Covid-19 News: Live Global Updates
After more than a dozen nations, mostly in Europe, suspended use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine over safety concerns, the European Union’s lead medical regulator will announce the findings of a safety review on Thursday.
In recent days, officials have signaled that they are likely to restate their previous findings that the vaccine is safe and effective. They have framed the pause as a way to reassure the public that all concerns are treated seriously and to limit any wider damage to the public’s trust about vaccines.
The nations that halted use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine — a move that roiled an already troubled vaccination campaign across the continent — said they were waiting for updated guidance from the regulator, the European Medicines Agency, and were likely to restart using the vaccine.
The pause threatens to have lingering consequences both in Europe, which is struggling to contain a new wave of infections, and around the world. The AstraZeneca vaccine is a keystone of the World Health Organization’s effort to inoculate poor and middle-income countries.
“In extensive vaccination campaigns, it is routine for countries to signal potential adverse events following immunization,” the W.H.O. said on Wednesday. “This does not necessarily mean that the events are linked to vaccination itself, but it is good practice to investigate them.”
The statement was one of many aimed at calming anxious governments and their populations at a particularly precarious moment in the pandemic.
All of the coronavirus vaccines approved by Western regulators have shown themselves to be effective at reducing severe illness and death. And although AstraZeneca’s vaccine accounts for less than 20 percent of the hundreds of millions of doses ordered by the European Union, it is a critical part of early rollout plans.
With infections again on the rise in many countries in Europe, the cost of delay may be measured in lives. In just one week in January, at the height of the last wave, Europe recorded nearly 40,000 deaths.
This week, more people are on ventilators in hospitals in Poland than at any other time in the pandemic, leading officials to reimpose national restrictions starting on Saturday. Italy has reimposed lockdowns in the hopes of limiting outbreaks. From Prague to Madrid, there is rising concern over the spread of more contagious variants.
In Paris, the head of the public hospitals said that the situation was increasingly dire and that they were struggling to find enough beds in intensive care units.
“We are living through the hardest weeks now — we know it,” President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Wednesday.
The hope was that by this time vaccinations would allow governments to avoid reimposing the often draconian restrictions that have been a part of life across Europe for the past year. The suspensions of AstraZeneca’s vaccine underscored how even relatively minor disruptions can have an outsized impact as the global coronavirus vaccine supply remains exceedingly tight.
Few nations find themselves in the enviable position of the United States, which has secured more than enough doses for every adult in the country. It is also sitting on about 30 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve for emergency use.
Even Britain, which moved quickly to procure vaccines and has been rapidly rolling out doses to most people over age 50, has had to shift its strategy in part to deal with dips in supply.
British regulators chose starting late last year to allow an increased gap between the two doses of many of the vaccines required for maximum protection: up to 12 weeks rather than the three weeks used in clinical trials.
That has allowed Britain to give initial protection to about 25 million people. But many of those will soon need a second dose, putting pressure on the system and leading officials to warn that distribution in April will move more slowly.
President Biden and Democrats in Congress included more than $31 billion in federal aid for Native American governments and programs to help Indigenous people, who have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic.
The $1.9 trillion stimulus package that Mr. Biden signed into law last week contains billions in aid, a record level of assistance intended to help bolster health care and other services in some of the nation’s poorest communities.
The money, a crucial plank of Mr. Biden’s vow to address racial and economic inequities, is a potentially transformative lifeline for Native Americans. It is also a high-profile step toward more equitable treatment after centuries of treaty violations and failures by the U.S. government to live up to its obligations.
Mr. Biden signed the law last week, and on Monday the Senate confirmed Deb Haaland, who had been representing New Mexico in the House, as interior secretary, the first Native American woman to serve in the cabinet.
The new legislation, passed with no Republican votes, allocates $20 billion to Native governments. It also includes more than $6 billion for the Indian Health Service and other Native American health systems, including a $20 million fund for Native Hawaiians, as well as $1.2 billion for housing and more than $1.1 billion for primary, secondary and higher education programs.
The money comes on top of $8 billion allocated to Native governments by Congress last March in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law, and additional funding for health and education services in other relief legislation passed last year.
“Our promise to them has always been — on any of these issues — they will have a seat at the table,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in an interview. “It’s essential that we’re listening to the specific issues.”
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, said during a floor speech that the legislation “takes us a giant step closer to fulfilling our trust responsibilities to all Native Americans, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.”
The aid comes after a year that devastated Native people across the country, as poverty, multigenerational housing and underlying health conditions contributed to the deadly spread of the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in August that Native Americans were disproportionately affected by the virus compared with their white counterparts in nearly half of states.
“There’s nothing more unjust than the way we currently treat Native people in the United States with whom we have treaty interest, and this was an opportunity for us to put our money where our mouth is,” said Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee. “This is quite literally the biggest down payment in American history in the right direction, in the direction of justice.”
The authorities in Seoul, the South Korean capital, issued mixed messages on Thursday about a contentious plan to test all foreign workers in the city for the coronavirus, leading to criticisms that the proposal was xenophobic and discriminatory.
On Wednesday, the Seoul Metropolitan Government said that hundreds of thousands of foreigners in the city would be required to undergo testing after a spike in infections among foreign workers.
Officials said that all companies that employ at least one foreigner had 15 days from Wednesday to send their workers for testing or face fines of up to 2 million won, about $1,700.
The announcement was met with anger, and diplomats and Korean politicians called for the order to be revoked.
“The administrative order of the Seoul city government is an unfair racist act against foreigners, and it is so ridiculous,” Lee Sang-min, a lawmaker from the governing Democratic Party, wrote on Facebook. “It is a human rights violation that would disgrace South Korea internationally.”
But as some city officials insisted that the tests were mandatory, others indicated that they were recommended but not required.
An official in the city’s labor department said the tests were optional, but that if workers did not submit to testing and were later found to be infected, they could face financial penalties, including paying for treatment for anyone they made sick.
The mixed messages led to confusion, even as hundreds of workers flocked to designated testing sites across the city. The government said it could test up to 3,600 foreigners a day over the next two weeks.
Park Yoo-mi, a city quarantine officer, told reporters that a recent cluster among foreign workers had prompted the city to order the testing.
“The coronavirus cases of foreigners count 6.3 percent of entire cases in Seoul from January to March this year, and the number keeps increasing,” she said.
Last week, the authorities in Gyeonggi, the province that surrounds the capital, issued a similar order for foreign workers to undergo testing.
Graham Nelson, a political counselor at the British Embassy in Seoul, criticized the plan, likening discrimination to a disease.
“Both coronavirus and discrimination are fatal diseases,” he wrote on Twitter. “Many foreigners are expressing concerns on the movement of regions, including Gyeonggi province, Seoul city and South Jeolla province, requiring only foreigners for testing.”
In other developments around the world:
The World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa on Thursday urged countries on the continent to continue with their inoculation campaigns, even as several European countries have paused the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine. The Democratic Republic of Congo followed suit this week, but Angola, Ethiopia and Ghana said they would go ahead with administering it. Several African public health experts said at a briefing on Thursday that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweighed the risks.
The pandemic is not just making many of us sick. It is also making virtually all of us lonelier, according to a Harvard report based on a national survey of 950 Americans issued in February.
The loneliest people, as a group, are young adults. And the second loneliest demographic appears to be older people, said the report’s lead researcher, Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Plus, the coronavirus has largely kept these generations apart, weakening a bond that researchers say is critical for the well-being of both.
On top of age-exclusive institutions like schools and retirement communities, and social media that often divides people into silos of their own peers, to a large extent “the generational twain stopped meeting,” said Marc Freedman, the founder of Encore.org, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that is engaged in projects that bring the generations together.
But lately he has seen signs that this is changing.
“There’s been a blossoming of creativity in bringing young and old together since the onset of the pandemic,” Mr. Freedman said. “The young themselves have initiated efforts to check in on elders, and deliver food and prescriptions.”
One such young adult is Ella Gardner, age 18, a student at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. Moved by the isolation of older people who have become housebound during the pandemic, she volunteered with the San Francisco-based nonprofit Mon Ami to shop and do chores for them.
She also extensively interviewed her grandfather on Zoom for an anthropology paper. “I asked him if he was going to get the vaccine,” she said, “and he chuckled and said, ‘I remember back when I was growing up and we had to get the polio vaccine — and look at me now, I’m still here.’”
Dr. Weissbourd believes that people in these two groups would feel a lot less isolated if they had more contact with one another.
“The elderly have so much to share with young people — wisdom about love, work, friendship, mortality and many other things,” he said. “And young people have so much to share with the elderly about a rapidly changing world — not just technology, but new and important ways of thinking about race and racism, justice, sexuality and gender and other critical issues.”
As Americans celebrate a slowing spread of the coronavirus, including in many former hot spots in the South and Midwest, trends in the Northeast have experts and public officials on edge.
In New York and New Jersey, new cases per capita are at least double the national average. New cases rates are raising concern in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. And as of last week, a virus variant that was first detected in New York City recently made up a growing proportion of new cases there.
The new variants have most likely undercut the city’s efforts to lower the rate of positive test results, city health officials said this week, though they added that the city’s strategy for curbing the spread of the virus had not changed.
Despite expansive vaccination efforts, the citywide seven-day average rate of positive test results has not dipped below 6 percent in months, according to city data. Still, officials have noted improvements in the trajectory of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
As of Tuesday, New York State was reporting a seven-day average of 35 new virus cases a day for every 100,000 residents, according to a New York Times database, trailing only New Jersey, at 41 cases per 100,000. (The nation as a whole was averaging 17 new cases per 100,000 people.)
New York City, at 44 cases per 100,000, is adding new cases at a per capita rate more than five times as higher as that of Los Angeles County.
The Northeast’s troubles probably result from a combination of factors, said Dr. Stephen J. Thomas, Upstate Medical University’s chief of infectious disease. While variants might be playing a role, a willingness to gather in groups, unmasked, might also be increasing as the weather warms and more people become vaccinated, he said.
“Every single person that we can get vaccinated or every single person that we can get a mask on is one less opportunity that a variant has,” Dr. Thomas said.
Most people who recover from Covid-19 remain shielded from the virus for at least six months, researchers reported on Wednesday in a large study from Denmark.
Prior infection reduced the chances of a second bout by about 80 percent in people under 65 and by about half in those older than 65. But those results, published in the journal Lancet, were tempered by many caveats.
The number of infected older people in the study was small. The researchers did not have any information beyond the test results, so it’s possible that only people who were mildly ill the first time became infected again and that the second infections were largely symptom-free.
Scientists have said that reinfections are likely to be asymptomatic or mild, because the immune system will suppress the virus before it can do much damage. The researchers also did not assess the possibility of reinfection with newer variants of the virus.
Still, the study suggests that immunity to a natural infection is unpredictable and uneven, and it underscores the importance of vaccinating everyone — especially older people, experts said.
“You can certainly not rely on a past infection as protecting you from being ill again, and possibly quite ill if you are in the elderly segment,” said Steen Ethelberg, an epidemiologist at Denmark’s public health agency.
For some writers stuck at home during the pandemic, online meet-ups have been a way to hold themselves accountable with their craft — a variation on the traditional writing group that includes not just discussions and feedback, but also focused quiet time.
Such informal gatherings have flourished as people who once shied away from writing groups — because of the time commitment, commute or intimidation factor of a room full of aspiring authors — are finding that the pandemic has lowered the barriers to entry.
“The idea of a writing community in New York is very scary,” said Hannah Pasternak, 25, an editor at Self magazine who started a group last March, around the time that many offices in New York City were closing because of the pandemic. “You feel like everybody is better than you, or everybody has a book deal and you don’t, or everybody is published in X magazine or Y magazine.”
The number of writing groups and people involved with them are difficult to count, because formats and membership vary so widely, but participants said the groups had been thriving over the past year.
Some are led by one or a few people, while some are organized by the group. Many are free, though some teachers lead groups and charge for them. Some are focused on “accountability” and keeping members writing, while others are more reflective and conversational.
Groups offering silent writing time are common, and sometimes tied to institutions. London Writers’ Salon and Gotham Writers Workshop charge $100 to more than $400 for some of their classes, and also run free hourlong writing sessions.
For some, joining a group isn’t about trying to write a book or pursue a career in writing. Hannah Zweig, 26, a client solutions manager at Nielsen, minored in creative writing in college but didn’t keep up with it until the pandemic gave her a freer schedule. She joined Ms Pasternak’s group in April and initially used the sessions to journal about her feelings and experiences around the pandemic. Now, she mostly uses the time to write poetry.
“I honestly hadn’t done a lot of writing since college, and it made me kind of sad,” Ms. Zweig said. “I had no reason to write and to stretch myself in that way, so I think it’s reignited my ability to write and my appreciation for good writing.”