Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. Covid Vaccine Confidence Rises Though Skeptics Remain, Survey Says – The New York Times

A pastor Eddie Taylor, 58, center, and his wife, Helen Taylor, 60, right, waited in line to enter a vaccination site in Houston on Monday.
Credit…Go Nakamura for The New York Times

As eligibility for Covid-19 vaccination rapidly expands to all adults in many states over the next month, a new poll shows a continuing increase in the number of Americans, particularly Black adults, who want to get vaccinated. But it also found that vaccine skepticism remains stubbornly persistent, particularly among Republicans and white evangelical Christians, an issue that the Biden administration has flagged as an impediment to achieving herd immunity and a return to normal life.

By now, roughly 61 percent of adults have either received their first dose or are eager for one, up from 47 percent in January, according to the latest monthly survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The shift was most striking among Black Americans, some of whom have previously expressed hesitancy but who have also had access issues. Since just February, 14 percent more Black adults said they wanted or had already gotten the vaccine. Over all, Black adults, who have also been on the receiving end of vigorous promotional campaigns by celebrities, local Black physicians, clergy members and public health officials, now want the vaccine in numbers almost comparable to other leading demographic groups: 55 percent, compared with 61 percent for Latinos and 64 percent for white people.

The Biden administration has made equity a focus of its pandemic response and has added mass vaccination sites in several underserved communities. In early March, a New York Times analysis of state-reported race and ethnicity information showed that the vaccination rate for Black people in the United States was half that of white people, and the gap for Hispanic people was even larger.

Dr. Reed Tuckson, a founder of the Black Coalition Against Covid, hailed the increasing acceptance rates but noted that practical problems still get in the way of uptake.

“The data, and our anecdotal feedback, are encouraging and further support the need for equitable distribution and easy-to-access vaccination sites that are led by trustworthy organizations,” he said. “The system needs to support those choices by making the right thing to do the easy thing to do.”

Over all, the poll found that the so-called wait and see group — people who have yet to make up their mind — is shrinking commensurately, now at 17 percent, down from 31 percent in January. The seven-day average of vaccines administered hit 2.77 million on Tuesday, an increase over the pace the previous week, according to data reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey was taken between March 15 through March 22, among a random sample of 1862 adults.

Despite the progress, one in five adults (20 percent) say they would either definitely refuse the shot or only be vaccinated if required by their job or school. A number of employers and institutions are considering imposing such a requirement. Last week, Rutgers University became the first large academic institution to require students this fall to get the vaccine (with exemptions for some medical or religious reasons).

The people most likely to firmly oppose being vaccinated identify as Republicans (29 percent) or as white evangelical Christians (28 percent). In contrast, only 10 percent of Black adults said they would definitely not get it.

According to the Kaiser survey as well as other polls, Republicans have budged little in their views on vaccine acceptance in recent months, although they were more open last fall, before the November presidential election. The partisan divide over the Covid shots is wide, with just 46 percent of Republicans saying they have received at least one shot or want to get it, compared with 79 percent of Democrats.

No group is monolithic in its reasons to oppose or accept the vaccines. Those who are skeptical say they mistrust the government generally and are apprehensive about the speed of the vaccine’s development. Awash in online misinformation, many cling to a fast-spreading myth — that tracker microchips are embedded in the shots.

For rural residents, access to the vaccine is so problematic that they see the logistics and travel time involved as simply not worth it.

With so many reasons cited to avoid the vaccine, crafting messages to coax vaccine confidence can be difficult. But the latest Kaiser report identified some approaches that seem to be successful in moving people to consider the shots.

At least two-thirds of the so-called wait and see group said they would be persuaded by the message that the vaccines are “nearly 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalization and death from Covid-19.” Other strong messages included information that the new vaccines are based on 20-year-old technology, that the vaccine trials included a broad diversity of candidates, and that the vaccines are free.

The survey also noted that many people who are hesitant would be amenable to certain incentives. As the country begins to open up and on-site work returns, the role of the employer in vaccination is becoming increasingly pertinent. A quarter of those who are hesitant and have a job said that they would get the shot if their employer arranged for workplace vaccination. Nearly as many would agree if their employers gave them financial incentives ranging from $50 to $200.

But over all, the strong growth in adults who have either gotten one dose of the vaccine or are inclined to get it is most likely because of their increasing familiarity with the notion. Surveys show that as they begin to know more friends and relatives who have gotten the shot, they can more readily imagine getting it themselves.

Jane Mooney, a volunteer physician assistant, attempts to squeeze an extra Moderna vaccine dose out of a vial at a free vaccination clinic earlier this month in Madison, Wisc.
Credit…Coburn Dukehart/Wisconsin Watch, via Associated Press

Arkansas, Delaware and Wisconsin announced plans on Tuesday to open vaccinations up to those 16 or older by next week, bringing the total to 39 states that have announced plans to open vaccinations to all adult residents by mid-April.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas, said those residents would be eligible to be vaccinated as of Tuesday and lifted the state’s mask requirements, despite an urgent call from President Biden the day before for states to keep or reimpose mask mandates, even as vaccinations increase. Wisconsin’s eligibility change goes into effect on Monday and Delaware’s on Tuesday.

Ending the mask mandate in Arkansas was “appropriate” Mr. Hutchinson said, who said that new virus cases and hospitalizations had decreased across the state. While there will no longer be a mandate, Mr. Hutchinson still urged people to continue to wear masks. “It’s important to be courteous to others and to be mindful that we need to protect ourselves and others,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

In Arkansas and other states, cases and hospitalizations have been declining. But the number of new virus cases has been slowly mounting across the country, including in Delaware and Wisconsin. This is adding pressure to getting more Americans vaccinated before worrisome variants spread into a possible fourth surge. In what they see as a race against time, federal health officials have been asking states not to lift restrictions prematurely.

“Don’t let the Covid-19 fatigue get the best of you when we are this close to the finish line,” Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin, a Democrat, said at a news conference on Tuesday. “With eligibility opening up to all Wisconsinites next week and especially with the holiday weekend upon us, we need folks to be as diligent as ever.”

After weeks of decline earlier this year, followed by a plateau, new virus cases are rising again, with a nearly 19 percent rise on Monday compared with the number of cases two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database.

Similar upticks in the past have led to major surges in the spread of the virus. Still, new cases and deaths have declined from the early January peak. The seven-day average of new deaths remains near 1,000 a day, and the nation surpassed 550,000 virus deaths in total on Tuesday, according to The Times database.

Federal health officials are pleading with Americans to stay vigilant, warning of a potential fourth surge as some states, like Arkansas, Texas and Florida, relax or eliminate virus restrictions.

Health officials are also concerned about variants like the one that walloped Britain, called B.1.1.7, which has led to a new wave of cases across most of Europe. The United States remains behind in its attempts to track them, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts to locate them has recently improved and will continue to grow.

Mr. Biden on Monday called for governors and mayors to maintain or reinstate mask mandates and warned against “letting up on precautions” before the virus is more under control.

“We are giving up hard-fought, hard-won gains,” he said.

Some scientists predicted weeks ago that the number of infections could curve upward again in late March, at least in part because of the rise of variants of the coronavirus across the country. The B.1.1.7 variant isrising exponentially in Florida where it accounts for a greater proportion of total cases than in any other state, according to numbers collected by the C.D.C.

Hours before Mr. Biden’s warnings on Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., was emotional as she spoke during a news briefing. She said that while the nation had “so much reason for hope,” she could not shake the recurring feeling of “impending doom.”

“While we have so much hope on the horizon, we are just asking you to hang on just a little bit longer. Wear your masks, continue to distance and do the things that keep you safe,” Dr. Walensky said on Tuesday during a news conference at a vaccination site in Massachusetts, reiterating the pleas she made a day earlier.

Dr. Walensky’s remarks have come at a striking moment when there has been optimism about the availability and effectiveness of vaccines. Three dozen states are set to open eligibility to the general public by mid-April, well before Mr. Biden’s earlier pledge of May 1.

More than one in three American adults have received at least one shot and nearly one-fifth are fully vaccinated, but the nation is a long way from reaching so-called herd immunity, the tipping point that comes when the spread of a virus begins to slow because enough people, estimated at 70 to 90 percent of the population, are immune to it.

“We continue to be at war with the virus,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Tuesday during a news conference. As cases increase, Ms. Psaki said, the Biden administration responds in kind. She pointed the efforts to broaden vaccine eligibility across the country and increasing vaccine supplies to states.

The president on Monday pledged to have vaccination sites within five minutes from where 90 percent of adult Americans live. To do this, Ms. Psaki said, the administration is adding another 23,000 pharmacies with vaccines to the federal pharmacy program, in addition to the 17,000 pharmacies that have already been getting vaccines. She said governors were told on Tuesday that another 33 million vaccine doses will be allocated to different jurisdictions and programs.

“We know that the more people who can get vaccinated, the more accessible it is, the more effective we are going to be. And that’s where we’re putting our efforts,” Ms. Psaki said.

Apoorva Mandavilli and Allyson Waller contributed reporting.

Vaccinations at a market in Bangkok this month. The suggested treaty is an acknowledgment that the current system of international health institutions has proved inadequate.
Credit…Adam Dean for The New York Times

BRUSSELS — Citing what they call “the biggest challenge to the global community since the 1940s,” the leaders of more than two dozen countries, the European Union and the World Health Organization on Tuesday floated an international treaty to protect the world from pandemics.

In a joint article published in numerous newspapers across the globe, the leaders warn that the current coronavirus pandemic will inevitably be followed by others at some point. They outline a treaty meant to provide universal and equitable access to vaccines, medicines and diagnostics, a suggestion first made in November by Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, the body that represents the leaders of the European Union countries.

The article argues that an international understanding similar to the one that followed World War II and that led to the United Nations is needed to build cross-border cooperation before the next global health crisis upends economies and lives. The current pandemic is “a stark and painful reminder that nobody is safe until everyone is safe,” the leaders write.

The suggested treaty is an acknowledgment that the current system of international health institutions, symbolized by the relatively powerless World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations, is inadequate to the problem.

“There will be other pandemics and other major health emergencies. No single government or multilateral agency can address this threat alone,” the leaders note. “We believe that nations should work together toward a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response.”

The treaty would call for better alert systems, data sharing, research and the production and distribution of vaccines, medicines, diagnostics and personal protective equipment, they said.

“At a time when Covid-19 has exploited our weaknesses and divisions, we must seize this opportunity and come together as a global community for peaceful cooperation that extends beyond this crisis,” the leaders write. “Building our capacities and systems to do this will take time and require a sustained political, financial and societal commitment over many years.”

The article is not clear, however, about what would happen should a country choose not to cooperate fully or to delay sharing scientific information, as China has been accused of doing with the W.H.O.

China has not signed the letter, at least so far. Neither has the United States.

In a news conference on Tuesday in Geneva, the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that when discussions on a treaty start, “all member states will be represented.”

Asked if the leaders of China, the United States and Russia had been asked to sign the letter, he said that some leaders had chosen to “opt in.”

“Comment from member states, including the United States and China, was actually positive,” he said. “Next steps will be to involve all countries, and this is normal,” he added. “I don’t want it to be seen as a problem.”

As well as European countries and the W.H.O., the letter’s signatories included nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

On Tuesday, during a White House news conference, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that although the United States was open to further global collaboration, the country was hesitant to enter into treaty negotiations.

“We do have some concerns primarily about the timing and launching into negotiations for a new treaty right now,” Ms. Psaki said, “and we believe that could divert attention away from substantive issues regarding the response, preparedness for future pandemic threats.”

An almost empty Plaza de Armas square in downtown Santiago, Chile, on Sunday after a quarantine order was imposed.
Credit…Cristobal Olivares for The New York Times

SANTIAGO, Chile — Having negotiated early access to tens of millions of doses of Covid-19 vaccines, Chile has been inoculating its residents faster than any other country in the Americas and appears poised to be among the first in the world to reach herd immunity.

But experts say the country’s speedy and efficient vaccination drive — only Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Seychelles have vaccinated a larger share of their populations — gave Chileans a more lax outlook toward the virus, contributing to a sharp spike in new infections and deaths.

The surge in cases, even as more than a third of Chile’s population has received at least the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, serves as a cautionary tale for other nations looking to vaccination drives to quickly put an end to the era of beleaguered economies, closed borders, and social distancing. The rise in cases triggered a new set of strict lockdown measures that have restricted mobility for much of the country, affecting nearly 14 million people.

The severity of the crisis became clear Sunday, as President Sebastián Piñera asked Congress to delay by six weeks a vote scheduled for early April to elect the representatives who will draft a new Constitution and other officials. In a statement Sunday, Mr. Piñera argued that the current state of the pandemic was not conducive to holding a vote that was “democratic, inclusive and safe.”

While more than six million of the country’s 18 million people have been vaccinated, a surge in infections has left intensive care units operating with few beds to spare and the system at a breaking point.

Last week Chile recorded 7,626 new Covid-19 cases in a single day, a record, and the pace of new infections has doubled in the past month. Officials have also identified cases of new variants that were first seen in the United Kingdom and Brazil.

“No one questions that the vaccination campaign is a success story,” said Dr. Francisca Crispi, a regional president of Chile’s medical association. “But it conveyed a false sense of security to people, who felt that since we’re all being vaccinated the pandemic is over.”

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White House Calls for ‘Transparency’ on Pandemic’s Origin

On Tuesday, the White House called for more answers into the origins of the coronavirus, stating the report released by the World Health Organization lacked crucial data.

“The American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors, all of the people who have been working to save lives, the families who have lost loved ones, all deserve greater transparency. They deserve better information. They deserve steps that are taken by the global community to provide that. There are steps from here that we believe should be taken. There’s a second stage in this process that we believe should be led by international and independent experts. They should have unfettered access to data. They should be able to ask questions of people who are on the ground at this point in time. And that’s a step the W.H.O. could take. Well, the report is still being reviewed by our team of experts, 17 experts are reviewing it.” Reporter: “We know the headline of it, and it’s not sufficient.” “We agree. And we have long said, as I just stated, it lacks crucial data, information. It lacks access, it lacks transparency. It certainly — we don’t believe that in our review to date that it meets the moment, it meets the impact that this pandemic has had on the global community. And that’s why we also have called for additional forward-looking steps.”

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On Tuesday, the White House called for more answers into the origins of the coronavirus, stating the report released by the World Health Organization lacked crucial data.CreditCredit…Aly Song/Reuters

The White House on Tuesday accused China of hampering the World Health Organization’s investigation into the origins of the coronavirus and demanded Beijing be more “transparent” by providing greater access to data about the initial outbreak in late 2019.

The joint report from a W.H.O. team and Chinese scientists, released on Tuesday, was inconclusive, but surmised that the pandemic most likely began from animal-to-human transmission and began widely circulating in the city of Wuhan, China, as Chinese officials have long asserted.

Some observers, including Robert Redfield, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have questioned that theory, arguing that the virus might have originated in a government lab, although U.S. intelligence officials have said they do not have evidence to determine where the virus came from.

“The report lacks crucial data information and access — it represents a partial and incomplete picture,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a news conference on Tuesday, adding that Chinese officials “have not been transparent, they have not provided underlying data.”

W.H.O. officials should have been given “unfettered access” and “should be able to ask questions of people who were on the ground,” Ms. Psaki said.

“That certainly doesn’t qualify as cooperation,” she added, summing up the White House view of China’s cooperation at a moment of already heightened tensions between the two nations.

Later in the day, the United States co-signed a letter with officials from Israel, Australia, Japan, Canada and Britain calling for a “transparent and independent analysis” of the origins of the virus free from “undue influence.”

At times, Ms. Psaki intermingled her criticism of Beijing with skepticism about the W.H.O.’s investigation, and the value of Tuesday’s report.

It doesn’t lead us to any closer of an understanding or greater knowledge than we had six to nine months ago about the origin,” she said. “It also doesn’t provide guidelines or steps, recommended steps, on how we should prevent this from happening in the future. And those are imperative.”

Some of the Biden’s administration’s frustrations with China and the W.H.O. echo former President Donald J. Trump’s scathing criticism of the W.H.O. — although Mr. Biden opposed Mr. Trump’s effort to cut off federal funding to the agency or withdraw as a member over its handling of the virus crisis. Officials with the agency have argued that they have no enforcement authority, and do not have the power to demand greater cooperation from nations.

Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden, while supportive of international health agencies, had no plans to disengage from the W.H.O., but said he had long expressed frustrations with China’s actions in the crisis.

“He believes that the American people, the global community, the medical experts, the doctors — all of the people who have been working to save lives, the families who have lost loved ones, all deserve greater transparency, they deserve better information,” she said.

Still, the Biden administration has no immediate plans to join an effort by the leaders of more than two dozen countries, the European Union and the World Health Organization to create a new international treaty to protect the world from future pandemics.

“We do have some concerns primarily about the timing and launching into negotiations for a new treaty right now,” Ms. Psaki said, “and we believe that could divert attention away from substantive issues regarding the response preparedness for future pandemic threats.”

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W.H.O. Reports Coronavirus Origin Theories

While the W.H.O. report produced by an investigative team in China left many unanswered question, it did suggest that the coronavirus probably emerged in bats.

The current thinking is still that we are looking at the start in and around Wuhan then moving backwards, trying to find out how it came there. And whether it came from another part of China or elsewhere, that will depend on the further studies and research. But because of the strong suspicion of certain bat species being the host of this virus, and having found other relatively close virus strains to SARS-CoV-2 in the region, also in Southeast Asia in general where these bats are living, is a strong indication that that’s where the source is. Of course, there was a lot of interest from both sides. And I think, as you said, of course, there was political pressure from all sides, also outside China. But I think we were able to create a space for the science, a space for the two groups of scientists that were together. We had nothing to hide. So there was no problem working in an open environment, and sharing our work and our discussions.

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While the W.H.O. report produced by an investigative team in China left many unanswered question, it did suggest that the coronavirus probably emerged in bats.CreditCredit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A World Health Organization report on the provenance of the coronavirus pandemic, released on Tuesday, has raised more questions than answers around the globe, including some from the W.H.O. director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who said he hoped future studies would include “more timely and comprehensive data sharing.”

Determining the origin of the virus could help prevent another pandemic and aid in the development of vaccines and treatments.

Here is what the Times knows about the report.

  • The experts dismissed a lab leak theory. For months, scientists, politicians and others outside China have promoted the theory that the virus might have emerged after a laboratory accident in China. The experts called the theory “extremely unlikely,” after they spoke with scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which houses a state-of-the-art laboratory known for its research on bat coronaviruses.

    Officials there assured the investigators that they were not handling any viruses that appeared to be closely related to the coronavirus that caused the recent pandemic, according to meeting notes included in the report. They also said that staff members had been trained in security protocols.

  • The role of animal markets is still unclear. The expert team concluded that the coronavirus probably emerged in bats before spreading to humans through an intermediate animal, but they said there is no firm conclusion for that theory. Early in the pandemic, Chinese officials floated theories suggesting that the coronavirus outbreak might have started at the Huanan market. More than a year later, the role of animal markets in the story of the pandemic is still unclear, according to the report.

  • The inquiry’s success will depend on China. The expert team offers a long list of recommendations for additional research: more testing of wildlife and livestock in China and Southeast Asia, more studies on the earliest cases of Covid-19 and more tracing of pathways from farms to markets in Wuhan. But it is unclear whether China, which has repeatedly hindered the W.H.O. inquiry, will cooperate. It took months for the country to allow a team from the global health agency to visit.

The Yankee Stadium vaccination site in the Bronx last month.
Credit…Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

As millions of people get vaccinated in the United States, event venues that have been used as makeshift vaccination sites are now having to decide whether to move forward with administering shots as some of those events start to return.

Ahead of baseball season, some stadiums pledged to continue vaccinations for now. Yankee Stadium will be used as a site at least through the end of April, with reduced hours. The stadium, home to the New York Yankees, will not administer vaccines on the days home games are scheduled.

At Citi Field in Queens, home to the New York Mets, daily vaccinations will continue at McFadden’s, a restaurant near the third-base entrance to the stadium, a team spokesman said. The stadiums will be operating at 20 percent capacity for games under New York State guidelines starting on April 1, opening day.

Other stadiums have already closed or moved their vaccination sites. In Boston, state officials announced that Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play, would no longer be used as a place to administer shots; operations will shift to Hynes Convention Center.

Gov. Charlie Baker of Massachusetts said officials decided to move the vaccine operation out of Fenway Park to prevent confusion, given that players not only play games but practice at the stadium.

“It does create a certain amount of potential for confusion for people who are going there to actually get a vaccine,” Mr. Baker said at a news conference this month.

In San Diego, officials shut down a vaccination site in Petco Park, home to the San Diego Padres, on March 20.

“The agreement with the Padres was that the site would close at the start of the baseball season,” José Álvarez, a spokesman for San Diego County, said in a statement.

Some state officials say stadium closures will not largely affect the number of vaccines administered, even as eligibility expands.

“Sports venues are a high profile, but increasingly small part of the state’s efforts to vaccinate Californians,” Darrel Ng, a spokesman for the California Department of Public Health, said in a statement, adding that a majority of vaccines will be administered in doctor’s offices, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies.

Other venues have announced plans to double up on events and vaccinations.

In Roseville, Calif., @the Grounds, an event venue, announced that it would host an anime event at the end of this week in place of administering vaccines, prompting criticism from some social media users.

Charlie Gardner, the venue’s general manager, defended the decision, pointing to local officials’ extending the hours the vaccine site is open earlier in the week to make up for the two-day closure. Mr. Gardner said the venue had a prearranged contract set up at the middle of last year, and that social distancing and mask-wearing would be enforced.

“We don’t have any other conflicts like this in the near future and don’t expect to have any further interruptions,” Mr. Gardner said.

A woman and a child at a camp in northeastern Syria earlier this month. The pandemic has worsened the economic and humanitarian crises the country faces.
Credit…Delil Souleiman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A virtual humanitarian pledging conference to raise money for Syria’s war-ravaged populace came up billions of dollars short of the goal for 2021 and beyond on Tuesday, a telling indicator of how the pandemic has made many affluent donor nations less charitable.

The annual conference, sponsored by the United Nations and the European Union, garnered $6.4 billion, compared with $7.7 billion in 2020. The objective was $10 billion — $4.2 billion for Syrians inside the country and $5.8 billion to assist neighboring countries hosting millions of Syrian refugees.

Humanitarian agencies expressed deep disappointment at the outcome, which comes as Syria enters its 11th year of war. Mercy Corps, an international charity, said the pledges were “woefully inadequate for the task before us.”

The United Nations has estimated that 13.4 million Syrians — more than half the country’s prewar population — are in need of humanitarian assistance, 20 percent more than a year ago. The war and the pandemic have combined to further depress the country’s economy, reflected in the collapse of its currency and the doubling or more of food prices over 2020.

The United States pledged more than $596 million at the conference, among the largest donations but still down from nearly $700 million announced at the conference last year. Britain pledged about $280 million, down from $412 million last year. The notable exception among Western donors was Germany, which pledged more than $2 billion; its United Nations ambassador, Christoph Heusgen, called the amount the country’s highest contribution for Syrian relief in the last four years.

Other humanitarian crises confronting the United Nations have also been hampered by less generous financial support during the pandemic, as donor nations devote many billions of dollars to dealing with the domestic health and economic fallouts of the crisis. A March 1 pledging conference to help avoid famine in Yemen, for example, yielded $1.7 billion, less than half the total sought.

“At a time where global humanitarian needs are rising, we are seeing, unfortunately, a drop in financial contributions towards those humanitarian needs,” Stéphane Dujarric, a United Nations spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday.

“Now, it is clear we’re also living, the world and governments are living, in a period where there is less money, where there are greater needs at home,” he said. “So, we understand that, but the investment in humanitarian needs is a critical investment in peace and security and for the well‑being of the planet.”

Dunmore, a village in western Ireland, in September. In rural areas of the country, younger workers have long flocked to cities, particularly Dublin, hollowing out many communities.
Credit…Paul Faith/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As the coronavirus forces a realignment of how people live and work, Ireland is hoping to use the moment to help struggling small towns and villages to narrow the ever-widening gap with urban centers.

The Irish government announced this week that it was prepared to spend about $1 billion to encourage people to settle in rural areas, hoping that an investment in revitalizing town centers and other incentives will lure back younger people who have for years flocked to cities, particularly Dublin.

Like other countries across Europe, the hollowing out of once vibrant villages and small towns has contributed to wider social divisions, and scholars and public policy experts have warned that the split could become a major source of tension in Western democracies.

Ireland’s proposal, “Our Rural Future,” is one of the most ambitious efforts announced in Europe to address the issue, prompted by the changes brought about by the pandemic.

Among other things, it proposes legislation that would give employees the right to request to work from home, the establishment of a network of 400 remote-working hubs, and funding for better internet connectivity nationally.

Nearly half of people in Ireland live in rural areas and small towns, but the government hopes that the proposals will lift that number.

Announcing the plan, the prime minister, Micheal Martin, said, “Ireland is heading into an era of unprecedented change, and with that comes unprecedented opportunity.”

“Over the course of the pandemic, we have discovered new ways of working and we have rediscovered our communities,” he added.

Dublin has long been a magnet for the country’s nearly five million residents, and the capital’s thriving tech hub has only made the city more desirable in recent years, particularly for younger workers.

But a shift to remote work during the pandemic, which many experts agree is likely to continue in some capacity even after the pandemic recedes, has provided an opportunity for a rethink, the government said.

The proposals announced on Monday could also have the downstream effect of easing a deep housing crisis in Dublin, where small supply and high demand have seen prices skyrocket in recent years.

Prime Minister Imran Khan in Islamabad, Pakistan, last year. The government has imposed a ban on public gatherings, sports events and wedding ceremonies, starting in April.
Credit…B.K. Bangash/Associated Press

A fresh surge of new coronavirus cases is taking a heavy toll in Pakistan, with Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi among several senior officials to have contracted the virus recently, just as the nation struggles to stem the outbreak.

As the number of cases soars, the federal government has imposed a ban on public gatherings, sports events and wedding ceremonies, starting in April.

Emergency wards of hospitals in Lahore and Islamabad have been filled to capacity with coronavirus patients, according to health workers. Several neighborhoods in both cities have been placed under strict lockdowns.

Officials said on Tuesday that at least 100 deaths had been reported in the past 24 hours. The country has recorded 14,356 deaths and 663,200 infections since the start of the pandemic.

The virus is also taking a toll in the senior ranks of the government. Mr. Khan was reported on March 20 to have become infected, while Mr. Alvi and the defense minister, Pervez Khattak, tested positive on Monday.

The president’s wife, Samina Alvi, who said she had tested negative, noted that the couple had received a first vaccine dose in mid-March, although it was not clear which vaccine.

“It takes time to develop immunity,” she wrote on Twitter.

Officials said that Mr. Khan was making a steady recovery and had been allowed to resume work.

On Tuesday, Abdul Hafeez Sheikh, the country’s former finance minister, also tested positive for the coronavirus. Mr. Khan removed him from his position on Monday because of Mr. Sheikh’s failure to stem an increasing inflation rate.

Dr. Faisal Sultan, the acting health minister, said that the four provinces of Pakistan had been given permission to independently import vaccines.

The federal government has said that it is in the process of procuring more vaccines from China, but critics have denounced the slow rollout. The vaccination drive was started this month, with people over the age of 60 and health workers eligible for doses developed by the Chinese company Sinopharm.

Lucilia Pato receives the AstraZeneca vaccine in Toronto this month.
Credit…Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

The German health authority responsible for vaccine guidelines recommended on Tuesday that the country suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults under 60 because of concerns about a possible association with blood clots. The action came a day after Canada suspended its use in people 55 and under.

Earlier in the day, a number of local authorities in Germany — including Berlin, Munich and the state of Brandenburg — had made similar moves.

A small district in North Rhine-Westphalia banned use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday for all women below the age of 55, after serious episodes last week involving two women who had received the vaccine: one, 47, died of sinus vein thrombosis and another, 28, became seriously ill.

No causative link has been established between the patients’ conditions and the vaccine.

Chancellor Angela Merkel met Tuesday evening with state governors to discuss the AstraZeneca vaccine, and said that Germany would follow the recommendation and hold off using it to inoculate people under 60 unless they have discussed the risks with their doctor first.

France and several Nordic countries have also taken a precautionary stance on the vaccine, even after the European Union’s top drug regulator cleared it as safe this month. Some suspensions in Europe may have been driven as much by political considerations as by science.

In Canada, Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, the chairwoman of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, said at a video news conference on Monday that more study was needed. “Given alternative vaccines are available in Canada, N.A.C.I. feels it is very important to study the risks and benefit as a precautionary measure,” she noted.

The Canadian decision was made after reviewing evidence emerging from Germany, where the Paul-Ehrlich Institute, the country’s vaccine regulatory body, reported earlier this month that at least seven people who had recently received the AstraZeneca vaccine had developed a very rare, potentially fatal condition involving blood clots that can block the drainage of blood from the brain, associated with low blood platelet counts (thrombocytopenia) and bleeding.

(An earlier version of this item referred incompletely to the condition.)

Statistically, seven cases was significantly higher than normal for the population of 1.6 million adults that had received the vaccine in Germany by March 15, the institute said; by its calculations, just one case would have been expected.

The Canadian health authority continues to recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for older adults, who are much more susceptible than younger people to serious cases of Covid-19, and have not appeared to develop blood clots in studies conducted in Europe, the committee members said.

“We want to prevent hospitalizations and severe disease for those over 55,” Dr. Quach-Thanh said.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, created by Oxford University, was approved in late February for use in Canada but has suffered setbacks there and elsewhere. Soon after its approval, N.A.C.I. recommended that it not be administered to people 65 and older, because of a lack of data about that age group; two weeks later, N.A.C.I. waived its initial concerns and approved the vaccine for all adults.

The vaccine was the third approved in the country, after those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Just over 300,000, or 6 percent, of the doses administered in Canada so far have been AstraZeneca’s vaccine. The Biden administration promised this month to loan Canada 1.5 million more doses of the vaccine, which still has not been approved for use in the United States.

President Biden signed the extension less than a week after Congress gave final approval.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden on Tuesday signed a two-month extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers loans for small businesses struggling with the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Biden signed the extension in the Oval Office alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and Isabella Casillas Guzman, the administrator of the Small Business Administration, less than a week after Congress gave final approval to the extension.

“It is a bipartisan accomplishment,” Mr. Biden said before signing the act. “Small business is the backbone of our economy.”

The House approved the extension on a 415-to-3 vote earlier this month, and the Senate on Thursday cleared the legislation on a 92-7 margin. The program had been set to expire on March 31. The extension also gives the Small Business Administration an additional 30 days to process loans submitted before the new May 31 deadline.

The federal loan program was first established in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law passed last March under President Donald J. Trump. In December, Congress restarted the program and added more funding. Around 3.5 million borrowers have received forgivable loans this year, taking the program’s total lending to $734 billion.

The Biden administration overhauled the program in late February, prompting self-employed people and the smallest of businesses to rush to take advantage of newly freed-up aid. The extension by lawmakers gave small businesses, as well as lenders, more time to adjust to the overhaul.

Mr. Biden said the extension would especially help small businesses in minority communities.

“Many small businesses, as you know, particularly Hispanic as well as African-American small businesses, are just out of business because they got bypassed the first time around,” Mr. Biden said.

JPMorgan Chase, the program’s largest lender, had previously refused to make the Biden administration’s changes to the loan formula for self-employed applicants, saying it lacked the time to do so before the program’s deadline. A bank spokeswoman said Chase will now make those changes in the next few days. And Bank of America, which stopped accepting new applications earlier this month, reopened its system on Monday.

Around $79 billion remains in the fund. Banks and financiers, which make the government-backed loans, generally expect the money to be depleted in mid- to late April, well ahead of the program’s new deadline.

A pool in Hillingdon, in western London, on Monday, after lockdown restrictions were eased to allow outdoor sports facilities to open.
Credit…Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As England took its first step on Monday toward lifting a national lockdown, one piece of news seemed to capture the mood of optimism: just before the regulations were eased, there had been a day with no recorded Covid deaths in London.

The figure for Saturday proved to be not quite the hoped-for zero (another metric recorded two deaths that day and a single death on Sunday), but that did little to dampen the sense that the country was turning a corner.

With the vaccination campaign chugging along — and nearly everyone over the age of 50 now offered at least a first shot — many Britons have started to dare to look forward to the reopening of nonessential services and the return of outdoor dining at restaurants and pubs, scheduled to happen on April 12.

Helped by clear spring skies in the capital on Tuesday, there were signs that the city was edging back to life after a long hibernation. Stores raised shutters and laid out goods in windows. Restaurants set out chairs. Traffic along the Thames was picking up, with the ferries starting to carry passengers.

And in parks across the city, people gathered to bat around a ball, socialize with friends or simply bask in the sun.

Still, the anticipation that the worst of the pandemic could be over was tempered by warnings from officials that, with many European countries in the grip of a fresh wave of cases, the lull in Britain could be short-lived.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “What we don’t know is exactly how strong our fortifications are.”

“Historically, there’s been a time lag,” he added, “and then we’ve had a wave ourselves.”

Vaccinations have helped create a wall against new infections, and that protection would strengthen with the second dose, according to England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, on Monday.

But, he added, it was a “leaky wall.”

Sorgente articolo:
Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. Covid Vaccine Confidence Rises Though Skeptics Remain, Survey Says – The New York Times

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