Covid-19 and Vaccine News: Live Global Updates
The Biden administration, under intense pressure to address the devastating coronavirus crisis in India, intends to share up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with other nations, so long as the doses clear a safety review conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, officials said Monday.
The announcement, first reported by The Associated Press, came after President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, “committing that the United States and India will work closely together in the fight against Covid-19,” according to statement from the White House.
But the commitment is a tricky one to make: The AstraZeneca doses are manufactured at the Baltimore plant owned by Emergent BioSolutions, where production has been halted amid fears of contamination. The New York Times has reported extensively on problems at the plant, which had to throw out millions of doses of AstraZeneca vaccine between October and January, and later discarded up to 15 million doses of the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, also because of concern about possible contamination.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine, unlike those of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, has also not been granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. And the administration would not specify which countries will receive the vaccine.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, cautioned at a news conference that the donations of doses would not happen right away. She said about 10 million doses could be released “in the coming weeks” if the F.D.A. determines that the vaccine meets “our own bar and our own guidelines,” and that another 50 million doses are in various stages of production.
“Right now we have zero doses available of AstraZeneca,” Ms. Psaki said.
The situation in India is dire; the country is experiencing what may be the worst crisis any nation has suffered since the pandemic began. Hospitals are overflowing and desperate patients are dying as they wait to see doctors. On Sunday alone, the Indian government reported more than 349,000 new virus cases, a world record for a single day.
Mr. Biden, who has already released a total of 4 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada and Mexico, said last week that he was considering sending more overseas: “We’re looking at what is going to be done with some of the vaccines that we are not using,” the president said. “We’ve got to make sure they are safe to be sent.”
Monday’s move came just a day after a spokeswoman for the National Security Council publicly announced a series of steps short of actually providing the vaccine, including removing impediments to the export of raw materials for vaccines to India and supplying that country with therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective gear.
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to a safety review that the Food and Drug Administration is required to conduct before AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine doses are shared with other nations. The doses themselves must clear an F.D.A. safety review, not the plant where the doses are manufactured.
The European Union has sued AstraZeneca over what the bloc has described as delays in shipping hundreds of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines, a sharp escalation of a longstanding dispute between the bloc and the maker of one of the world’s most important vaccines.
AstraZeneca has said that it would be able to deliver only a third of the 300 million doses that European officials had been expecting by the end of June. As a result, European officials said on Monday that they believed AstraZeneca had broken its contract, and that they were seeking speedier deliveries than the company said it could muster.
The two sides’ relationship had grown acrimonious in January when AstraZeneca slashed its expected deliveries for the first quarter of the year, setting back the bloc’s vaccination campaign by weeks as cases picked up across the continent and political leaders faced scorching criticism for inadequate planning.
For AstraZeneca, whose cheap and easy-to-store shot is being used by 135 countries, the lawsuit could create further difficulties in a bruising stretch. No company had been as instrumental in the race to vaccinate poorer countries around the world, but AstraZeneca has been buffeted in recent weeks by the discovery of an exceedingly rare, though serious, side effect that has prompted restrictions on its use in parts of Europe.
At issue in the legal dispute was whether AstraZeneca had done everything in its power to meet its delivery schedule. Pascal Soriot, the company’s chief executive, has said that the contract required only that it make its “best efforts” to deliver the purchased doses on time.
Vaccine production is a notoriously fickle science, with live cultures needing time to grow inside bioreactors, for instance. In an effort to supply doses not only to richer nations that had purchased them well in advance, but also to poorer nations, AstraZeneca had partnered with manufacturing sites around the world, rather than relying on only a few factories, as Pfizer and Moderna have.
AstraZeneca, which developed the vaccine with the University of Oxford, has also said that the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, finalized its contract months after Britain did, giving the company less time to iron out any manufacturing difficulties.
Legal experts said that the “best efforts” language in the contract raised the burden on the Europeans to prove that AstraZeneca did not act diligently enough to supply the promised doses. But they also said that it did not entirely insulate the company from being deemed in breach of contract.
India’s coronavirus crisis deepened on Monday with the number of new reported cases setting a global record for the fifth consecutive day, as countries, companies and members of the large diaspora pledged to send oxygen and other critical aid.
India’s health ministry reported almost 353,000 new cases and 2,812 deaths on Monday, and enormous funeral pyres continued to burn in the worst-affected cities. Experts say that India’s reported overall toll of more than 195,000 deaths could be a vast undercount.
In New Delhi, where Covid-19 patients have died after hospitals ran out of oxygen, the government extended a lockdown by another week.
India’s Supreme Court last week ordered the government to come up with a “national plan” for distributing oxygen supplies.
The problems in India’s hospitals go beyond oxygen shortages. In the western state of Gujarat, more than a dozen patients were evacuated from a hospital on Sunday night after an air-conditioning unit caught fire, the Press Trust of India reported, the third accident involving virus patients in India in the past seven days.
Last Friday in another western state, Maharashtra, a hospital fire also caused by an air-conditioning unit killed 15 patients. Two days earlier, at least 22 patients died in a hospital in the city of Nashik, also in Maharashtra, after a leak cut off oxygen supplies.
The Biden administration, under intense pressure to address the devastating virus crisis in India, intends to share up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with other nations, so long as the doses clear a safety review conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, officials said Monday.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine, unlike those of Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, has also not been granted emergency use authorization by the F.D.A. The administration would not specify which countries will receive the vaccine, and Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, cautioned at a news conference that the donations of doses would not happen right away.
Previously, the administration said on Sunday that it had removed impediments to the export of raw materials for vaccines and would also supply India with therapeutics, test kits, ventilators and personal protective gear. Britain, France and Germany have also promised to send medical equipment to India, a key producer of vaccines for lower-income countries.
“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need,” President Biden said on Twitter on Sunday.
Two Indian-American businessmen — the Microsoft chief executive, Satya Nadella, and the Google chief, Sundar Pichai — have both said that their companies will provide financial assistance to India.
“Devastated to see the worsening Covid crisis in India,” Mr. Pichai wrote on Twitter, pledging $18 million to aid groups working in the country.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey ordered a national lockdown for three weeks, closing nonessential businesses and sending all students home, as the nation struggles to contain the latest surge in cases of the coronavirus.
The lockdown starts on April 29 and will end on May 17, coinciding with Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan, Mr. Erdogan said after meeting with his cabinet. Schools and restaurants will close and travel within Turkey will require a permit, he said. Government employees will either work from home or in shifts. Essential businesses like those in the food, manufacturing and health sectors will be exempt, Mr. Erdogan said.
“In a period where Europe is opening up, we have to pull the number of cases’’ lower, Mr. Erdogan said. “Otherwise, it would be inevitable to face a heavy cost from tourism to trade to education.’’
Turkey has been battling a new wave of cases, reporting about 63,000 new cases on April 16, its highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic last year. So far, about 16 percent of its total population has received at least one dose of the vaccine from Sinovac or Pfizer-BioNTech, according to data from the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.
BRUSSELS — American tourists who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to visit the European Union over the summer, the head of the bloc’s executive body said in an interview with The New York Times on Sunday, more than a year after shutting down nonessential travel from most countries to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
The fast pace of vaccination in the United States, and advanced talks between the authorities there and the European Union over how to make vaccine certificates acceptable as proof of immunity for visitors, will enable the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, to recommend a switch in policy that could see trans-Atlantic leisure travel restored.
New reported doses administered by day
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Note: Line shows a seven-day average. Data not updated on some weekends and holidays. Includes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as of March 5.
“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said Sunday in an interview with The Times in Brussels. “This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union.
“Because one thing is clear: All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by E.M.A.,” she added. The agency, the bloc’s drugs regulator, has approved all three vaccines being used in the United States, namely the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson shots.
Ms. von der Leyen did not offer a timeline for when exactly tourist travel might open up or details on how it would occur. But her comments are a top-level statement that the current travel restrictions are set to change on the basis of vaccination certificates.
Diplomats from Europe’s tourist destination countries, mostly led by Greece, have argued for weeks that the bloc’s criteria for determining whether a country is a “safe” origin purely based on low coronavirus cases are fast becoming irrelevant given the progress of vaccination campaigns in the United States, Britain and some other countries.
Scotland and Wales reopened restaurants, cafes, and nonessential shops on Monday, marking the next phase of a gradual relaxation of coronavirus restrictions that have been in place for months.
In Scotland, restaurants can serve food but not alcohol indoors until 8 p.m., and they can serve food and alcohol outdoors without restrictions. Stores, beauty salons, museums and galleries also reopened, and people are permitted to book travel in the rest of Britain.
The first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, said she was hopeful that the country would continue its progress and lift more restrictions by the summer. But she cautioned that the virus was more infectious now than it had been in earlier waves and, therefore, “We must stick to the rules.” Free rapid tests will be available to the public.
In Wales, places of worship and retail stores reopened, and restaurants resumed outdoor service. Outdoor wedding receptions with up to 30 people can take place.
Cases remain low in Britain, with more than 40 percent of the population having received at least one dose of a vaccine. On Sunday, the country reported just over 1,700 new cases and 11 deaths, according to a New York Times database.
The governments of Singapore and Hong Kong said on Monday that a long-delayed travel bubble between the two Asian financial centers would begin next month, allowing travelers on designated flights to bypass quarantine.
The travel arrangement, which was originally supposed to begin last November, was suspended at the last minute when Hong Kong experienced a sudden surge in cases. With both places now reporting relatively few local infections, officials say the travel corridor will begin on May 26.
“Both sides will need to stay very vigilant in the next one month, so that we can launch the first flights smoothly,” Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s minister of transport, said in a statement.
The arrangement, which is open to people of any nationality in Singapore and Hong Kong, will begin with one flight per day in each direction for up to 200 passengers. Travelers to both places must test negative for the coronavirus before departure and again upon arrival. They are also required to download and use government contact-tracing apps.
Travelers from Hong Kong must have received their second dose of a vaccine at least 14 days earlier, with some exceptions. Officials in Hong Kong, where the vaccination campaign has struggled to gain momentum, say they hope that this will give residents an incentive to get vaccinated. (There is no vaccination requirement for travelers from Singapore to Hong Kong.)
Officials said that the bubble would be suspended automatically for two weeks if either city recorded a seven-day average of more than five local cases from an unknown source.
The bubble is seen as an important step toward economic recovery in the two cities, both major travel hubs whose flagship carriers, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines, only operate international flights. Similar travel bubbles are already in effect between Australia and New Zealand and between Palau and Taiwan, all places where local transmission of the coronavirus is almost nonexistent.
U.S. airlines have been bolstered by the return of customers eager to travel within the country or just outside its borders, but the nation’s largest carriers are still lamenting the loss of two particularly lucrative parts of the business: international and corporate travel. At least one of those could rebound this summer.
In an interview with The New York Times over the weekend, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said she expected the European Union to ease travel restrictions for vaccinated American tourists, a move that could let the airline industry cash in during the year’s busiest travel season.
“Long-haul international flying represents a significant opportunity for United,” Andrew Nocella, the chief commercial officer for United Airlines, told investors last week. “We have seen in recent weeks that immediately after a country provides access with proof of a vaccine, leisure demand returns to the level of 2019 quickly.”
American Airlines and United said this month that international travel remained about 80 percent lower than in 2019. They and other airlines expect strong demand for domestic flights this summer, and the restoration of trans-Atlantic travel could provide the industry a much-needed boost as it works to generate profits again.
American, Delta Air Lines and United each reported a loss of more than $1 billion in the first three months of the year. Southwest Airlines reported a small profit, of $116 million, though its chief executive said the airline would have lost $1 billion without federal aid.
The news of the E.U. reopening to vaccinated American tourists was also welcomed by Willie Walsh, the director general of the International Air Transport Association, a global airline industry group, who said it could bode well for carriers elsewhere, too.
He said in a statement that coordination between the European Commission and the industry was essential “so that airlines can plan within the public health benchmarks and timelines that will enable unconditional travel for those vaccinated,” not just Americans but passengers from other countries as well.
MANILA — The Philippines surpassed the one million mark on Monday in the total number of coronavirus cases it has reported, as the country struggles with newer, deadlier forms of the virus.
Average daily case reports in the country are not high by international standards, at about 8 per 100,000 population, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University; the U.S. rate is about 18, and much of Europe is in the 30s and 40s or worse. But the Philippines reported very few cases last year, and did not see a significant surge until recently.
In response, Manila and four other suburbs went into lockdown earlier this month. President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to speak about quarantine measures on Wednesday.
Harry Roque, spokesman for President Duterte, said new variants and not the government’s pandemic policies were to blame for the surge. He noted that the Philippines was far down in the global rankings for the total number of cases.
“This just proves that for the rest of the world, the rise in the number of cases is really a problem because of these new variants,” Mr. Roque said.
Richard Gordon, a senator who is also the head of the Philippine Red Cross, said that the agency was urgently setting up field hospitals, quarantine hospitals and scaling up testing as the government grappled with the situation.
He added that the organization had also converted unused classrooms and buildings into quarantine facilities for people who have contracted Covid-19 but had mild symptoms.
“Urgent extra medical care is a matter of life and death as this pandemic sets alarming new records,” he said. “Our volunteers are working day and night.”
MELBOURNE, Australia — More than 78,000 people attended an Australian rules football match in Melbourne on Sunday night in what is believed to be the world’s biggest crowd at a sporting event since the coronavirus pandemic began.
The annual A.F.L. match between the Essendon and Collingwood teams is held on Anzac Day, which commemorates Australian and New Zealand soldiers, and includes a ceremony to honor the troops. It often draws the largest crowds of the season, sometimes even outselling the grand final match.
Just three days earlier, the government of the state of Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, had increased the attendance cap for the 100,000-capacity venue, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, to 85 percent from 75 percent. Three other Australian states have removed all limits on crowds at sporting events.
Last year, the match was canceled because of the pandemic and the Anzac Day ceremony was performed in an empty stadium.
By comparison, this year’s Super Bowl championship football game in Tampa, Fla., drew a crowd of about 25,000, while the Daytona 500 NASCAR motor race allowed slightly more than 30,000 fans. The largest crowd at a U.S. sporting event since the pandemic began was an opening-day baseball game hosted by the Texas Rangers, which was attended by about 38,000 people.
The A.F.L. match in Australia came a day after more than 50,000 fans packed into a stadium in Auckland, New Zealand, for what organizers said was the largest concert in the world since the pandemic began. The two countries, which have all but eliminated local transmission of the coronavirus, opened a travel bubble this month.
Both countries have responded to periodic outbreaks with immediate lockdowns, most recently in Perth, Australia’s fourth-largest city and the capital of Western Australia State, which went into a three-day lockdown on Saturday after a man tested positive for the virus after leaving hotel quarantine. So far, two related cases have been detected in the community.
The lockdown will end at midnight on Monday, but the state’s premier, Mark McGowan said some restrictions, like mandatory mask wearing and a limit of 20 people for gatherings, will remain for another four days. Citing the burden on the hotel quarantine system, he also said on Sunday that the state’s cap on the number of international air passengers allowed to arrive each week would be halved to 512 from April 29 to May 30, in another blow to the tens of thousands of Australians stranded overseas.
Only a few weeks ago, Phuket seemed poised for a comeback. After a year of practically no foreign tourists arriving in Thailand, the national government decided that Phuket would start welcoming vaccinated visitors in July, without requiring them to go through quarantine. The project was called Phuket Sandbox.
But Thailand is now gripped by its worst Covid-19 outbreak since the pandemic began, spread in part by the well-heeled Thais who partied in Phuket and Bangkok with no social distancing. The confirmed daily caseload — albeit low by global standards — has increased from 26 on April 1 to more than 2,000 three weeks later, in a country that in early December had about 4,000 cases total.
The opening that Phuket had planned for July 1 now appears unlikely, Thailand’s tourism minister acknowledged this month.
“If you ask me how optimistic I am, I cannot say,” said Nanthasiri Ronnasiri, the director of the tourism authority’s Phuket office. “The situation changes all the time.”
The virus’s resurgence after so many months of economic hardship is devastating for the majority of Phuket’s residents, who depend on foreign tourists for their livelihoods.
Compliance practices at the Academy Awards on Sunday will be closely watched as organizers prepare for the gradual resumption of major events such as the Tonys (to be coordinated with Broadway’s reopening).
Part cop, part coach, Covid compliance officers, or C.C.O.s, have become essential overseers in America’s tentative return to prepandemic life.
“We’re at a tipping point,” said Dr. Blythe Adamson, an infectious disease epidemiologist and economist. “People are going out more, they have pandemic fatigue. They’re vaccinated, but people are still getting Covid with these new strains. It makes the compliance officer role extremely important.”
The budget for Covid compliance on film sets is high: 25 to 30 percent of the total, according to Dr. Linda Dahl, an ear, nose and throat surgeon who has become a C.C.O. Complicating the job, what constitutes Covid compliance can change on a weekly or even daily basis as guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention constantly evolve.
The number of students that dropped out of school in Italy because of the coronavirus pandemic is rising, aggravating what was already a crisis before the disease spread across the nation.
Italy had among the worst dropout rates in the European Union, and the southern city of Naples was particularly troubled by high numbers. When the coronavirus hit, Italy shuttered its schools more than just about all the other European Union member states, with especially long closures in the Naples region, pushing students out in even higher numbers.
While it is too early for reliable statistics, principals, advocates and social workers say they have seen a sharp increase in the number of students falling out of the system. The impact on an entire generation may be one of the pandemic’s lasting tolls.
Italy closed its schools — fully or in part — for 35 weeks in the first year of the pandemic — three times longer than France, and more than Spain or Germany.
And experts say that by doing so, the country, which has Europe’s oldest population and was already lagging behind in critical educational indicators, has risked leaving behind its youth, its greatest and rarest resource for a strong post-pandemic recovery.
German health authorities will allow all adults to sign up for vaccine appointments beginning in June, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday.
The announcement came after a meeting with lawmakers to discuss lifting social restrictions for fully vaccinated people, a sign that Germany may be moving closer to emerging from its latest lockdown.
“We will enter a transition phase, which is also not easy,” Ms. Merkel told reporters after discussing the country’s vaccination drive with state governors. Right now, Germany is focusing on vaccinating people 60 or older, or who are ill, or who work in certain professions.
Germany’s vaccination campaign has picked up speed after a sluggish start, and on average, more than 485,000 people a day are now getting a shot in the last week. About 23 percent of the population has had at least one dose, and 7.2 percent are fully vaccinated. Germany lags far behind Britain, which has given at least one dose to 51 percent of its population, or the United States, with 42 percent.
The German lawmakers also discussed when and how to relax certain daily restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated, but did not decide on concrete measures.
Asked whether Germans might travel during the summer, Ms. Merkel responded, “The faster we get through this serious phase, the faster hope will spread.”