Covid-19 Live Updates: Cases, Vaccines and Delta Variant
WASHINGTON — With the pace of U.S. coronavirus vaccinations relatively flat, President Biden will call on Tuesday for employers to set up clinics at work and to offer paid time off for workers as part of a renewed push to reach tens of millions of Americans who remain unvaccinated, a White House official said.
Just two days after he hosted a big White House Fourth of July celebration and declared “America is coming back together,” Mr. Biden is turning his attention to a public health conundrum: Despite his administration’s aggressive push, he has not met his self-imposed goal of having 70 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated by now, and officials have already tried many techniques.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity to preview the president’s remarks, the official said Mr. Biden would note a different metric: By the end of the week, nearly 160 million Americans, not quite half the population, will be fully vaccinated. With the worrisome Delta variant spreading quickly around the country, he is expected to say, that will not be enough to fully prevent new outbreaks in areas with lower vaccination rates. Although there is not yet good data on how all of the vaccines hold up against Delta, several widely used shots, including those made by Pfizer-BioNTech, are still effective against the Delta variant after two doses, research suggests.
But providers were administering about 1.09 million doses per day on average, as of Friday, about a 68 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13.
And beyond the issues with the vaccination campaign, declines in the virus itself appear to have stalled nationally. After a sharp drop in virus cases, the average number of new daily cases across the country seems to have leveled off and remain close to the lowest point since testing became widely available. Mr. Biden intends to underscore that overall progress in his remarks on Tuesday, but pockets of outbreaks remain. In some parts of Texas, Arkansas and Missouri, for instance, there has been a sharp rise in cases.
Mr. Biden will use his remarks to outline five areas of concentration for his administration, all avenues it has already pursued: targeted, community by community, door to door outreach to get the remaining Americans vaccinated; a fresh push to get vaccines to primary care doctors; a boost in efforts to get vaccines to pediatricians and other providers who serve younger people so that adolescents ages 12 to 18 can get their shots; expanded mobile clinic efforts and the workplace changes.
It is unclear what else the administration can do. Public health officials know that the last stretch of any vaccination campaign is the most arduous — a point Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Mr. Biden’s top medical adviser for the pandemic, made in a recent interview.
“The last mile is always the hardest,” Dr. Fauci said, adding, “We’re actually on the last quarter mile.”
As their populations swell nearly to prepandemic levels, U.S. immigration detention centers are reporting major surges in coronavirus infections among detainees.
Public health officials, noting that few detainees are vaccinated against the virus, warn that the increasingly crowded facilities can be fertile ground for outbreaks.
The number of migrants being held in the detention centers has nearly doubled in recent months as border apprehensions have risen, according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. More than 26,000 people were in detention last week, compared with about 14,000 in April.
More than 7,500 new coronavirus cases have been reported in the centers over that same period, accounting for more than 40 percent of all cases reported in ICE facilities since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times analysis of ICE data.
Prisons and jails in America were hotbeds for the virus last year, with nearly one in three inmates at federal and state facilities testing positive. The virus infected and killed prisoners at a faster rate than it did in nearby populations because of crowding and other factors that made ideal conditions for Covid to spread.
As of May, according to ICE’s latest available data, only about 20 percent of detainees passing through the centers had received at least one dose of vaccine while in custody.
Dr. Carlos Franco-Paredes, an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine who has inspected immigration detention centers during the pandemic, said that several factors were to blame for the surge, including transfers of detainees between facilities, insufficient testing and lax Covid-19 safety measures.
For example, he said, during a recent inspection at a center in Aurora, Colo., he saw many staff members who were not wearing face coverings properly, adding: “There is minimal to no accountability regarding their protocols.”
Paige Hughes, an ICE spokeswoman, said that all new detainees were tested for the coronavirus and are held in quarantine for 14 days on arrival.
“On-site medical professionals are credited with reducing the risk of further spreading the disease by immediately testing, identifying and isolating the exposed detainees to mitigate the spread of infection,” she said.
Even so, public health officials point out that detainees are transported to the facilities by bus before they are tested and may be exposed during the trip. Similar lapses by prison systems over the past year have led to mass infections and deaths.
ICE officials said the agency’s policy was to leave decisions about vaccinating detainees to state and local officials. Some of the worst outbreaks at ICE facilities, including one at the Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Miss., have been in states where vaccination rates are far below the national average, according to a Times database.
As concerns grow over the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus, Sharon Dolovich, a law professor and director of the Covid Behind Bars Data Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that detainees would remain vulnerable to outbreaks until officials made vaccinations at these sites a higher priority.
“You have people coming in and out of the facility, into communities where incomplete vaccination allows these variants to flourish, and then you bring them inside the facilities, and that variant will spread,” Dr. Dolovich said. “What you’re describing is the combination of insufficient vaccination plus the evolution of the virus, and that is really scary.”
Prime Minister Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg, who is suffering from Covid-19 symptoms, was in “serious but stable” condition on Tuesday at a hospital, his press secretary in Luxembourg said. The prime minister had low oxygen levels in his blood, an acute concern for people with Covid-19.
Less than two weeks after a star turn at the European Union summit meeting in Brussels late last month, Mr. Bettel, 48, spent his third day in the hospital, where he was sent on Sunday “as a precaution,” according to the ministry. Mr. Bettel is expected to spend two to four more days there under observation because of his persistent symptoms, the ministry said.
At the summit meeting, he gave an intensely personal account of realizing that he was gay and how hard it was to tell his parents. He spoke about it during a debate on Hungary’s new law on sex education, which critics say targets the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
“I didn’t get up one morning after having seen some advertising and just become gay,” Mr. Bettel said in Brussels. “That’s not how life works. It’s in me, I didn’t choose it. And to accept oneself is hard enough, so to be stigmatized too, that’s too much.”
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands described the scene after Mr. Bettel spoke: “Everybody had tears in their eyes.”
After Mr. Bettel attended the summit on June 24 and 25, he announced his positive test result and had mild symptoms. He had received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in May and was scheduled to receive the second on July 1; it is not clear now when he will receive it. The general policy in Luxembourg has been to wait up to 10 weeks between AstraZeneca doses.
“He’s doing fine, and he’s in good spirits,” Liz Thielen, Mr. Bettel’s press secretary, said of Mr. Bettel on Tuesday. “He’s breathing on his own, and he hasn’t had to be intubated.”
None of the other 26 leaders who attended the summit are showing Covid symptoms, the European Union said on Monday. Many photographs and videos from the summit show leaders, including Mr. Bettel, wearing masks.
Mr. Bettel became prime minister of Luxembourg, a constitutional monarchy whose chief of state is Grand Duke Henri, in December 2013.
About 35 percent of Luxembourg’s population of 640,000 is fully vaccinated. The government announced last week that it would start scheduling vaccinations for children ages 12 to 17, beginning with the oldest.
“Hope to see you soon in good health,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said in a tweet directed at Mr. Bettel on Monday. “In the meantime, rest and take good care of yourself.”
As Britain forges ahead with reopening its economy after 16 months of virus-driven restrictions, Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a backlash over an issue that has vexed the country’s response to the pandemic from the start: whether to require people to wear face masks indoors.
In outlining his government’s plans to lift most remaining restrictions in England on July 19, Mr. Johnson said in a news conference Monday that he wanted to leave it up to people to decide whether to keep wearing masks in subways, buses and other confined spaces, though the transportation authorities could still require them.
That drew fire from local officials and scientists, who said the government was putting more vulnerable people at risk and being overly casual at a time when the virus continues to course through the population. Britain reported 27,334 new cases on Monday and 178,128 over the last week, an increase of 53 percent over the previous week.
“Wearing a mask is not to protect yourself, it is to protect others, which is why it has to be a requirement on public transport,” said David King, a former chief scientific adviser to the government who has been an outspoken critic of its approach. “That is where I don’t think they understand the problem.”
Israel and South Korea have agreed to swap hundreds of thousands of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the coming months to meet their countries’ needs, Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said in a statement released Tuesday morning.
Under the deal, Israel will send about 700,000 expiring doses of the vaccine this month to South Korea, where cases of the virus are rising. South Korea will send the same amount to Israel in September and October, the statement said, describing the agreement as the first of its kind for the exchange of vaccines between Israel and another country.
Israel has had among the fastest vaccination programs in the world, fully inoculating 57 percent of its population so far, according to data from The New York Times. The deal with South Korea allows Israel to unload doses it doesn’t need immediately. It also will bolster Israel’s supply of vaccines for later in the year as officials grow increasingly concerned about the global spread of the Delta variant.
Mr. Bennett described it as “a win-win deal” that would “ensure that the State of Israel has a proper stock of vaccines.” He also thanked the chief executive of Pfizer, Albert Bourla, for helping to facilitate the deal.
The announcement came after the collapse of a deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in June. The authority had rejected more than one million doses of the vaccine on the grounds that they were too close to their expiration date. At the time, Ibrahim Melhem, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority, said that the region would instead wait for a direct delivery of four million vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNTech later in the year.
South Korea, which has fully vaccinated only 10 percent of its people, is trying to speed up its campaign. Average daily infections there have risen 42 percent over the past two weeks, according to New York Times data.
Signs of economic distress have begun appearing in neighborhoods across Kuala Lumpur and other Malaysian cities: white flags outside people’s houses, indicating that they need food or other assistance.
The flags — sometimes little more than T-shirts or strips of cloth — are a cry for help from mostly low-income families who are financially affected by the another long coronavirus lockdown. The campaign, shared on social media as #benderaputih (“white flag”), is a way for families to appeal for food, work or other essentials as many businesses remain closed and joblessness rises.
Thousands of people have stepped in, including artists and celebrities. A rapper who goes by Altimet pledged to his nearly 400,000 followers on Instagram last week that, every Friday, he would donate food and supplies to houses marked with a white flag.
Renyi Chin, a restaurant owner in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, said he had donated $1,000 worth of food and supplies to families in the past week.
“This is our fourth lockdown, and many have lost their jobs and means for food,” Mr. Chin said. Many of those afflicted by the latest restrictions are single mothers, older Malaysians and daily wage workers, he added.
As coronavirus cases continue to rise in Malaysia, with average daily infections up 19 percent in the last two weeks, according to New York Times data, the government on Saturday announced a tightening of restrictions in several regions, including Kuala Lumpur and most of Selangor state. The country had 6,539 daily cases last week, and just 8 percent of its population is fully vaccinated, according to Times data.
Malaysia’s repeated lockdowns have lowered demand for labor, with the number of registered jobs dropping by 130,000 in just the first quarter of the year, according to government data from the Department of Statistics Malaysia. Suicides have risen during the first five months of this year, and the health ministry said that the pandemic is partly to blame.
Many in Malaysia say the government has failed to manage the economic impact of the pandemic. Outside some houses, black flags have appeared in a separate campaign calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
“We’re in our fourth lockdown and yet the cases are rising,” Mr. Chin said. “Something isn’t right.”
Members of the governing party have dismissed the campaign, with one lawmaker, Nik Abduh Nik Aziz, asking people to pray instead of waving flags. “Don’t admit defeat when being tested by teaching the people to raise a white flag,” he said in a Facebook post last week.
But Mr. Yassin’s opponents had a more favorable response. Zuraida Kamaruddin, the minister for housing and local government, voiced support for the campaign in a tweet, writing: “There is no need to beg and no need to be embarrassed. Just raise the flag.”
Portugal’s tourism industry received a boost late Monday when Germany said that it would lift a travel ban that had been recently introduced to help stop the spread of the Delta variant.
The Robert Koch Institute — Germany’s national disease control center — announced that Portugal, as well as Britain, Russia, India and Nepal, would be removed from a list of countries rated as being at the highest risk for travel. The change will take effect on Wednesday.
The Portuguese government had strongly criticized Germany’s earlier ban because it was the only nation on the list from the European Union. The bloc has been trying to align travel rules among its 27 member nations to help revive travel and tourism.
Just last week, Portugal reimposed curfews in several cities as the Delta variant surged through the country, another blow to some of its popular summer tourist destinations. The country has fully vaccinated about 37 percent of its total population, below the 47 percent in the United States, according to New York Times data.
In other developments across the world:
Japan said it would send millions of doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to other parts of Asia this week, including 1.13 million doses for Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims as its territory. Beijing, whose own vaccine offers to Taiwan have been rebuffed, had criticized the island’s officials for accepting a donation of 1.24 million doses from Japan last month. Premier Su Tseng-chang of Taiwan thanked Japan for the donations in a Facebook post on Tuesday, saying “True friends always lend a helping hand when they need each other the most.” Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam will also receive about one million doses each this week, said Toshimitsu Motegi, the Japanese foreign minister. Last week, Japan delivered about one million free vaccine doses each to Malaysia and Indonesia, both of which are experiencing a surge in virus cases.
The Grand Prix and MotoGP, two of biggest sporting events in Australia, will be canceled for the second year in a row after being planned for the fall. Martin Pakula, sports minister for Victoria state, said in a statement, “It’s very disappointing that these much-loved events can’t proceed but this is the reality of the pandemic — but until we get much higher vaccination rates we cannot return to more normal settings.” A cut to the number of international visitors allowed into Australia and continued quarantine requirements also contributed to the decision. Victoria has recorded no locally transmitted coronavirus cases for the past six days, but its neighboring state, New South Wales, is struggling to contain an outbreak in which the Delta variant has infected over 300 people.
Officials in Greece, a heavily tourism-dependent country that reopened to foreign visitors in May, announced stricter rules for the country’s bars and clubs on Tuesday, prompted by a sudden sharp increase in new Covid-19 infections. The surge in cases is fueling fears of a fourth wave of the pandemic at the height of the tourism season.
The Greek national public health organization, known as Eody, reported 1,797 new cases on Tuesday, more than double the current seven-day average, which has been climbing steadily in recent weeks. Officials attribute the spike to increased activity at bars and nightclubs, which have been operating outdoors since May with capacity limits and other safety measures.
The new rules for those venues, which take effect Thursday, say that bars and clubs can only serve customers who are seated. Businesses that fail to comply can be fined up to 10,000 euros and be ordered to close.
The aim of the new rules is to deter people from crowding tightly together in nightspots, and thus to “curb the transmission of the virus among the younger ages, so we can all have a summer that is safer and more free,” said Nikos Hardalias, the country’s deputy minister for civil protection. Mr. Hardalias noted that the average age of newly infected people has fallen to 27.
“Nothing is over,” he said. “We must vaccinate ourselves and protect our elders.”
Mr. Hardalias said that the more infectious Delta variant of the virus played a role in the spike, but did not indicate what proportion of the new cases were linked to the variant. “As in other countries, it’s only a matter of time until it becomes the predominant strain,” he said.
Greek authorities had been lifting restrictions over the past few weeks, after the waning of a spike in coronavirus cases in April. Death reports have fallen considerably and remain fairly low.
Around 37 percent of Greece’s 10.7 million people have been fully vaccinated so far. Medical experts have warned of further increases in infections unless authorities speed up vaccination efforts, particularly among young adults.