Global Covid-19 News: Live Updates on Vaccine and Cases – The New York Times

People waiting to receive the coronavirus vaccination at a hospital in Milan this week.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

BRUSSELS — A stockpile of 29 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that were found languishing in a facility in Italy became the new flash point on Wednesday in the conflict between the pharmaceutical company and the European Union, as the bloc prepared to unveil stringent export restrictions primarily meant to stop drugmakers from sending doses abroad.

The Italian authorities found the vaccines in a site visit, European Union officials said, at a factory near Rome that is contracted to fill and finish Covid-19 vaccine vials for AstraZeneca.

The Italian authorities went to the site after receiving an alert from the European Commission, which found a discrepancy between what the company said it was producing in European Union facilities, and what the facilities themselves were reporting.

The presence of so many doses raised suspicions that the pharmaceutical company was trying to find a way to export them to Britain or elsewhere, something the bloc has demanded that AstraZeneca stop doing until the company fulfills its promises for deliveries.

The European Union was meant to receive more than 100 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca in the first quarter of this year, but has received only 16.6 million. The supply shortage has helped to derail vaccination efforts across the 27 member countries and contributed to embarrassingly slow inoculation rates on the continent.

What has most irked the European Union is that AstraZeneca has been consistently delivering on its contract with Britain while letting the bloc take the brunt of its production failures that have diminished supplies. AstraZeneca has denied it has violated its E.U. contract. The bloc took the first step last week to litigate the issue by activating an amicable dispute mechanism with AstraZeneca, but there is no indication either party intends to take it to court.

The bloc tried to force AstraZeneca to deliver more doses by introducing a system of export authorizations on Feb. 1, but only one AstraZeneca shipment, a small batch headed to Australia, has been blocked since that came into force.

On Wednesday, the European Union introduced a stricter export-control plan that aims to crack down on exports, as the bloc fears AstraZeneca deliveries will also disappoint in the second quarter as the bloc confronts a third wave of infections and extended lockdowns.

E.U. officials said there was no evidence that the stockpile in Italy, first reported by the Italian daily La Stampa, was bound for Britain. They said the company, when confronted about the doses, said that 16 million doses were bound for the E.U. market and 13 million to countries under the Covax initiative that aims to get doses to poorer nations. Those latter exports would be exempt from E.U. controls, as they are deemed to be of humanitarian nature.

AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Global Roundup

“It was a mistake,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said of the plan for two extra days of national holiday next week, which she has dropped the day after it was announced.
Credit…Stefanie Loos/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel scrapped an unpopular plan on Wednesday to shut down the German economy for two extra days over the Easter holidays, reversing her own policy as her government faces widespread anger over its chaotic moves to combat a resurgence of the coronavirus.

Her about-face came less than 36 hours after she had proposed declaring April 1 and 3 “off days,” to effectively extend the country’s Easter vacation to five consecutive days in hopes of halting a recent spike in infections.

The suggestion — made after nearly 12 hours of deliberations between Ms. Merkel and the leaders of Germany’s 16 states that dragged into the early hours of Tuesday — was met with an almost immediate backlash, including sharp criticism from opposition politicians and a flood of complaints from a public worn out by a seemingly endless roller coaster of lockdowns and reopenings.

“It was a mistake,” the chancellor said, adding that the suggestion had been made with the best of intentions, aimed at slowing the B.1.1.7 variant, first discovered in Britain, which has been spreading through Germany. That spread has been aided by a sluggish vaccine rollout: Barely 10 percent of German adults have received their first shot, nearly three months after a vaccine developed by a German start-up, BioNTech, became the first in the world to receive approval.

But unlike a year ago, when the chancellor and the governors swiftly agreed to shutter the economy as the pandemic spread across Europe, the proposal to make the Thursday and Saturday before Easter into public holidays met with criticism from business leaders angry at the prospect of losing more revenue and German citizens angry at the idea they have to spend their spring holiday at home for the second year in a row.

“We have to succeed in slowing the spread of the third wave of the coronavirus,” the chancellor said, thanking all Germans who are following social distancing and masking rules.

This was the latest in a series of abrupt turns by Ms. Merkel’s government, after her health minister abruptly announced the country was halting vaccinations with AstraZeneca last week, only to reinstate them after the European drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency, cleared it for use.

Yet despite the confusion created by the suggestion of extending the holidays, some acknowledged that simply going back on the plan would do little to help the country slow the spread of the coronavirus. Germany saw 15,813 new infections on Wednesday, continuing a sharp rise over recent weeks.

“Instead of more protection against the third wave, we now have less!” said Janosch Dahmen, a medical doctor who serves as a lawmaker for the Greens, said on Twitter. “The extended break over Easter is now off the table. Even if it was half-baked, today’s decision made fight against the virus worse, even though it tried to make it better.”

In other news around the world:

  • Belgium will tighten restrictions on Friday as it faces rising numbers of hospitalizations and new cases. Hairdressers and beauty salons will be closed until April 25, and other nonessential businesses will be allowed to open to the public only by appointment. Alexander de Croo, the country’s prime minister, called the new measures “an Easter break.” Schools’ spring break will be extended by one week, so students will not return to in-person instruction until April 19.

Teaching a science class via Zoom last year in Durham, N.C. A year into the pandemic, America’s school system remains severely disrupted.
Credit…Pete Kiehart for The New York Times

Under President Donald J. Trump, the federal government did little to gauge the impact of the pandemic on the nation’s education system. President Biden promised to change that, and on Wednesday, his Department of Education released the first federal survey of how American public schools have operated amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The results paint a picture of a school system that remained severely disrupted as the pandemic neared its first anniversary.

It found that in January of this year, three-quarters of school buildings were open at least partially for in-person learning in the fourth and eighth grades, the two grade levels examined by the survey. Nevertheless, 43 percent of fourth graders and 48 percent of eighth graders were learning fully remotely. Only 28 percent of eighth graders and 38 percent of fourth graders were attending full-time, in-person school; the rest were on hybrid schedules, receiving a mixture of in-person and virtual instruction.

Racial disparities were stark. The majority of Black, Hispanic and Asian-American fourth graders were learning fully remotely, compared to only a quarter of white fourth graders. About half the white fourth graders were in full-time, traditional school.

Children with disabilities were only slightly more likely to be learning in-person than others, despite schools reporting that they had prioritized this population for classroom time.

“It’s sobering,” said Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, a research group that has spent the past year gathering its own, widely cited data on how school districts are functioning. “The data point us to the strong likelihood that the effects from lack of live instruction will add up to significant challenges for kids.”

In line with previous research, the survey found that urban schools, which serve large numbers of nonwhite students, were less likely to offer full-time, in-person schedules. But there is also evidence that significant numbers of nonwhite parents are opting for remote learning even when other options are available, in part because they are more concerned about the health risks of returning their children to school buildings.

The quality of remote learning varied widely, according to the federal survey. More than 1 in 10 students were offered less than two hours per day of live instruction from teachers. In some states, such as Oklahoma and Idaho, only a small percentage of remote learners received more than two hours of live teaching daily.

The survey is based on a representative sample of schools, and will be updated monthly throughout the academic year. Future surveys will look at additional grade levels.

An Air Canada employee, Mohamed Gaballa, completing a rapid test at Toronto Pearson Airport in January.
Credit…Tara Walton for The New York Times

A team of Canadian researchers who brought together some of that country’s largest businesses to scale up a rapid coronavirus testing program is now trying to replicate its success in the United States, with the aim of reviving the economy and getting thousands of Americans back to work.

The organizers of the new program, called the U.S. Rapid Action Consortium, will announce on Wednesday that they are trying to recruit 12 companies to screen asymptomatic employees with rapid antigen tests on a routine basis. Four companies have signed on so far, including Air Canada and Scotiabank. Both participate in the Canadian program, which also began with 12 firms and has grown to include 400.

The consortium hopes that by joining forces, companies in the United States will be able to increase their purchasing power and quickly learn how to use rapid tests to prevent outbreaks and reopen shuttered businesses.

“Industry is essentially saying, ‘We need to act now. This remains a crisis for us. Every day that our employees are not at work is another day that our business isn’t optimized,’” said Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard University epidemiologist and expert in rapid testing who has been asked to advise the group.

But the consortium may face obstacles. Rapid tests are in short supply in the United States, and the Biden administration recently announced it intends to spend $10 billion to ramp up rapid coronavirus testing in schools. Dr. Mina said it might “prove difficult to get the fast testing in a way that the companies are really hoping because of the limited supply.”

The Canada initiative was organized by Ajay Agrawal, the founder of the University of Toronto’s Creative Destruction Lab, which helps science and technology start-ups. In the United States, the lab is partnering with Covid Collaborative, a bipartisan association of policy experts, and Genpact, a global professional services firm that has operations in Texas and is also involved in the Canadian effort.

“The ultimate goal is to take the cost of this down dramatically and just reopen the economy much faster and for our employees, make it a safe place to come to work,” Darren Saumur, Genpact’s global operating officer, said in an interview.

In Canada, where the program has been running for two months, employees periodically stop into screening stations set up outside their workplaces and take rapid antigen tests.

These tests are relatively cheap and can return results in 15 minutes, but are less sensitive and more prone to false negatives than polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., tests that are the gold standard for detecting the coronavirus. Employees who test positive on the rapid antigen test are referred for a follow-up P.C.R. test.

Between January 11 and March 18, the Canadian program administered more than 21,000 rapid tests across 42 different sites. Just 19 returned positive results; of those, 16 were confirmed as positive by P.C.R. testing, consortium officials say.

Participating companies must pay for their own tests, but the consortium will provide a detailed “playbook” to help companies set up their programs, as well as operational support. Companies that participate in the first cohort will be asked to help the next group of companies implement their programs.

“You have to promise that you’re going to pay it forward,” Mr. Agrawal said.

The suicide of Kent Taylor, the founder and chief executive of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain, has drawn attention to a possible link between Covid-19 and tinnitus, the medical term for a constant ringing in the ears.

Mr. Taylor had a variety of symptoms following his illness, including severe tinnitus, his family said in a statement, adding that his suffering had become “unbearable.”

Whether tinnitus is linked to Covid-19 — and if so, how often it occurs — is an unanswered question. Neither the World Health Organization nor the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes tinnitus as a symptom, although auditory problems are common in other viral infections.

But tinnitus is on the list of symptoms of “long Covid” published by the National Health Service in Britain, along with fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and more. And a few recent case reports and studies have hinted at a potential link.

Credit…Ron Bath/Texas Roadhouse

A study published on Monday in the Journal of International Audiology that looked at nearly 60 case reports and studies found that 15 percent of adults with Covid-19 reported symptoms of tinnitus. The authors believe that the respondents were describing either a new condition or a worsening one, though they are following up with the 60 or so researchers to be certain about how the surveys were worded.

“In the 24 hours since we published, I’ve received about 100 emails,” said Kevin Munro, a professor of audiology at the University of Manchester and a co-author of the study. “Almost of all of them were people saying, ‘I was so happy to read about this, because my doctor thought I was crazy when I mentioned tinnitus and now I know I’m not the only one.’”

There is also some evidence that Covid-19 can aggravate symptoms among people who already had tinnitus. A study published late last year in the journal Frontiers in Public Health surveyed 3,100 people with tinnitus and found that 40 percent of the 237 respondents who had contracted Covid-19 reported that their symptoms were “significantly exacerbated” following the infection.

“There are a lot of viruses that have an impact on the ears, including measles, mumps and rubella,” said Dr. Eldre Beukes, the audiologist at Anglia Ruskin University in England who led the study. “It could also be the case that medication taken to combat Covid is making tinnitus worse. And there is a well-known link between tinnitus and stress.”

A trolley carrying BioNTech vaccines at Hong Kong International Airport in February.
Credit…Pool photo by Jerome Favre

Hong Kong on Wednesday suspended use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine after packaging defects ranging from cracked containers to loose caps were discovered in one batch of doses. The pause dealt a major blow to a city already struggling to inoculate its seven million residents against Covid-19.

Health officials called the halt a precaution, saying that none of the defective vials had been administered to patients and that they had found no health risks.

But if the suspension persists, the Chinese territory may not have enough shots to protect its population while the coronavirus continues to spread. Hong Kong officials were counting on 7.5 million doses of the vaccine, developed by Pfizer of the United States and BioNTech of Germany, to help fill their needs.

The discovery has unleashed a hunt for the origin of the defects, as well as questions about whether more might be out there. The doses were manufactured at BioNTech’s facilities in Germany, while a Chinese company called Fosun Pharma was in charge of transporting, storing and distributing the shots in Hong Kong.

“I’m confused as to why this is being reported for the first time in Hong Kong and we haven’t heard about it elsewhere,” said Benjamin Cowling, the division head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong.

“Was there anything special about this particular batch? Presumably they were manufactured in exactly the same way that the other batches have been manufactured in Germany.”

In a statement on Wednesday, BioNTech said the batch in question had been sent only to Hong Kong and Macau, another Chinese territory nearby, where the authorities also suspended use of the vaccine.

The company said it was investigating the source of the problem but added that, “At this point, we have no reason to believe there is any safety risk posed to the population.”

Even before the defects were found, Hong Kong’s inoculation drive had been plagued by public doubts. Vaccination bookings had fallen after reports that several people died after receiving the other vaccine Hong Kong is using, which is made by Sinovac, a Beijing company.

The Hong Kong government has found no direct link between the shots and the deaths. But trust in the government has fallen since mainland Chinese officials tightened their control over the former British colony following antigovernment protests in 2019.

In January, a poll of 2,733 residents showed that only 39 percent of Hong Kong residents were willing to take a Covid-19 vaccine.

“There are some important risks here that this will further undermine confidence in the vaccines that are available,” said Karen Grépin, an associate professor at the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong.

News updates scrolling on the front of the ABC studios in Times Square last year.
Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

In today’s edition of The Morning newsletter, David Leonhardt writes:

Bruce Sacerdote, an economics professor at Dartmouth College, noticed something last year about the Covid-19 television coverage that he was watching on CNN and PBS. It almost always seemed negative, regardless of what was he seeing in the data or hearing from scientists he knew.

When Covid cases were rising in the U.S., the news coverage emphasized the increase. When cases were falling, the coverage instead focused on those places where cases were rising. And when vaccine research began showing positive results, the coverage downplayed it, as far as Sacerdote could tell.

But he was not sure whether his perception was correct. To check, he began working with two other researchers, building a database of Covid coverage from every major network, CNN, Fox News, Politico, The New York Times and hundreds of other sources, in the U.S. and overseas. The researchers then analyzed it with a social-science technique that classifies language as positive, neutral or negative.

The results showed that Sacerdote’s instinct had been right — and not just because the pandemic has been mostly a grim story.

The coverage by U.S. publications with a national audience has been much more negative than coverage by any other source that the researchers analyzed, including scientific journals, major international publications and regional U.S. media. “The most well-read U.S. media are outliers in terms of their negativity,” Molly Cook, a co-author of the study, told me.

About 87 percent of Covid coverage in national U.S. media last year was negative. The share was 51 percent in international media, 53 percent in U.S. regional media and 64 percent in scientific journals.

Notably, the coverage was negative in both U.S. media outlets with liberal audiences (like MSNBC) and those with conservative audiences (like Fox News).

Credit…By The New York Times | Sources: Bruce Sacerdote, Ranjan Sehgal and Molly Cook

Sacerdote is careful to emphasize that he does not think journalists usually report falsehoods. The issue is which facts they emphasize. Still, the new study — which the National Bureau of Economic Research has published as a working paper, titled, “Why is all Covid-19 news bad news?” — calls for some self-reflection from those of us in the media.

If we’re constantly telling a negative story, we are not giving our audience the most accurate portrait of reality. We are shading it. We are doing a good job telling you why Covid cases are rising in some places and how the vaccines are imperfect — but not such a good job explaining why cases are falling elsewhere or how the vaccines save lives. Perhaps most important, we are not being clear about which Covid developments are truly alarming.

As Ranjan Sehgal, another co-author, told me, “The media is painting a picture that is a little bit different from what the scientists are saying.”

The researchers say they are not sure what explains their findings, but they do have a leading contender: The U.S. media is giving the audience what it wants.

When the researchers examined which stories were the most read or the most shared on Facebook, they tended to be the most negative stories. To put it another way, the stories that people choose to read skew even more negative than the stories that media organizations choose to publish. “Human beings, particularly consumers of major media, like negativity in their stories,” Sacerdote said. “We think the major media are responding to consumer demand.”

That idea is consistent with the patterns in the data, Sacerdote added: It makes sense that national publications have better instincts about reaching a large audience than, say, science journals. And overseas, some of the most influential English-language media organizations — like the BBC — have long received government funding, potentially making them less focused on consumer demand.

All of that sounds plausible to me, but I don’t think it is the full explanation. I have worked in media for nearly three decades, and I think you might be surprised by how little time journalists spend talking about audience size. We care about it, obviously, but most journalists I know care much more about other factors, like doing work that has an impact.

In the modern era of journalism — dating roughly to the Vietnam War and Watergate — we tend to equate impact with asking tough questions and exposing problems. There are some good reasons for that. We are inundated by politicians, business executives, movie stars and others trying to portray themselves in the best light. Our job is to cut through the self-promotion and find the truth. If we don’t tell you the bad news, you may never hear it.

Sometimes, though, our healthy skepticism can turn into reflexive cynicism, and we end up telling something less than the complete story. I am grateful to Sacerdote, Cook and Sehgal for doing to us journalists what we normally do to others — holding up a mirror to our work and giving us a chance to do better.

Dr. Vivek Murthy will return as surgeon general at a critical moment, as the president tries to steer the nation out of the worst public health crisis in a century.
Credit…Pool photo by Caroline Brehman

Dr. Vivek Murthy, who helped found several health-related advocacy groups and later tackled the opioid epidemic and e-cigarettes as surgeon general during the Obama administration, was confirmed by the Senate on Tuesday to reprise that role for President Biden.

The vote, 57 to 43, was a much smoother ride for Dr. Murthy than the first time he was confirmed, in 2014, when Republicans cast him as a politically connected supporter of President Barack Obama who would use his position to push for stricter gun control. The fight dragged on for months, leaving the country without a top doctor for more than a year.

When President Donald J. Trump was elected, Dr. Murthy was asked to resign. He refused and was fired, his wife, Alice Chen, said at the time.

Dr. Murthy will return as surgeon general at a critical moment, as the president tries to steer the nation out of the worst public health crisis in a century while expanding access to health care for millions of Americans. During his confirmation hearing, he told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that he would make ending the coronavirus pandemic his highest priority.

Dr. Murthy, 43, helped found Doctors for Obama, a group that worked to elect Mr. Obama and now works to expand health care access for Americans. It now goes by Doctors for America.

As an undergraduate at Harvard University, he helped found two nonprofits, one focusing on H.I.V./AIDS education in the United States and India, and the other to train women as community health workers in rural India.

A son of Indian immigrants and the first person of Indian descent to hold the surgeon general’s post, Dr. Murthy, 43, was born in England and grew up mostly in Miami, watching his parents in their own medical practice. He invoked them during his confirmation hearing.

“I have tried,” Dr. Murthy said, “to live by the lessons they embodied: that we have an obligation to help each other whenever we can, to alleviate suffering wherever we find it, and to give back to this country that made their lives and my life and the lives of my children possible.”

The Olympic rings in Tokyo this month.
Credit…Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

From the moment that Japan pitched to host the 2020 Olympic Games, its organizers have framed it as a symbol of recovery.

Now, as the organizers press ahead with plans to hold the Tokyo Olympics this summer, the event itself threatens to become a trial.

A series of challenges have besieged the Games. Even as the organizers decided last week to bar international spectators, epidemiologists warn that the Olympics could become a superspreader event. Thousands of athletes will descend on Tokyo from more than 200 countries while much of the Japanese public remains unvaccinated.

In polls, close to 80 percent say the Games should be postponed again or canceled outright.

The financial hazards are also significant — the Olympic budget has swollen to a record $15.4 billion, increasing nearly $3 billion in the past year alone and adding to longstanding doubts about whether Olympic Games pay off for host nations. Without foreign spectators, there is now little upside for hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions.

And the Tokyo organizing committee has been swamped by leadership chaos, with both the president and creative director resigning over the past month after making sexist remarks.

In the telling of the Olympic organizers, staging the Games this summer is something close to a moral imperative. The president of the Tokyo organizing committee, Seiko Hashimoto, recently cited the “significant challenges” facing the world and the responsibility of the Olympics “to build a legacy for the future society.”

But money, national pride and political obduracy are also at play.

Then there is the matter of China. The Beijing Winter Olympics are less than a year away, and Tokyo wants bragging rights for hosting the first post-pandemic Games. If the Olympics fell through in Japan but were staged in China, that could give the Beijing government more fuel to assert that its authoritarian system is superior.

Whatever the outcome, they could have profound ramifications for the entire Olympic movement, which has relied for decades upon a promise of inspiration and civic pride to support enormous expenditures and increasingly onerous demands on host cities.

Roselyne Bachelot, the French culture minister, leaving a cabinet meeting at the Élysée Palace in January.
Credit…Ludovic Marin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

France’s culture minister, Roselyne Bachelot, has been hospitalized with Covid-19, the authorities said on Wednesday, as the country faced a new wave of coronavirus infections that threatens to overwhelm its hospitals.

Ms. Bachelot, 74, is the second member of the government to be admitted to a hospital because of the virus, and the latest in a series of senior officials to become ill. President Emmanuel Macron tested positive in December.

A statement from Ms. Bachelot’s office said that her condition was “stable and does not raise concern,” and that her doctor had “recommended increased hospital surveillance for the next few days.” She said on Saturday that she tested positive after experiencing respiratory problems.

The news that she was infected touched off a controversy in France. Ms. Bachelot went to a closed performance for invited guests at the Paris Opera on Friday and posed for close-up photos with unmasked performers afterward, according to the newspaper Libération. She wore a mask the entire time, but social distancing rules appeared to have been broken, raising the possibility that performers and other workers may have been put at risk.

Unions representing workers in the arts have criticized Ms. Bachelot because cultural institutions have mostly been closed since October, when rising coronavirus cases prompted a lockdown, the country’s second of the pandemic. Protesters recently occupied several theaters to demand that they be reopened.

New case reports in France have generally been trending upward since early December, and have climbed sharply this month, according to a New York Times database. The country’s hospitals are being severely strained by an influx of coronavirus patients, and intensive care units in the Paris region are already filled beyond their official capacity.

Martin Hirsh, the director of Paris’s public hospitals, wrote in an email to employees on Wednesday that more new patients arrived at intensive care units the day before than on any day since the pandemic’s first wave last spring.

The French government put several regions, including Paris, under a new lockdown last week that forced businesses that are considered nonessential to close, and ordered residents to limit their outdoor activities to places within six miles of their homes.

Sorgente articolo:
Global Covid-19 News: Live Updates on Vaccine and Cases – The New York Times

User ID Campaign ID Link
d9a95efa0a2845057476957a427b0499 l-99999983 Fiasconaro
d9a95efa0a2845057476957a427b0499 l-99999982 Free Web Hosting
d9a95efa0a2845057476957a427b0499 l-99999993 High Pagerank Service
d9a95efa0a2845057476957a427b0499 l-99999994 Marketing Automation