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A student at school in Burlington, N.J., earlier this month.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
In a major policy revision intended to encourage more schools to welcome children back to in-person instruction, federal health officials on Friday relaxed the six-foot distancing rule for elementary school students, saying they need only remain three feet apart in classrooms as long as everyone is wearing a mask.
The three-foot rule also now applies to students in middle schools and high schools, as long as community transmission is not high, officials said. When transmission is high, however, these students must be at least six feet apart, unless they are taught in cohorts, or small groups that are kept separate from others, and the cohorts are kept six feet apart.
The six-foot rule still applies in the community at large, officials emphasized, and for teachers and other adults who work in schools, who must maintain that distance from other adults and from students.
Most schools are already operating at least partially in person, and evidence suggests they are doing so relatively safely. Research shows in-school spread can be mitigated with simple safety measures such as masking, distancing, hand-washing and open windows.
“The big discussion is about three feet versus six feet, and there’s no question that going from six feet to three feet is going to add a small amount of additional risk,” said Linsey Marr, an expert in airborne viruses at Virginia Tech. “But so far, from studies we’ve seen, the difference between three feet and six feet is not substantial.”
“My one caveat is that they should really make it clear that you can go to three feet only if you have done everything else correctly,” she added. “You’re requiring masking, you have checked your ventilation and added filtration if the ventilation’s not good — those types of things.”
Dr. Westyn Branch-Elliman, an infectious diseases specialist at the VA Boston Healthcare System, led a recent study on schools in Massachusetts that concluded three feet was a safe distance. “The reality is that the biggest barrier to getting kids back in school was this question of three versus six feet,” she said. “This breaks down a couple major barriers to getting kids back to school.”
In a statement, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that “transmission dynamics are different in older students — that is, they are more likely to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and spread it than younger children.”
In announcing the change, the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, cited findings from studies in several states. “We are following the science,” she said.
Teachers’ unions across the country have argued forcefully for six-feet of distancing, and have lobbied the C.D.C. and the Biden administration to maintain the previous guidance.
On Friday, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest educators’ union, released a statement saying she would “reserve judgment” on the new distancing guidelines pending further review of research on how the virus behaves in school settings. Becky Pringle, president of the largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, raised similar concerns.
At the White House virus briefing on Friday, Dr. Walensky said she had spoken to the teachers unions. “They know that we need to follow the science and to make our guidance based on that science, and they’ve been very respectful of that,” she said.
Still, the statement from the C.D.C. lags behind some local health agencies across the country. Illinois and Massachusetts have already indicated that three feet of distance can be appropriate in schools. County-level health officials have also played an important role in guiding the decisions of school boards and superintendents, who have often been overwhelmed by conflicting public health guidelines.
Dr. Walensky explained that the agency is always updating its guidance as new evidence becomes available. A recent study in Boston found no significant differences in the number of infections in school districts in Massachusetts that adopted a three-foot rule, when compared with those that required six feet of distance. Additional C.D.C. studies examining safety in schools were also released Friday.
The new guidance emphasizes that good air flow and ventilation in school buildings is a critical component of maintaining a safe environment, and continues to stress multiple layers of preventive behaviors including universal masking, hand washing, cleaning buildings and doing contact tracing, combined with isolation and quarantine.
Adults in schools must continue to stay six feet apart from other adults and from students, officials said. The six foot rule still applies in common areas of schools like lobbies and auditoriums, any time students are eating or drinking and cannot wear a mask, and during activities that involve more exhalation — like singing, shouting, band practice, sports or any exercise, activities that “should be moved outdoors or to large well-ventilated spaces whenever possible.”
Other scientists say the guidelines may not go far enough. There’s not clear evidence that high levels of community transmission make in-person schooling riskier, said Dr. Elissa Perkins, the director of emergency medicine infectious disease management at Boston University School of Medicine, who co-authored the Massachusetts study.
“I applaud the move to get elementary schools back in person regardless of community transmission.” she said. “And I also understand that there is some hesitancy about applying that to middle and high school students, although I’m not sure that it is fully in keeping with the evidence that we’ve seen to date.”
While the majority of school buildings are currently open at least partially, the six-foot rule has prevented many from shifting to full-time, in-person schedules.
In liberal states and districts where teachers’ unions have collective bargaining power, the new C.D.C. guidance may strengthen the negotiating position of district officials seeking to return students to more normal, in-person schedules.
But many issues remain contentious and unresolved. Although the C.D.C. is continuing to recommend six feet of distance when children are eating, the fact that students need to remove their masks at lunch has raised concerns for educators and their unions.
“Theoretically, this should allow for normal school scheduling, full time, five days a week for families who want to send their kids back,” said Katie Braude, the founder and chief executive of the Los Angeles parent advocacy organization Speak UP. She acknowledged, however, that the Los Angeles public school district is a behemoth and “does not tend to be nimble.”
“While we’d like to be optimistic,” she said, “the best we may be able to hope for at this point is a more normal fall.”
It is not unusual, across the country, for schools to remain closed one day per week — typically Wednesdays — for what is sometimes described as a day of “deep cleaning.” Yet many experts have emphasized that because the coronavirus is spread through the air, surface disinfection is less important than masking and ventilation.
The days out of school are used by many teachers to prepare lessons and strategies for what remains a new and challenging mode of instruction, in which some students are in classrooms while others remain at home. Indeed, there is still a significant minority of parents, many of them Black, Hispanic and Asian, who are hesitant to return their children to schools during the pandemic.
C.D.C. officials relied on the findings of several other new studies about transmission in schools to rewrite their guidelines. The studies, published Friday, examined viral transmission in schools in Florida, St. Louis and Springfield, Mo., and Salt Lake County, Utah. The findings varied, but all papers emphasized the critical role that universal mask-wearing plays in curbing school-associated infections.
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United StatesOn March 18
WorldOn March 18
U.S. vaccinations ›
Biden: U.S. on Track for 100 Million Vaccinations Since Jan. 20
President Biden said Thursday the U.S. would on Friday reach his Covid-19 vaccine goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, though he had earlier conceded they should aim higher.
In the last week, we’ve seen increases in the number of cases in several states — scientists have made clear that things may get worse as new variants of this virus spread. Getting vaccinated is the best thing we can do to fight back against these variants. While millions of people are vaccinated, we need millions more to be vaccinated. And I’m proud to announce that tomorrow, 58 days into our administration, we will have met my goal of administering 100 million shots to our fellow Americans. That’s weeks ahead of schedule. Eight weeks ago, only 8 percent of seniors, those most vulnerable to Covid-19, had received a vaccination. Today, 65 percent of people age 65 or older have received at least one shot. And 36 percent are fully vaccinated. This is a time for optimism, but it’s not a time for relaxation. I need all Americans, I need all of you to do your part. Keep the faith, keep wearing the mask, keep washing your hands and keep socially distanced. We’re going to beat this. We’re way ahead of schedule, but we’ve got a long way to go.
President Biden said Thursday the U.S. would on Friday reach his Covid-19 vaccine goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, though he had earlier conceded they should aim higher.CreditCredit…Jon Cherry for The New York Times
Floridians 50 years and older will be eligible to get a vaccine on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, and there are plans to make shots available for all adult residents in the coming weeks.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said it made sense to broaden eligibility now that, he said, 70 percent of Florida’s senior population has been vaccinated.
Some counties, including Orange and Miami-Dade, have expanded eligibility ahead of the state doing so. On Monday, Orange County residents 40 years and older, and Miami-Dade residents 50 years and older can start signing up for shots, their local officials said.
Numerous other states have announced expansions to vaccine eligibility as the pace of daily shots administered across the country has steadily increased to an average of about 2.5 million doses a day, as of Friday, according to a New York Times analysis of data reported from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That rate is nearly seven percent higher than it was a week ago.
In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott announced at news conference Friday that by April 19 any resident age 16 or older will be able to register for a vaccine, according to a local NBC affiliate. Those 60 and older can start making vaccine appointments March 25.
Gov. Janet Mills of Maine announced on Twitter that the state would be accelerating its vaccination timeline by two weeks. Beginning March 23, Maine residents age 50 and older will be eligible for the vaccination, and on April 19, all Maine residents age 16 and older will be eligible for vaccination.
The state is also moving to vaccinate teachers, school staff and licensed child care workers this month, following a directive from the Biden administration, according to a statement released by the governor’s office.
The Cherokee Nation announced Thursday that any adult would be eligible for a vaccine, regardless of where they live, and could make an appointment at any of the tribe’s outpatient health centers.
“The light that we can see at end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter as more people get vaccinated,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat said Thursday when he announced expansions to vaccine eligibility in his state.
Last week, President Biden set a deadline of May 1 for states to make vaccines available to all adult residents.
States have been able to open vaccinations up to more people as supply has steadily increased; the Biden administration has bulked up the vaccine production and distribution campaign, though its key elements were in place before he took office. The White House press secretary, Jennifer Psaki, said this week another 22 million vaccine doses were to be sent to states, jurisdictions and pharmacies this week.
As of Friday, more than 118 million shots have been administered since inoculations began in mid-December.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a trip to Georgia on Friday, Mr. Biden suggested the United States could reach a point in the future where officials are administering five million doses a day. “Hopefully we’ll keep the pace of about 2.5 million a day,” he said, “which we may be able to get to — we may be able to double.”
The president’s goal for the United States to administer 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days was met on Friday, according to reported data from the C.D.C., with more than 101 million doses administered since Jan. 20, six weeks ahead of his self-imposed deadline.
During brief remarks on Thursday, the president maintained that the 100-million-shot goal was ambitious, even though he conceded in January that the government should be aiming higher. Five days after he was inaugurated, Mr. Biden had said the United States would aim to administer 1.5 million vaccine doses a day, a target that was reached a few weeks later.
Mr. Biden has continued to claim unexpectedly fast progress in meeting his vaccine goal, even as public health officials have said that his goal was less ambitious and easier to achieve.
A Covid-19 vaccination clinic in downtown Grand Rapids, Mich.Credit…Cory Morse/The Grand Rapids Press, via Associated Press
The nation has hit a precarious point in the pandemic, as coronavirus cases — significantly down since peaks in January — have plateaued this month to about 55,000 new cases a day, a level public health officials say is still too high.
Even with the accelerated pace of vaccinations, worrisome variants are spreading. Some states, especially on the East Coast, have struggled for weeks to make any progress in reducing cases. At the same time, governors are starting to relax restrictions on businesses like bars, indoor gyms and casinos, and many Americans are dining in newly reopened restaurants, replanning summer weddings that were abruptly canceled in 2020 and booking spring break trips.
Last week, air travel in the United States rose to its highest level since the pandemic hit, and airline executives said that bookings in the coming months indicate an eagerness from Americans to begin traveling in large numbers again.
The path ahead — and public guidance about how people should behave in this moment — seems uncertain, even contradictory. Epidemiologists said they viewed the current moment in the pandemic as a sprint between vaccinations and newly confirmed cases, particularly those caused by variants that can be more contagious. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, warned Friday “that it’s really quite risky to declare victory before you have the level of infection in the community to a much, much lower level than 53,000 cases per day.”
“So it is unfortunate, but not surprising, to me that you are seeing increases in number of cases per day in areas — cities, states or regions — even though vaccines are being distributed at a pretty good clip of 2 to 3 million per day,” Dr. Fauci said.
No state is reporting case numbers anywhere near record levels, and the sort of explosive case growth seen in hard-hit areas through 2020 has almost completely abated. Kansas is averaging about 215 new coronavirus cases a day, down from more than 2,000 in early January. And North Dakota, which has the country’s most known cases per capita, is now regularly adding fewer than 100 cases a day, in a state with a population of 762,000.
But there are warning signs in the data.
Vermont, which escaped the worst of the pandemic in 2020, has struggled all of this year to curb an outbreak. Michigan, which had appeared to bring the virus under control in January, has seen case numbers increase by more than 80 percent over the last two weeks, though they remain well below their December peak. In South Florida, infection levels have remained persistently high, with about 1,000 cases reported each day in a single county, Miami-Dade.
Yet even in states where the virus appeared far from under control, officials have proceeded to lift restrictions on businesses, and companies have pushed for reopenings. New York has more recent cases per capita than everywhere except New Jersey, and the New York City metro area has the country’s second-highest rate of new infections, behind only Idaho Falls, Idaho. On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that indoor fitness classes may resume on March 22.
In California, around 2,900 cases are reported most days, down from about 40,000 in mid-January. In Southern California, where cases peaked early this winter, officials at Disneyland said that after more than a year of being closed, the theme park would open on April 30 with rules in place limiting capacity.
“I think it is a race against time,” said Dr. Stephen J. Thomas, SUNY Upstate Medical University’s chief of infectious disease. “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.”
A woman leaves the largest vaccination center in Munich on Thursday.Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times
Governments across Europe raced on Friday to lift suspensions on AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine and reassure an exhausted and anxious public that it was safe amid a new wave of infections that led many countries to reimpose harsh restrictions on movement and businesses.
German officials warned that plans to ease restrictions by Easter would have to be put on hold and said that more measures might be needed in the weeks ahead. Paris was one of many cities across France where people were essentially ordered to stay at home. Italy entered its third national lockdown on Monday, and Poland will put in place its own lockdown on Saturday.
The rapid moves to tighten what were already relatively stringent restrictions came as nearly every country in Europe that had halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine — including France, Germany Italy and Spain — said they would start using it again.
But the brief halt in the use of the vaccine underscored the slow pace of mass inoculation campaigns, which led officials to warn that the only way to control the virus was to impose restrictions.
Across all of Europe, the official death toll surged past 900,000 last week, according to the World Health Organization. But this spring, it was supposed to be different.
The latest outbreaks are a stark reminder that not enough people have been inoculated to seriously blunt the impact of a new wave of infection spreading across the continent, so governments are once again being forced to tighten already difficult restrictions on businesses and social interactions.
“There are not yet enough vaccine doses in Europe to stop the third wave by vaccination alone,” Germany’s health minister, Jens Spahn, said on Friday. “Even if the deliveries from E.U. orders come reliably, it will still take a few weeks until the risk groups are fully vaccinated.”
The mass vaccination efforts across the European Union were thrown into deeper turmoil this week as more than a dozen countries suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine while reports of a possible link to a small number of cases of blood clots and abnormal bleeding were investigated.
On Thursday, the bloc’s medical regulator, the European Medicines Agency, said that its review came to the firm conclusion that the vaccine was “safe and effective.” Although it will continue to watch for any connections to the disorders, the agency noted that any threat would be very small, and the shots will prevent vastly more deaths than they might cause.
Political leaders rushed to try and undo any damage to the public’s trust and faith in AstraZeneca and vaccines more broadly — with a number of them rolling up their sleeves and getting the shots themselves to drive the point home.
But the challenge for leaders across much of Europe is much deeper than restoring faith in one vaccine. They must now find a way to deliver more vaccines to the people that need them most at a time when the virus is once again claiming some 2,000 lives a day.
“The number of people dying from Covid-19 in Europe is higher now than it was this time last year,” said Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s European director. “It is in Central Europe, the Balkans, and the Baltic States where case incidence, hospitalizations and deaths are now among the highest in the world.”
Constant Méheut contributed reporting.
Students outside of a Brooklyn elementary school in December 2020.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
New York City’s public school system, the nation’s largest, will give families another chance to enroll their children in in-person classes following new guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday.
The new C.D.C. guidance allows elementary school students wearing masks to be spaced three feet apart, rather than six feet, in reopened schools. The city’s elementary schools, prekindergarten programs and programs for children with complex disabilities will adopt the new distancing guidelines in April, Mr. de Blasio said, allowing classrooms that have been operating at one-third capacity for many months to accommodate more students. With less distancing required between students, schools will be able to fit more children into each city classroom.
The city will continue to assess the risks of adjusting distancing rules for middle and high school students, Mr. de Blasio said. The C.D.C. said that its relaxed three-foot guideline only applies to to students in middle schools and high schools where community transmission is not high. (New York State has more recent cases per capita than any state except New Jersey, and the New York City metro area has the country’s second-highest rate of new cases behind only Idaho Falls, Idaho.)
The guidance still holds that adults in schools should keep six feet of distance from each other, and from students. New York City teachers have been eligible for the coronavirus vaccine since January.
After the school year began, the city gave families just one opportunity, last fall, to choose in-person classes. The vast majority of parents, roughly 70 percent, chose to keep their children learning from home. Now, Mr. de Blasio said families will have another chance to enroll their children in classroom learning beginning next week. Though it is not yet clear whether more middle and high school students will be able to return, Mr. de Blasio said the city is hoping to get a sense of how many of those students who are currently learning remotely would like to switch to classroom instruction.
Some parents who chose remote learning last November, when virus cases were rising quickly in New York City and there was no authorized coronavirus vaccine, have said they are eager to send their children into classrooms now that there is more clarity about the virus.
Still, many nonwhite families in particular are still wary of in-person learning, and it is likely that a significant number of parents will keep their children at home through the end of the school year in June.
New York’s schools, some of the first in the nation to reopen, have had extremely low positive test rates. Mr. de Blasio has committed to fully reopening the city’s school system this September for full-time instruction for any child who wants it. He has also said he expects the city to maintain a full-time remote option for some children this fall.
Though the city’s teachers’ union did not endorse the mayor’s plan on Friday, saying it would consult with its own medical experts, Mr. de Blasio said the city would forge ahead.
“The bottom line is, kids need to be in school,” he said.
Many parents who have chosen in-person instruction agree. Elga Castro, the mother of a third grader in Washington Heights, said her child has thrived being back in a classroom. But she wants more changes from the city to allow her child and many others to return more fully, including the elimination of a rule that requires school buildings to shut down if two unrelated positive cases are detected.
The changes are needed, she said, “so that kids can not only fully go back to school, but to make the process long-lasting and less interrupted.”
Prime Minister Jean Castex of France receiving a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday. Credit…Pool photo by Thomas Coex
France resumed administering the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday, but only to people aged 55 and above, as the country’s prime minister himself got a shot live on television to restore crucial trust in the jab.
The Haute Autorité de Santé, France’s top health regulator, officially gave its green light to resuming AstraZeneca vaccinations on Friday “without delay.” But noting that the rare cases of blood clotting disorders recorded around Europe had occurred among people younger than 55, it recommended using the vaccine only for people older than that.
Jean Castex, the country’s 55-year-old prime minister, flashed a thumbs up at television cameras after getting his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a military hospital in the Val-de-Marne area, southeast of Paris.
Unlike leaders in other countries, top government officials in France had thus far been reluctant to promote vaccination by getting their shots in public, many of them arguing that they did not fit the criteria currently defined by French health authorities and that they would wait for their turn.
But trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine was badly shaken after several countries, including Germany, Italy and France, temporarily suspended its use over worries about rare cases of blood clotting disorders among those who had gotten the shot.
France has been experiencing a sharp rise in coronavirus cases, jumping 24 percent in just a week. The variant first identified in Britain now represents three-quarters of new cases, and several regions, including the hard-hit area that includes Paris, began a new lockdown on Friday that will last for at least a month.
Last week, health officials in Paris ordered hospitals to cancel many of their procedures to make room for Covid-19 patients. And this week some patients were transferred to other regions to ease the pressure on hospitals.
The health regulator said that France had only recorded three cases of clotting disorders after administering 1.4 million AstraZeneca doses: one involving a 26-year-old woman who experienced disseminated intravascular coagulation; and two cases of cerebrovascular thrombosis, one in a 51-year-old man and the other in a 24-year-old woman.
Until “complementary data” was available on these rare cases, messenger RNA vaccines like the Pfizer one should be used for people younger than 55, the regulator said.
Maria Alyokhina, center, a member of Pussy Riot, at a hearing at the Moscow City Court in February.Credit…Moscow City Court Press Service, via Shutterstock
A Russian court has confined some of the country’s most prominent opposition figures to house arrest on accusations that they violated coronavirus safety rules, in what appears to be a government effort to use the restrictions to muzzle its opponents.
The legal action, known as a “sanitary case,” targets 10 opposition politicians and dissidents, including the senior leadership of Aleksei A. Navalny’s organization and members of the protest group Pussy Riot. All are accused of inciting others to violate rules introduced last spring to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Their lawyers have denied that they did.
Prosecutors say their social media posts promoting a protest in Moscow in January resulted in attendance by 19 people who were legally required to isolate because of positive Covid-19 tests, thus putting at risk others who attended.
Defense lawyers say the authorities are cynically twisting coronavirus rules to isolate people who pose no infection risk but are seen by the government as posing a political one.
“The ideological intent is to label opposition figures as infectious, as toxic, as poisoners of the public,” said Danil Berman, a lawyer for Maria Alyokhina, a member of Pussy Riot who was one of those targeted. Isolating key leaders before parliamentary elections scheduled for this year also hobbles the opposition, he said.
Many people around the world have complained that coronavirus restrictions have infringed on their freedoms as a byproduct of safety measures. But the Russian opposition members argue that the government is using the restrictions against them with the specific aim of curbing their liberty.
Online posts from the opposition figures promoting the protest did not specifically encourage people who were sick to attend, as the government charged, defense lawyers say. Lockdowns in Moscow had in any case been mostly lifted months earlier.
Also, the defense lawyers say, the rules are selectively enforced to restrict opposition activity while allowing pro-government events to go ahead with few restrictions, though the virus would spread as readily at either type of gathering.
Credit…Pool photo by Seth Wenig
A federal investigation into Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s handling of nursing homes during the pandemic has focused in recent weeks on whether the governor and his senior aides provided false data on resident deaths to the Justice Department, according to four people with knowledge of the investigation.
Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have contacted lawyers for Mr. Cuomo’s aides, interviewed senior officials from the state Health Department and subpoenaed Mr. Cuomo’s office for documents related to the disclosure of data last year, the people said.
The interviews have included questions about information New York State submitted last year to the Justice Department, which had asked the state for data on Covid-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes, according to the people. False statements in such a submission could constitute a crime.
In some cases, agents traveled to the homes of state health officials to interview them about the data. In others, they spoke to officials by phone, according to the people, who requested anonymity to discuss the active investigation.
The actions, which came in recent weeks, appeared to add to the legal pressure faced by Mr. Cuomo, as well as by his most senior aides, who may have played a role in withholding the true count of nursing home deaths from the public for months.
A spokesman for the Eastern District of New York, which is overseeing the investigation, declined to comment.
Elkan Abramowitz, an outside lawyer hired by the state to represent the governor’s office in the federal inquiry, said in a statement that “the submission in response to D.O.J.’s August request was truthful and accurate and any suggestion otherwise is demonstrably false.”
Mr. Cuomo has faced scrutiny for months over his policies related to nursing homes. The question of how many nursing home residents had died — both in the facilities and after being treated at hospitals — became a political issue for Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, as he came under criticism from both Democrats in Albany and from national Republicans, including former President Donald J. Trump.
VideoPrime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain received his first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine on Friday, one day after neighboring countries in Europe ruled the drug safe and effective, despite initial concerns.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Charles Mcquillan
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain received his first dose of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine on Friday, as neighboring countries resumed its use after the European Union’s drug regulator ruled it safe and effective.
“Getting the jab is the best thing we can do to get back to the lives we miss so much,” said Mr. Johnson after receiving his first injection at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, where he spent three nights in intensive care last year as he battled persistent symptoms of the Covid-19.
“Thank you to all the incredible scientists, NHS staff and volunteers who helped make this happen,” Mr. Johnson, 56, added about the revered National Health Service.
Mr. Johnson’s vaccination capped a tumultuous week in which his government resisted calls from opposition politicians for a public inquiry into its management of the pandemic, and amid growing concerns that its vaccine rollout, successful so far, might be hampered by a drop in vaccine supply.
Yet on Friday Britain also recorded its highest number of daily injections, with more than 660,000 doses injected. More than 26 million people in Britain have received at least one vaccine dose — nearly half of the country’s adult population.
Mr. Johnson’s vaccination came a year to the day after he said that Britain could “send the coronavirus packing in this country” in a matter of weeks. The authorities announced a nationwide lockdown several days later, and Britain has since become the European country with the highest number of recoded coronavirus deaths — nearly 126,000.
But British authorities hope that the breakneck pace of their vaccination campaign will help the country return to some form of normalcy by the summer.
Schools reopened this month, and more restrictions are expected to be lifted in the spring. Mr. Johnson insisted this week that the “road to freedom remains unchecked” despite the announced shortage in vaccine supply.
As cases and deaths have dropped sharply for weeks, and pubs and restaurants are scheduled to reopen for outdoor service next month, Britain has found itself in an unusual position compared with other European countries.
It had been the epicenter of the pandemic in Europe since January, and large numbers of deaths and hospitalizations overwhelmed a health care system that had already been overstretched by the first wave last year. But the country now appears to be walking out of the pandemic, while places like France, Germany and Italy face a third wave of infections.
Still, there are growing concerns that new variants will soon spread in Britain, in addition to the first discovered in the country late last year — an emergence that led to strict lockdown measures and travel restrictions around the world.
Neil Ferguson, a former adviser to Mr. Johnson on the pandemic, said on Friday that he was concerned about the spread in Europe of the variant first discovered in South Africa.
Early research suggests that the variant, which accounts for a significant portion of new cases in countries like France, may weaken the efficacy of some vaccines. That includes the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is central to Britain’s inoculation drive.
The head of England’s National Health Service, Simon Stevens, 54, also received his first injection of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week, as did Prime Minister Jean Castex of France, 55, who flashed a thumbs-up at television cameras after getting his shot at a military hospital southeast of Paris.
The nearly simultaneous public inoculations of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Castex underscored how public officials in Europe have tried to restore public confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine, after several countries in the European Union, including France, paused its use this week.
But Britain and France have found themselves in very different situations: Britain, which left the European Union last year, has vaccinated its population at a more rapid pace than France and other countries of the bloc. And British officials have been staunch defenders of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford.
Britain and the bloc have also been embroiled in a monthslong tug of war over vaccine supply, which reached a new high this week when Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission accused AstraZeneca of having “under-produced and under-delivered” to the bloc.
“We want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports,” Ms. Von der Leyen said in a semi-veiled threat. “And we are ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that.”
Victoria Ewers, left, and her sister Elle racing to the finish line during the White House Easter Egg Roll in 2018.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Add the White House Easter Egg Roll to the list of yearly traditions canceled — once again — by the pandemic.
The event was canceled for the second year in a row over concerns about large gatherings. President Biden’s cautious benchmark — small gatherings by July 4, if Americans keep to social distancing protocols and receive vaccines when they are offered — comes well after the Easter holiday and nowhere near the usual capacity for the egg roll, which draws up to 30,000 people to the White House grounds.
“The Bidens hope to continue this tradition in 2022,” Michael LaRosa, a spokesman for the first lady, Jill Biden, said in a statement confirming the cancellation. “The White House plans to send out thousands of the 2021 commemorative Easter Egg Roll eggs in the coming days to vaccination sites and local hospitals. We urge everyone this Easter to continue wearing masks, engage in social distancing and get the vaccine when it is your turn.”
In addition to the risk of coronavirus transmission, there are fewer people in place to organize and host the event. Dozens of White House officials are working remotely, adhering to strict coronavirus protocols as the pandemic continues.
Anita McBride, a board member of the White House Historical Association, said the White House “generally still doesn’t have a full complement of staff” coming into the building. She added that there would be “no in-person activities” for the egg roll this year.
Instead, the association has released a virtual egg hunt. Commemorative wooden eggs — featuring the White House dogs, Champ and Major, and an Easter bunny wearing a protective mask — are also for sale.
Last year, Melania Trump, the former first lady, called the decision to cancel the egg roll “difficult” but necessary.
“The health and safety of all Americans must be the first priority, especially right now,” Mrs. Trump said in a statement issued by the White House last March. “I deeply regret this cancellation, but we need to make difficult decisions in the short term to ensure a healthy country for the long term.”
Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa, center behind brown box, who plans to climb Mount Everest, arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Monday.Credit…Nishant S. Gurung/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
KATHMANDU, Nepal — A peculiar vaccine drama is unfolding at the international airport in Nepal’s capital. It involves a member of Bahrain’s royal family who arrived with thousands of doses of coronavirus vaccines from China for an expedition to Mount Everest.
Before setting out, a team of Bahraini climbers led by Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa had announced that they would be coming with 2,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, which Nepal’s government said would be of the AstraZeneca kind.
This move would fulfill a pledge that the climbers had made to local villagers during another expedition last September — a promise of generosity that led the villagers to name a local hill “Bahrain Peak.”
But when the climbers arrived in the capital, Kathmandu, on Monday, an inquiry by Nepal’s drug regulators found that the vaccines they were carrying were actually the one developed by Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned vaccine maker.
The Nepali authorities now find themselves in a fix: whether to accept the vaccine doses or refuse.
The doses are being held in cold storage at the airport, and the climbers have been quarantined at a hotel as the authorities ponder how to handle the situation.
Nepal has largely relied on the AstraZeneca vaccine for its rollout, which is off to a slow start. Relying on a donation of one million doses from India, Nepal has vaccinated about 1.7 million people in a country of about 30 million.
Its efforts have been slowed because of a delay in the delivery of two million vaccine doses that it bought from the Serum Institute of India.
Although Nepal approved the emergency use of the Sinopharm vaccine after China pledged to give 500,000 doses to the country, it has not received the Chinese donation.
In September, the Bahraini climbers arrived in Nepal in a chartered plane to climb two mountains, Mount Manaslu and Lobuche Peak. The vaccine doses they were carrying this week were a gift for villagers in Samagaun, a gateway to Mount Manaslu.
The team of Bahraini climbers could not be reached for comment. But Mingma Sherpa, the owner of Seven Summit Treks, the agency that has been organizing the Bahrain team’s Everest expedition, said the complications might have resulted from miscommunication between Nepal’s foreign ministry and the health ministry.
He said the Sinopharm vaccine had also been used during Bahrain’s vaccination drive.
“It’s up to the government,” Mr. Sherpa said. “If they think it’s OK, the vaccines will be administered to villagers. If they think it’s risky to vaccinate the people, the team will take the vaccine back to Bahrain.”
On a bus in central Kyiv in January.Credit…Gleb Garanich/Reuters
Ukraine’s capital will become the latest European city to go into lockdown, with strict three-week measures being introduced for Kyiv on Saturday as vaccinations failed to prevent a third wave of coronavirus infections.
Restaurants, offices, schools, and shops selling goods other than food were ordered to close after months of relatively relaxed enforcement of safety measures.
The closings come as other parts of Europe are struggling with a surge in infections. A nationwide lockdown for Italy was announced on Monday, and several regions in France began a lockdown on Friday that will last for at least a month.
Even as case counts rose recently, Kyiv’s vibrant restaurant and bar scene often looked almost as if there were no pandemic. Night clubs stayed open, though they required mask-wearing on the dance floors.
But the partial measures did not work. Coronavirus hospitals in the city are 70 percent full, and Mayor Vitali Klitschko said on Friday that 1,210 people had tested positive in the capital over the past 24 hours. Across Ukraine, the health authorities registered an average of 11,315 new cases a day over the past week.
“The situation is difficult and can become catastrophic,” Mr. Klitschko said this week.
Ukraine, which obtained vaccines in deals with India and China, has been slow to inoculate a population in which hesitancy over the vaccines is widespread. Just 0.2 percent of Ukraine’s population has been inoculated.
Source by www.nytimes.com