confidence in the shot has been severely undermined.
The hitches in Europe’s vaccine rollout come as some countries, like Germany, are facing a spike in new cases. “The next few weeks will decide whether we can get the pandemic under control in the foreseeable future,” Helge Braun, an aide to Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “If the number of infections rises rapidly at the same time as the vaccination, the risk increases that the next virus mutation will become immune to the vaccine.”
The agency said a new warning label would be added to the vaccine so that people in the medical community could watch for rare complications that could lead to blood clots and brain bleeds.
Trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine is essential to fighting the pandemic worldwide. The shot is more easily stored and less expensive than Pfizer’s or Moderna’s, and for now, it is sold without the goal of earning a profit.
The European Union has exported more vaccine doses than it has administered. On Wednesday, it revealed emergency legislation that would curb exports of Covid-19 vaccines manufactured in its countries for the next six weeks.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, posted on Twitter on Thursday that the European Union had shipped out 77 million doses since early December, that 88 million were expected to be distributed internally by the end of the week and that 62 million shots had been administered within member nations.
Bryan Pietsch contributed reporting.
|United States ›||United StatesAvg. on Jul. 28||14-day change|
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States are racing to vaccinate as many people as possible as the United States’ coronavirus infection curve continues its plateau for a third week at more than 55,000 new cases per day, a level that health experts warn could rapidly escalate into a new wave.
Kansas, Minnesota and South Carolina announced on Friday that they would open vaccine eligibility to residents 16 years and older next week. But Minnesota’s health department said there would not be enough vaccines on Tuesday to meet the immediate demand. The state is expecting more doses delivered in the coming weeks.
New Jersey, which has seen a 25 percent increase in new cases, compared with the average two weeks earlier, also announced vaccine eligibility would expand beginning on April 5 for residents 55 and older. At that time, New Jersey also plans to open eligibility for those 16 years and older with developmental disabilities and residents who work in the higher education sector.
And Oregon announced plans to expand eligibility for certain residents, including front-line workers, beginning April 5. Gov. Kate Brown said April 5 is two weeks ahead of what the state had planned for this group of residents. She said this was possible “thanks to increasing supplies.”
State officials are able to broaden their eligible pools thanks to a steady increase in vaccine shipments. Federal officials say that Pfizer and Moderna, whose vaccines require two doses, are now together supplying about 24 million doses a week.
Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House’s chief pandemic adviser, told reporters during a White House virus briefing on Friday that he is expecting an end-of-the-month burst of supply from Johnson & Johnson, whose vaccine requires only one shot. The company has supplied a very limited number of doses so far but will deliver at least 11 million doses next week, he said.
Some 25 states are reporting persistently high case numbers, according to a New York Times database, and state officials have been easing restrictions.
The number of deaths continue to trend downward, averaging about 1,000 a day, down from more than 2,000 each day a month ago. But eight states are seeing rising deaths: Kentucky, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Utah and West Virginia.
“It’s clear, there is a case for optimism, but there is not a case for relaxation,” Mr. Zients said.
At least 34 states have pledged to make vaccines universally available to their adult populations by mid-April, and at least 14 more have announced plans to expand eligibility on or before May 1, a goal set by Mr. Biden. Alaska, Mississippi, Utah and West Virginia have already made all adults eligible to receive shots, and some local jurisdictions have also begun vaccinating all adults.
California will open up vaccine eligibility on Thursday to any resident 50 or older and will expand that to residents 16 or older on April 15, state officials said. Florida said that any state resident 40 or older would be eligible starting on Monday, and that the minimum age would drop to 18 on April 5.
Kentucky plans to open vaccinations to those 40 and older starting on Monday.
Mr. Biden, who initially promised to have “100 million shots in the arms” of Americans by his 100th day in office, said on Thursday that he was doubling the target. As of Friday, more than 120 million shots have been administered since Jan. 20. And with an average of 2.6 million shots administered per day, and more supply increases expected next month, the White House is fully expected to meet the new target, Mr. Zients said on Friday.
Vaccine hesitancy could slow progress, cautioned Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health. The goal of reaching a point in the country when enough people have had the virus or have been vaccinated could be jeopardized by people who “will basically say, ‘No, not for me,’” he said Thursday on Fox News.
“That could basically cause this pandemic to go on much longer than it needs to,” he said.
Can people immunized against the coronavirus still spread it to others? A new study will attempt to answer the question by tracking infections in vaccinated college students and their close contacts, researchers announced on Friday.
The results are likely to be of intense interest, because they may help determine how careful vaccinated people need to be — whether they can throw away their masks, for example, or must continue to wear them to protect unvaccinated people.
More than 87 million have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to a New York Times database. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that fully vaccinated Americans may gather indoors in small groups without precautions, including masks, but should still wear masks in public.
The reason is that it’s not yet certain that vaccinated people cannot briefly be infected and transmit the virus. Clinical trials of the vaccines were designed only to assess whether the vaccines prevent serious illness and death. The manufacturers are now collecting information on whether the vaccines can also thwart infections, swabbing volunteers’ noses every two weeks.
But that method falls short, because the testing is too infrequent to catch all infections and will not track the spread of the virus to the participants’ contacts, said Dr. Larry Corey, an expert in vaccine development at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle and a leader of the new study.
“The only way you do that is by very frequent sampling, and we’re covering our bases by doing it every day,” Dr. Corey said. “It’s going to be the most thorough look at the issue.”
The new study will include more than 12,000 college students immunized with the Moderna vaccine at more than 20 universities across the United States. Half of the students will be randomly selected to receive the vaccine right after they are enrolled, while the other half will get the vaccine four months later.
All of the participants will swab their noses daily to check for the virus, provide periodic blood samples to screen for antibodies, and answer questions through an app. Scientists will follow the students for five months.
By monitoring the students so closely, the scientists expect to be able to track infections in the first 24 or 48 hours, and determine how long an infected person may transmit the virus to others, Dr. Corey said. Over time, the scientists expect to ask about 25,500 close contacts of the participants to swab their noses daily for two weeks, provide two blood samples and answer weekly questionnaires.
College students are an ideal population in which to study transmission after vaccination. They have among the highest rates of coronavirus infection, in large part because they live in tightly packed dormitories and have more social contacts than older adults do, while fortunately, hospitalizations and deaths are comparatively low. American colleges and universities have reported more than 530,000 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
The Biden administration’s relatively smooth coronavirus vaccine distribution effort is about to hit a snag.
Vaccine manufacturers have been steadily increasing their output, and states have snapped up new doses as quickly as the government could deliver them. But officials expect the supply of vaccines to outstrip U.S. demand by mid-May, if not sooner, and are grappling with what to do with looming surpluses when scarcity turns to glut.
President Biden has promised enough doses by the end of May to immunize all of the nation’s roughly 260 million adults. But between then and the end of July, the government has locked in commitments from manufacturers for enough vaccine to cover 400 million people — about 70 million more than the nation’s entire population.
Whether to keep, modify or redirect those orders is a question with significant implications, not just for the nation’s efforts to contain the virus, but also for how soon the pandemic can be brought to an end. Of the vaccine doses given globally, about three-quarters have gone to only 10 countries. At least 30 countries have not yet injected a single person.
And global scarcity threatens to grow more acute as nations and regions clamp down on vaccine exports. With infections soaring, India’s government is holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million daily doses manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the private company that is one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine. That action follows the European Union’s decision this week to move emergency legislation that would curb vaccine exports for the next six weeks.
Biden administration officials who are inclined to hold on to the coming U.S. surplus point to unmet need and rising uncertainty: Children and adolescents are still unvaccinated, and no one is certain whether or when immunity could wear off, which could require scores of millions of booster shots.
Vaccine manufacturers and some top federal officials say decisions about what to do with extra vaccine orders must be made within weeks, or the uncertainty could slow production lines.
The manufacturing process can take up to 10 weeks, so changes for a foreign market need time. The regulatory rules that govern vaccine shipments present another hurdle, as does the limited storage life of the drug substances that make the vaccine.
Senior officials say the administration is leaning toward keeping the doses it has ordered, and at some point directing the excess to other nations in one-off deals or giving it to Covax, an international nonprofit backed by the World Health Organization that is trying to coordinate equitable vaccine distribution. The Biden administration has already donated $4 billion to that international effort.
The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a CNN clip on Friday that he favored a theory, decried by many scientists and rejected as “extremely unlikely” by at least one World Health Organization international expert, that the coronavirus escaped from a lab in Wuhan. The former official, Dr. Robert Redfield, offered no evidence and emphasized that it was his opinion.
“I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, escaped. The other people don’t believe that. That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out,” Dr. Redfield told Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the video clip, referring to the origin of the virus. A formal report from the W.H.O. team and the Chinese scientists it worked with, on the origins of the pandemic and on the coronavirus in humans, is expected next week.
Despite Dr. Redfield’s comments, officials briefed on the intelligence say there is no new evidence that would cause American spy agencies to reassess their views. There is no new information that bolsters the so-called lab theory, according to officials briefed on the intelligence.
During the Trump administration, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and to a lesser extent the president himself, pushed the theory that the coronavirus had escaped from a lab.
Mr. Pompeo pressed the spy agencies to investigate the lab theory and Richard Grenell, then the acting director of national intelligence, convened a review of what was known about the origin of the novel coronavirus.
Some in the Trump administration shared Mr. Pompeo’s suspicions that an accident had occurred, and coronavirus samples being researched had inadvertently infected workers who then spread it in Wuhan. These officials pointed to some scientific reports that they said bolstered their feelings.
The claims that the virus was created or modified intentionally in a lab were dismissed by scientists and U.S. intelligence officials. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence in the Trump administration concurred “with the wide scientific consensus that the Covid-19 virus was not man-made or genetically modified.”
Although that statement was diplomatically worded, the message from the intelligence agencies was clear that, despite pressure from the Trump administration, they had no evidence that the coronavirus had escaped from the lab. And many intelligence officials remained far more skeptical than Mr. Pompeo, telling colleagues there was simply not enough information to say where the coronavirus came from, and certainly not enough to challenge the scientific consensus that was skeptical of the lab theory.
The C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies have been skeptical that China was sharing all that it knew about the virus, although that was at least in part because of local officials withholding critical information from Beijing at key moments at the beginning of the outbreak.
A group of scientists who remain convinced of the possibility of a lab leak wrote an open letter in early March when the W.H.O. team report was first anticipated demanding a thorough investigation of Chinese labs. Virologists who have studied the evolution of coronaviruses and the way they have jumped to humans in the past causing SARS and MERS continue to argue that the evidence for a natural origin apart from a lab leak is overwhelming.
The Chinese government, prominent Chinese scientists and many virologists, who study the evolution of viruses and the appearance of infectious diseases, have said the lab leak theory was very unlikely, citing genetic evidence and the many opportunities for natural infection in human interactions with animals like bats, where the virus is believed to have originated.
When Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, was asked at a White House news conference on the pandemic on Friday about Dr. Redfield’s comments, he noted that the remarks were only an opinion. Dr. Fauci said that there are different ways viruses could become adapted to humans.
“You know one of them is in the lab and one of them, which is the more likely, which most public health officials agree with, is that it likely was below the radar screen, spreading in the community in China for several weeks if not a month or more, which allowed it, when it first got recognized clinically to be pretty well adapted,” Dr. Fauci said.
At the same news conference on Friday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said she was looking forward to reviewing the upcoming joint report from the W.H.O. experts and Chinese scientists.
President Biden later declined to weigh in.
“I have theories, but I’m not a scientist,” he said. “I’m going to wait until the scientific community makes that judgment.”
Zachary Montague and Isabella Grullón Paz contributed reporting.
One earlier version of a headline for this article referred incorrectly to a theory on the origins of the coronavirus. The theory is unproven, not debunked.
James Gorman and
Kenya imposed stringent new restrictions in the capital, Nairobi, and in four other counties, fighting a deadly third wave of Covid-19 infections that has placed its fragile health system under devastating pressure.
In a televised address on Friday, President Uhuru Kenyatta said that a tenfold increase in infection rates since January, coupled with a 52 percent increase in hospital admissions this month, called for “drastic measures.”
“Kenya is now squarely in the grip of a third wave of this pandemic,” he said.
Several variants have been identified in Kenya, but some were found among travelers, and there is little data to suggest how prevalent they may be or what role they might be playing in the East African nation’s surge. They include B.1.1.7, the more transmissible and possibly more lethal variant first identified in Britain; B.1.351, a variant first found in South Africa that may bypass the protection afforded by current vaccines; and A.23.1, a variant that is now dominant in Kenya’s neighbor Uganda and nearby Rwanda.
As of midnight, Mr. Kenyatta said, all gatherings are banned in Nairobi and four adjoining counties, which make up a single infection zone. Travel is prohibited in and out of the restricted area, where bars, restaurants and places of worship will close, and a nightly 10 p.m. curfew moves to 8 p.m. However, Nairobi’s international airport will remain open.
In the rest of Kenya, sporting activities are suspended, and schools and universities will close until further notice.
The curbs came a week before the Easter holiday when many Kenyans pile into crowded buses to return to their family homes in rural areas.
A vaccination program that started in March raised hopes for an end of the pandemic, which has devastated the country’s tourism-dependent economy. One small bright spot in the tourism downturn has been an influx of wealthy Europeans hoping to ride out the pandemic in upmarket resorts along Kenya’s coast.
But the soaring rate of infections and deaths has forced the country into a painful new lockdown, Mr. Kenyatta said. As of Thursday, Kenya reported a total of 126,170 cases and 2,092 deaths. The positive test rate hit 22 percent this week, compared with 2 percent in January, he said.
Just over a hundred days into New York City’s vaccination campaign, 30 percent of adults and half of those 65 and older have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. Millions more remain left to be vaccinated, and the city will have to overcome already significant disparities in vaccination rates across neighborhoods and demographic groups.
White and Asian New Yorkers have been vaccinated at higher rates than Black and Latino residents, who have been more likely to die from or be hospitalized with Covid-19 both in New York City and nationwide.
Some of the highest vaccination rates are in the city’s wealthiest neighborhoods — places where residents were most likely to leave the city at the start of the pandemic. In parts of the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, about half of adults have received at least one shot. In Corona, Queens, where the virus was far deadlier, only 19 percent have.
Neighborhoods with mostly white residents, like the Upper East and Upper West Side, Riverdale in the Bronx, Breezy Point in Queens, mid-island and the south shore of Staten Island, are outpacing city averages.
The majority Black and Latino neighborhoods in large swaths of Queens, Brooklyn, Upper Manhattan and the southern Bronx are in some cases 20 to 30 percentage points behind neighborhoods at the top of the list.
Reasons for the disparities vary, and they will not all be clear from simply looking at a map. Many seniors are homebound or have had trouble navigating complex and confusing websites to sign up for the vaccine (obstacles not just for seniors, really).
For Black and Latino New Yorkers, some surveys have shown higher rates of hesitancy toward a vaccine, though barriers to access are an equal if not greater challenge.
For non-English speakers, language barriers can create fear and confusion. For poorer residents, it’s simply more difficult (and more expensive) to take a few hours or a day or two off work to get a shot.
The city is averaging 60,000 to 70,000 shots per day. At that rate, it will take months to reach the remaining seven million New Yorkers, including children, who are not yet eligible for any vaccine.
A recent surge of Covid-19 cases in Ethiopia has left medical workers at the country’s biggest treatment center scrambling to find enough oxygen for patients in critical condition.
Ethiopia has recorded a 24 percent increase in Covid-19 cases, to 194,524 in the past month, and deaths rose 17 percent, health ministry data show. Ethiopia, with a population of 117 million, has recorded 2,741 deaths since its first case was announced in March of last year.
Abel Mujera, the clinical director at the Millennium Hall Covid-19 treatment center in Addis Ababa, said demand for oxygen had more than doubled in two months — from 200 cylinders per day in January to 450 now.
“Sometimes that’s barely enough to support the needs of our patients,” he said. “For the past few weeks, we had a surge in Covid-19 cases, and most of the patients we admit have a higher demand for oxygen and they need admission to critical care.”
Mr. Abel, 29, spends most mornings calling the loved ones of deceased Covid-19 patients at Millennium Hall, which the government set up shortly after Ethiopia’s first coronavirus case was confirmed.
“It’s so hard,” he said.
A Covid-19 report released last week by the Ethiopian Public Health Institute said a spike in cases had been recorded in Addis Ababa, the capital, because of “decreased adherence to the public health and social measures” as well as a “high risk” that dangerous virus variants had entered the country.
Mr. Abel’s facility is treating 213 patients, of which 80 percent need oxygen — up from an average of 60 patients in January and February.
Complicating the situation is that the oxygen arriving in the city each day comes from distant places like Awassa, a drive of roughly 170 miles away, and Bishoftu, a drive of about 40 miles, where power cuts can sometimes limit the supply.
If the so-called Stop the Steal movement appeared to be chasing a lost cause once President Biden was inaugurated, extremist organizations are now adopting a new agenda from the anti-vaccination campaign to try to undermine the government.
The safety and efficacy of coronavirus vaccines is being bashed in chat rooms frequented by all manner of right-wing groups, among them the Proud Boys; the Boogaloo movement, a loose affiliation known for wanting to set off a second Civil War; and various paramilitary organizations.
Although negative reactions to the vaccines have been relatively rare, many extremist groups are using the isolated cases to try to bolster false and alarmist disinformation in articles and videos with labels like “Covid-19 Vaccines Are Weapons of Mass Destruction — and Could Wipe out the Human Race” and “Doctors and Nurses Giving the Covid-19 Vaccine Will be Tried as War Criminals.”
The groups tend to portray vaccines as a symbol of excessive government control.
“If less people get vaccinated then the system will have to use more aggressive force on the rest of us to make us get the shot,” read a recent post on the Telegram social media platform, in a channel linked to members of the Proud Boys charged in the storming of the Capitol.
The focus on vaccines is particularly striking on discussion channels populated by followers of QAnon, the group that prophesied that Donald J. Trump would continue as president while his political opponents were marched off to jail.
“They rode the shift in the national conversation away from Trump to what was happening with the massive ramp-up in vaccines,” said Devin Burghart, the head of the Seattle-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, which monitors far-right movements. “It allowed them to pivot away from the failure of their previous prophecy to focus on something else.”
The number of American adults reporting recent bouts of anxiety or depression rose significantly between August and February, increasing to more than two in five adults in late January, federal health researchers said on Friday.
The largest increases were among young adults and those who never finished high school, but every demographic group — including all racial and ethnic groups, genders and ages — experienced some increase in symptoms, said Anjel Vahratian, an associate director at the National Center for Health Statistics and the report’s lead author.
Among adults aged 18 to 29, the percentage who reported having anxiety or depressive symptoms in the previous week increased to 57 percent in late January, up from 49 percent in August 2020. About half of respondents without a high school diploma reported symptoms recently, up from 41.8 percent in August. Overall, 41.4 percent of all adults reported symptoms in late January and early February, up from 36.4 percent in August.
Men and women reported more symptoms, as did adults in their 30s and adults in their 60s, who saw statistically significant increases.
Dr. Vahratian said she was surprised by the magnitude of the increases. Though the study does not prove the problems were caused by the pandemic, previous studies have shown a link between large disease outbreaks and mental health, she noted.
“You have extended social restrictions, limits on businesses, isolation and issues with employment — these have all been associated with increases in mental health problems,” Dr. Vahratian said. “We can’t speak to the direct causes because the survey didn’t ask about the cause of the symptoms. But it suggests that a variety of things going on during the pandemic are involved.”
The data, reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are based on an ongoing survey called the Household Pulse Survey, which polls tens of thousands of Americans. The sample is nationally representative, but the researchers noted that people without internet access could not participate in the online format.
The number of Americans seeking mental health treatment increased during the pandemic, with 24.8 percent of adults saying they were receiving treatment in February, up from 22.4 percent in August. But the number of respondents who said they needed counseling and did not receive it also increased, to 11.7 percent from 9.2 percent.
The latest data, however, may suggest that Americans are feeling a bit better, Dr. Vahratian said. New numbers from the survey, which is ongoing, point to a slight decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression in March, she added.
New Zealand has said it will require people returning from overseas to remain in the country for six months, twice as long as the previous requirement, and to pay for hotel quarantine if they don’t.
The new rules, which took effect on Wednesday, add to the anxiety of New Zealand residents abroad who have been waiting to book spots in a quarantine system that the government introduced in October. There is a waiting list of around four months, and new slots often disappear within minutes.
Under the new system, returnees who plan to stay less than six months must pay 3,100 New Zealand dollars, or around $2,150, for the two-week hotel quarantine they are required to undergo upon arrival. They were previously required to pay the fee for stays of less than three months.
The changes were a response to anecdotal evidence that New Zealanders were entering the country for a three-month “holiday” to avoid paying the fee, said Chris Hipkins, the minister for Covid-19 response.
“Ultimately, our managed isolation facilities are designed to ensure that New Zealanders who need to return home are able to,” he told reporters on Wednesday.
New Zealand is one of the few places in the world that are limiting the number of residents who can return home during the pandemic. Tens of thousands of Australian citizens have also been stranded abroad in recent months because of restrictions that limit number of people allowed on flights into the country.
The charges in New Zealand are expected to affect approximately 3 percent of those returning, according to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.
As of February, New Zealand’s quarantine system was free to most residents and had collected $4.7 million in fees since its introduction last spring. The system has cost taxpayers about $1.7 million a day, according to figures provided to Radio New Zealand last year.
New Zealand has all but eliminated local transmission of the coronavirus, reporting a total of 2,476 cases and 26 deaths as of Friday, according to a New York Times database. It has vaccinated 41,500 people, most of them workers at the country’s border or immigration facilities.
In Australia, hospitals, prisons and nursing homes in Brisbane went into lockdown on Friday after a 26-year-old man tested positive for Covid-19. It was the first local transmission detected in Queensland State in two weeks. The health authorities said that the man had been infectious since last Friday and that they were still trying to determine how he had contracted the virus.
Norway on Friday extended its suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine for another three weeks as the country assesses the vaccine, which the European Medicines Agency, the continent’s top drug regulator, has called “safe and effective.” At least four people who received the vaccine in Norway have since died. On Thursday, Denmark said that it, too, would extend its suspension of the vaccine, until April 15, while Sweden said it would resume its use for people over 65.
A top health official in Germany warned that the country could see 100,000 new cases a day amid a new wave of infection that he said was likely to be worse than either of the first two. The official, Lothar Wieler, is the head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s primary disease control agency. “We have to be prepared for the fact that more people will become seriously ill again, that hospitals will be overloaded and also that many people will die,” he said at a news conference on Friday. After a sharp increase in its virus caseload this month, Germany has recorded about 17,000 new cases a day over the past week.
Argentina is delaying applying the second dose of Covid-19 vaccines for three months to prioritize giving people at least one dose amid a sluggish vaccination drive. Argentina has been using Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s Sinopharm and Covishield, the Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Argentina, a country of 45 million people, has given out a total of 3.55 million doses, including over 658,000 who have received the two doses.
With the number of people in the United States vaccinated against the coronavirus climbing, Americans are starting to explore their prospects for international travel this summer, a season when Europe is traditionally a big draw.
Most of Europe has been off-limits to most U.S. residents for over a year, and the continent is grappling with a third wave of coronavirus infections and a surge in more contagious variants, making it unclear when borders will reopen. But some European countries have started to welcome vaccinated travelers, including American tourists, and others are making preparations to ease restrictions in time for the summer season.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends against travel. And ultimately the course of the virus will determine what travel looks like across the world. But here’s what we know about how European countries are preparing to resume tourism.
“The current focus is on opening up internal markets within the E.U. and U.K. and then, depending on reciprocity agreements, more third countries will be included,” said Eric Dresin, the secretary general of the European Travel Agents’ and Tour Operators’ Association. “But right now, we are not talking about Americans visiting Europe.”
Travelers coming from the United States do have some options, though: Having brought the virus under control, Iceland is allowing all vaccinated travelers to enter without being subject to Covid-19 testing or quarantine measures.
Greece said it would reopen for all tourists in mid-May, as long as they show proof of vaccination, antibodies or a negative Covid-19 test result before traveling. Turkey said that it would not require international travelers to be vaccinated this summer, and that it would re-evaluate testing policies after April 15.
Spain said it would reopen to international visitors in the spring, once 30 to 40 percent of its adult population is vaccinated. Portugal also hopes to reopen its borders by May, but it is not yet clear whether Americans will be allowed in.
Britain didn’t bar Americans from entering during the pandemic, and they can visit now, but they face strict testing and quarantine requirements.
Each country sets its own rules, but most safety protocols are unlikely to change this summer, even for those who have been vaccinated.
Visitors will be expected to wear masks and keep a safe distance in public spaces. Hotels, restaurants and event spaces will have enhanced cleaning protocols in place, and some may impose capacity restrictions.
These lenders don’t require credit scores or visits to a bank. But they charge high costs over a brief period. They also require access to a borrower’s phone, siphoning up contacts, photos, text messages, even battery percentage.
Then they bombard borrowers and their social circles with pleas, threats and sometimes fake legal documents threatening dire consequences for nonpayment.
In conservative, tightly knit communities, such loss of honor can be devastating.
“If I am labeled a fraud in front of everyone, my self-respect is gone, my honor is gone,” Kiran Kumar, a 28-year-old cement salesman, said in an interview. “What is left?”
Mr. Kumar initially borrowed about $40 from a lender through an online app to supplement his $200-a-month salary. But he couldn’t pay the mounting fees and interest, so he borrowed from others. Eventually, he owed roughly $4,000.
One morning, he said, the harassing calls began soon after sunrise, with the lenders threatening to make his problems public. Mr. Kumar recalls remaining in bed and, for hours, thinking about how he was going to end his life.
The authorities in India are increasingly worried that many more victims like Mr. Kumar may be out there.
The investigations are raising alarms in India over the vulnerability of a population of 1.3 billion people who are still getting accustomed to digital payments.
The apps being used to take advantage of Indians also speak to the global nature of online fraud. Many of the companies use techniques that flourished in China two years ago before the authorities there shut them down.
In India, one police investigation alone in the city of Hyderabad has mapped out about 14 million transactions across the country worth $3 billion over about six months. India’s central bank and national authorities are now investigating.
“It is becoming difficult for us to count the zeros,” said Avinash Mohanty, the joint commissioner of police in Hyderabad.
Mujib Mashal and
In London, Piccadilly Circus station is nearly empty on a weekday morning, while in Delhi, the Metro ferries fewer than half of the riders it used to. In Rio, bus drivers are on strike, and in New York City, subway traffic is at just a third of normal volume.
A year into the pandemic, public transit is hanging by a thread in many cities. Riders stay home or remain fearful of the close quarters of buses and trains. Without fares, transit revenues have fallen off a cliff. Service has been cut, fares have risen and transport workers are facing layoffs.
That spells disaster for efforts to combat another urgent global crisis: climate change. Public transit is a relatively simple remedy for urban greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention air quality, noise and congestion.
“We are facing maybe the most important crisis in the public transit sector in different parts of the world,” said Sérgio Avelleda, director of urban mobility for the World Resources Institute. “It’s urgent to act.”
But act how? Transit agencies temporarily bailed out by governments wonder how long assistance will last, and experts are scrambling to adapt public transport for cities beginning to emerge from the pandemic.
There are a few outliers. In Shanghai, for example, ridership took a nosedive in February 2020, but has rebounded as new coronavirus infections remain low and the economy improves.
But elsewhere the picture is grim.
On the Paris Métro, ridership was just over half of normal levels early this year. Île-de-France Mobilités, the regional transport agency, said 2020 losses had reached 2.6 billion euros, or over $3 billion.
Amsterdam’s trams and buses have reached about a third of normal volume. Rome’s Metro is drawing fewer than half of its usual passengers.
The London Underground, one of the world’s busiest, is operating at around 20 percent of its usual four million daily journeys. Buses are at around 40 percent of normal.
“It’s been pretty devastating, to be perfectly honest,” said Alex Williams, London’s director of city planning for transport. “One of our concerns are substantial declines in public transport and higher levels of car use.”
Cities could upgrade transportation systems now so passengers will return, said Mohamed Mezghani, head of the International Association of Public Transport.
“People will feel more comfortable traveling in a new modern public transit system” after the pandemic, Mr. Mezghani said. “It’s about perception in the end.”
It’s called smell training, and it is suddenly in big demand.
According to one study, as many as 77 percent of people who have had Covid-19 were estimated to have lost their sense of smell to some degree as a result of their infections.
People who experience a loss of smell may also develop parosmia, a disturbing disorder in which previously normal scents register as unpleasant odors.
Several studies have demonstrated that smell training can help people who have lost some or all of their sense of smell to other viral illnesses like sinus infections. So while there are no robust studies examining the efficacy of the training among Covid survivors, it is still widely considered the best option for them.
Smell training is somewhat akin to physical therapy for your nose. It involves sniffing several potent scents twice a day, sometimes for months, to stimulate and restore the olfactory system — or, at the very least, to help it function better.
“It’s not a quick fix,” said Chrissi Kelly, a member of the Global Consortium for Chemosensory Research and the founder of AbScent, a nonprofit group based in England and Wales that offers support and education to people around the world who have smell disorders. “You have to keep up with it.”
If it has been a couple of weeks since you have lost your sense of smell and it hasn’t started to come back, then it makes sense to start smell training. When the sense does begin to return, it might happen gradually rather than all at once. At first, scents might seem distorted or foul.
Scientists are still learning about all of the mechanisms by which the coronavirus affects the olfactory system, but they believe parosmia occurs because the neural pathways from the nose to the brain have been disrupted, “kind of like a telephone operator from the 1950s connecting the wrong party to another line,” said Pamela Dalton, a faculty member at the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a nonprofit research institute in Philadelphia.
For most people, parosmia is a symptom of recovery, and that’s why experts believe smell training can be beneficial as you continue to heal.
For generations, medical students were initiated to their training by a ritual as gory as it was awe-inducing: the cadaver dissection. But amid the pandemic, the cadaver dissection — like many hands-on aspects of the medical curriculum — turned virtual, using a three-dimensional simulation software.
Of the country’s 155 medical schools, a majority transitioned at least part of their first- and second-year curriculums to remote learning during the pandemic. Nearly three-quarters offered lectures virtually, according to a survey by the Association of American Medical Colleges, and 40 percent used virtual platforms to teach students how to interview patients about their symptoms and take their medical histories.
Though the cadaver dissection posed a trickier challenge, nearly 30 percent of medical schools used online platforms to teach anatomy.
Medical students in many states have been eligible for and able to receive the vaccines, but some have not yet fully shifted back to in-person learning, with school administrators saying they preferred to wait until Covid-19 case rates decline further. Some in-person training, like practicing clinical skills, has largely resumed.
Medical schools adapted in the past year with inventive approaches to clinical training. Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Stanford used virtual reality technology to teach anatomy. The Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University offered students the opportunity to shadow doctors virtually, sitting in on telemedicine appointments.
The Keck School of Medicine, at the University of Southern California, opted to have faculty members dissect cadavers while wearing body cameras so students could watch remotely. The cadavers were also imaged using three-dimensional scanners, so students could practice manipulating the sorts of images produced by magnetic resonance imaging and CT scans.
Educators are aware that for all the promise of new technologies, there’s a sense of loss for students who aren’t able to be in hospitals, classrooms and dissection laboratories in person.
Some students, though, pointed to a silver lining in their virtual medical training: They’ve become adept at speaking with patients about sensitive issues over video, a lesson very likely to prove essential as the field of telemedicine expands.
Outside St. Joseph’s Salesian Youth Retreat Center near Los Angeles, the musicians of Mariachi Los Camperos band readied themselves to play to honor a colleague, simultaneously lifting bows to violins, hands to a golden harp and fingers to pluck at guitarróns, their bass guitars.
At a funeral mass in February, they belted out songs to honor a revered band member, expressing their grief and saying their goodbyes to the guittarón player Juan Jiménez, who died of the coronavirus.
“His friends were all there with him, playing for him, thanking him, continuing his legacy,” said Jesus Guzmán, a friend of Jiménez since childhood and the music director of the mariachi band they both called their own.
The calendars of mariachi bands nationwide used to be full of dates for weddings, quinceañeras and serenades where the vigorous music of Mexican culture helped enliven some of life’s most joyous moments. With the onset of the pandemic, those opportunities disappeared, leaving behind only the funerals, the mounting number of funerals, including those for their own members, that have kept some mariachis from financial ruin.
To witness the number of sad events that have paid the bills for mariachis is to confront the virus’s harrowing toll on the audiences who once sang along to their music. Latino and Black residents caught in this winter’s fierce coronavirus surge through Los Angeles County died at two or three times the rate of the white population there.
The story is similar in other places with large Latino populations, and studies show Latinos are more vulnerable to becoming ill and dying from the virus. Their communities and households tend to be more crowded and to rely on mass transit, their access to health care is limited, and their jobs are more likely to involve contact with the public.
So as the caskets go into the ground, many mariachi bands in California, Texas, Illinois and elsewhere have turned to playing songs of pain and sorrow to ease the passing. Even for the bands used to playing at funerals before the pandemic, the sweep of death has been overwhelming. Many have lost family and friends and music teachers as well as fellow band members.
To make a living, they sometimes find themselves performing at events attended by crowds of people who are not masked or observing safety protocols or social distancing. “Every time I go to work, I pray that I’m one of the lucky ones to return home,” said Christian Chavez, of Mariachi Tierra Mexicana and the secretary for the Organization of Independent Mariachis of California. Of the nearly 400 active members in the organization, about 80 have died.
Look out, Zoom shirt. Here comes the vaccine top.
As millions of more Americans become eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, fashion-minded folks are giving extra consideration to what they will wear for their coveted appointments, and the emerging vaccine-ready top seems to be the cold-shoulder top, thanks to Dolly Parton.
On March 2, the 75-year-old country music star posted a four-minute video across her social media channels, getting her first shot of the Moderna vaccine at Vanderbilt Health in Tennessee.
“Dolly gets a dose of her own medicine,” she wrote on Instagram, a reference to the $1 million she donated last year for coronavirus vaccine research to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which worked with Moderna.
For the occasion, she wore a sparkly navy blue knit top with cold-shoulder cutouts that was custom designed by her creative director, Steve Summers. “I even have a little cutout in my shirt — I matched it over here,” she told the doctor who administered the shot, pointing to her other shoulder.
Her choice kick-started a vaccine fashion moment. The cold-shoulder may not have seen this much action since the 1990s, when Donna Karan sent Linda Evangelista down a fall 1991 runway wearing a white one under a matching jacket. Women’s Wear Daily called it “silly,” but when Liza Minnelli wore a black version to the 1992 Oscars, followed by Candice Bergen to the Emmys (and then Hillary Clinton, in one of her early looks as the first lady), it struck a glamorously accessible chord. During the early 2000s, it was a staple of the so-called going-out-top trend, when night life held sway over fashion.
These days, the cold-shoulder has less to do with “going out” than the ease with which it allows wearers to be vaccinated. Lyst, the fashion search and shopping platform, has seen searches for cold-shoulder tops increase 21 percent since the start of March, according to a company spokeswoman.
When Wendy Brande, 53, a jewelry designer and activist in New York City, went to get vaccinated at the Javits Convention Center in New York City on March 5, she wore a black cold-shoulder sweater that she bought on eBay around 2005. “I just about fell over when I saw Dolly wearing one,” she said. “I knew I kept it for this moment.”
Apparently, she was not the only one. As she was receiving her Pfizer shot, the nurse told her: “Everyone’s wearing these tops.”
Yale plans to hold a version of in-person graduation for the class of 2021 in May — with no guests allowed. Harvard is not even calling its commencement a “commencement.” It plans to hold virtual degree-granting ceremonies and, for the second year in a row, will postpone traditional festivities.
The universities of South Florida, Southern California, Pennsylvania, North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt, Rochester and Kentucky, among others, are holding in-person commencements, but with differing rules about guests.
So it goes in this second graduation season of the pandemic. Day by day, another university announces commencement plans, and given the uncertainty created by the coronavirus, the decisions are breaking in opposite ways.
Prairie View A&M in Texas plans to hold live commencements, even as, somewhat surreally, the president of the college, Ruth Simmons, will be delivering the principal address at Harvard’s virtual commencement.
In the United States, reported coronavirus cases and deaths have fallen significantly after a post-holiday surge, according to a New York Times database. Vaccinations have also picked up, averaging about 2.5 million shots a day, as eligibility expands in several states.
Experts warn, however, that dangerous variants could lead to a spike in cases and states that lift restrictions could be acting prematurely.
Many universities are stipulating that in order to participate in graduation, students must have tested negative for the coronavirus before the ceremony and have a good record of adhering to campus policies created to guard against infection.
Peter Salovey, the president of Yale, said in a statement this month that the university would be recognizing graduation by holding in-person gatherings “on or around May 24, if public health conditions permit.” Students studying both on campus and remotely are invited, but not their guests. Mr. Salovey said Yale was excluding families because it seemed unlikely that everybody would be vaccinated by graduation day.
Harvard was one of the first universities to evacuate its campus in mid-March last year, and it is still in caution mode. In an email to students on Feb. 26, its president, Lawrence Bacow, said that postponing live commencement for two years running was “deeply disappointing, but public health and safety must continue to take precedence.”
Like other universities, though, Harvard promised to bring the classes of 2020 and 2021 back to celebrate at some future date.
Some universities plan to hold their commencements in outdoor stadiums. Notre Dame, which was aggressive about bringing students back to campus last fall, is planning to accommodate all 3,000 graduates and a limited number of guests in its 79,000-seat stadium. Health officials have authorized the use of up to 20 percent of the seating.
The University of Southern California will hold in-person ceremonies for the classes of 2021 and 2020 in May. The ceremonies will take place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and graduates will be allowed to invite two guests, although they must be California residents.
Northeastern University in Boston will host five commencement ceremonies in Fenway Park in May. Officials are aiming to allow each graduate to invite one guest, though they are still evaluating total capacity with physical distancing.
The University of South Florida in Tampa said this month that its commencement would take place at nearby Tropicana Field, which can hold about 40,000 people. The university set a tentative date of May 7 to 9. Students will be allowed to bring two guests and must register in advance.
Some schools are holding ceremonies without guests, in what will be largely empty stadiums.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison will hold in-person ceremonies in its Camp Randall Stadium, which can hold about 80,000 people. The university will hold two ceremonies on May 8, but graduates cannot bring guests.
Princeton plans to hold an outdoor commencement at its stadium for students who have taken part in the testing program and who live on or near campus. It is also considering extending the invitation to students learning virtually.
Princeton is still deciding whether to allow guests at its in-person ceremony, and summed up the uncertainty this way: “Families are encouraged not to make nonrefundable travel arrangements.”
Some universities are moving forward with entirely virtual commencements. Columbia is planning a virtual ceremony, but has held out some hope of smaller outdoor events. New York University and Stanford University have also announced plans to hold virtual celebrations.
When the pandemic began, the nation’s governors suited up for a new role as state bodyguards, issuing emergency orders to shutter schools, close cinemas and ban indoor dining in an effort to curb a mushrooming threat.
But not everyone likes killjoys, no matter how well-intentioned.
Now, state legislatures — saying the governors have gone too far — are churning out laws aimed at reining in the power of their executives to respond to the pandemic and emergencies like it.
A Kansas bill that became law this week requires Gov. Laura Kelly to suspend all emergency orders and give legislators the option to void any that she reissues. Mask mandates are likely to be among the first to fall. Ohio legislators overrode Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto this week, limiting his powers to make emergency declarations. Utah lawmakers voted for an April 10 end to mask requirements and to rein in powers of the governor and state health officials to deal with crises; the bill became law on Wednesday.
Those are but some of the 300-odd proposals to curb governors’ emergency powers that have won approval or are awaiting action in State House and Senate chambers — although most will, as usual, be winnowed out in committee and never come to a vote.
All but a handful have been written by Republicans, many of whom have regarded restrictions from the start as bad for business and infringements on personal freedom. If that suggests that the issue of emergency power is partisan, however, that’s not entirely true: Legislation takes aim at the powers wielded by governors of both parties.
A list of bills by the National Conference of State Legislators shows that the gamut of the proposals is both broad and inventive. An Arkansas state senator wanted fines for violating coronavirus restrictions refunded to violators. Lawmakers in six states, including Georgia and Oregon, want to stop governors from imposing limits on attendance at church services. A measure in Maine would circumvent restrictions on businesses by declaring all businesses to be essential in any emergency.
Most proposals, however, are more straightforward attempts to give lawmakers a say, often by limiting the duration of emergency declarations and requiring legislative approval to extend them. The nonpartisan Uniform Law Commission is reviewing state emergency statutes to see if they need updating in light of the coronavirus crisis. But the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative pro-business group that has spent years cultivating ties with state legislators, has beaten them to the punch, circulating a so-called model law that is the basis for many state proposals.
Some experts call that a mistake. “The time for legislatures to address emergency declarations isn’t in the middle of an emergency, but before or after one,” said Jill Krueger, the director of the northern region of the Network for Public Health Law, in Edina, Minn.
Indeed, practically every state has at least one measure targeting a governor, either in a legislative committee or in the lawbooks.
The Republican governor of Indiana, Eric J. Holcomb, has backed more lenient coronavirus restrictions than have governors of some neighboring states, giving businesses more generous occupancy limits based on the severity of Covid-19 outbreaks in each county. That did not stop the Republican-controlled legislature from filing 21 bills aimed at loosening his emergency powers, the most of any state surveyed by the Conference of State Legislatures, including a resolution calling for the statewide emergency to be scrapped immediately.
The resolution appeared to be gathering serious momentum until Tuesday, when the governor sought to address critics by lifting a statewide mask mandate and turning business regulations over to local governments.
Both actions go well beyond the easing of restrictions taken in most other states that have relaxed regulations, although local governments retain the right to impose stiffer rules.
“His middle-of-the-road approach has resonated with people,” said Andrew Downs, an associate professor and expert on Indiana politics at Purdue University-Fort Wayne. That said, he added, “people out on the extreme are upset with him, and they recognized the need to recapture some of the power the governor has been using.”