Covid-19 Cases and Vaccine News: Live Updates
A sudden, sharp rise in coronavirus cases in many parts of Africa could amount to a continental third wave, the World Health Organization warned on Thursday, a portent of deeper trouble for a continent whose immunization drives have been crippled by shortfalls in funding and vaccine doses.
The W.H.O., an arm of the United Nations, said test positivity had risen in 14 African countries over the last seven days, with eight reporting a surge of over 30 percent in new cases. Infections are steadily climbing in South Africa, where four of nine provinces are battling a third wave. There has also been a sharp increase in cases in Uganda, with hospitals overwhelmed with Covid patients and the authorities mulling a lockdown.
The W.H.O. attributed the rise to loose compliance with social restrictions, and increasing travel along with the arrival of the winter season in southern Africa.
Experts also believe the spread of new coronavirus variants — like those first identified in Britain, India and South Africa — is contributing to the surge and the ensuing rise in deaths. While Africa has reported less than 3 percent of global coronavirus cases, the W.H.O. said the continent accounted for 3.7 percent of total deaths. And that is almost certainly a severe undercount, since in the vast majority of countries on the African continent, most deaths are never formally registered.
“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the W.H.O. regional director for Africa, said in a statement. “It’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of Covid-19.”
While many wealthier countries have vigorous vaccination campaigns and some are on track to fully reopen, many of Africa’s poorer countries face a huge challenge in accessing vaccines.
Out of a continental population of 1.3 billion people, only 31 million have received at least one dose, Dr. Moeti said. Seven million are fully vaccinated. In Kenya, one of Africa’s biggest economies, with more than 50 million people, only 1,386 have received two doses of a vaccine.
Countries like Ghana and Rwanda have run through their first deliveries of vaccines through Covax, the global facility working to ensure the equitable distribution of vaccines.
Vaccine hesitancy has afflicted the rollout in nations like Malawi, while concerns over rare blood clots and limitations in inoculation capacity pushed the Democratic Republic of Congo to donate millions of doses to other African states before they expired.
The rising cases, the W.H.O. warned, could overwhelm already creaky health care systems that are struggling with limited intensive care beds, oxygen and ventilators. To forestall a full-blown crisis, Dr. Moeti urged “countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care.”
After a school year rife with debate over the safety of returning to classrooms, experts say that the United States is edging closer to a safe return to in-person learning in the fall.
First, there is continuing good news on the vaccine front. Last month, about 17 million children ages 12 to 15 became eligible to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. And Moderna plans this month to ask the Food and Drug Administration to clear its vaccine for use in 12- to 17-year-olds.
For more than a year, parents across the United States have scrambled to adapt to online learning and keep their children focused. (And parents who balanced remote learning with work were the lucky ones. Many others lost their jobs, lacked adequate internet access or stopped work to tend to their families.)
Until vaccines are approved for children of all ages, rapid antigen testing might be the best way to limit rare outbreaks of the virus, detect them early and keep schools open consistently.
There are signs that Abbott’s BinaxNOW, a widely available antigen coronavirus test, is highly sensitive in young children with symptoms of Covid-19, according to a small new study. Among children younger than 7, the test detected 100 percent of coronavirus cases, researchers write in a forthcoming paper in the journal Pediatrics.
The study, led by researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, enrolled 199 children and young adults, ranging from 2 months to 20 years old. All participants had at least one symptom of Covid-19 and had been symptomatic for less than a week.
The Abbott test was somewhat less sensitive in older children, however, and generated a substantial number of false positives in children of all ages. Among children who did not have the virus, 8 to 10 percent tested positive on the antigen test, the researchers found.
“One hundred percent sensitivity in children less than seven years is excellent — outstanding,” said Dr. Alejandro Hoberman, a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and the senior author of the study. “The problem was the false positives.”
The findings suggest that while the test could help schools and day cares operate more safely, it might be more useful for ruling infections out than at definitively detecting them.
Experts say that more research is needed. “It is important data to have, but we need reinforcing studies that replicate what this study has done with larger numbers of children,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician and founding director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.
Dr. Redlener expects that all children will be eligible to be vaccinated against Covid-19 toward the end of the year or early in 2022.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic, said in an interview with CNN on Thursday that he was “cautiously optimistic” that children younger than 12 would be eligible for vaccinations by Thanksgiving.
Until then, experts are confident that masks, distancing, hand washing, cleaning and ventilation — along with rapid tests — can enable a return to full-time in-person classroom settings.
Mara Aspinall, an expert in biomedical diagnostics at Arizona State University, said that children had become comfortable with tests to the point of administering swabs themselves. “The perception of testing — that it was expensive, it took a long time, it was tickling your brain — none of that is true anymore,” she said. “We’ve made such progress on the technology.”
Having this kind of testing available everywhere, Dr. Redlener said, “should help reassure schools and parents that it’s safe to return to the classroom.”
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Hiring accelerated in May, with the government reporting on Friday that employers added 559,000 workers, about twice the previous month’s gains.
The unemployment rate fell to 5.8 percent, the Labor Department reported.
As infections ebb, vaccinations spread and businesses reopen, the economy has started to regain its footing, but the path has not been smooth. Job growth bounced up and down in recent months, and may continue its uneven progress throughout the summer, analysts said.
“It’s probably going to be a bumpy ride from here till September,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics.
The labor force participation rate edged down slightly to 61.6 percent, evidence that many workers who dropped out of the work force during the pandemic have still not returned. That has been vexing to employers who have complained about a lack of response to help-wanted ads.
“We’re making good progress to getting back to full employment,” said Carl R. Tannenbaum, chief economist for Northern Trust, “but it will be a number of months before we reach that goal.”
The biggest job gains were in leisure and hospitality as people returned in droves to bars and restaurants. The education, health care and social assistance sectors also showed growth. Construction jobs shrank, a trend that some economists link to glitches in the supply chain.
Job postings on the online jobs site Indeed were up 27 percent at the end of May from their level in February 2020, before the pandemic hit.
Nearly half of small-business owners surveyed by the National Federation of Independent Business in May said they were struggling to fill slots. Many employers have blamed enhanced pandemic-related unemployment benefits for the shortage of workers, which has prompted 25 Republican-led states withdraw from some or all of the federal jobless assistance programs in the coming weeks, months ahead of their expiration.
Most economists have pushed back against this argument and say the reality is more complicated. A lack of child care, continuing health concerns, low wages and competing priorities all probably play a larger role, they say.
“Is there a labor shortage?” Ms. Farooqi asked. “In my mind, absolutely not. There is a ramping-up effect, and that is going to persist for a little bit. You have to expect some frictions.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, job postings plummeted much faster than job searches, said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the online jobs site ZipRecruiter. Now, there is a similar dynamic: Postings have picked up much more quickly than search activity.
“It’s just a matter of time,” said Ms. Pollak, who pointed out that many prime-age workers were only recently able to get their first Covid-19 vaccination.
She also said there was a mismatch between the type of jobs being offered and those being searched for. More than half of seekers want remote work, while only 10 percent of employers are offering that option.
The average monthly gain over March, April and May was about 540,000 positions. If that rate continues, it will be well into 2022 before the labor market returns to pre-pandemic levels.
The number of people who have been unemployed over a long haul — more than 26 weeks — dropped to 3.8 million, roughly 40 percent of the total.
A steady wave of new coronavirus infections in Taiwan is straining the island’s health system, which is regarded as one of the world’s most effective.
“Our intensive-care beds are full every day,” said Dr. Lee Chi-yu, a physician at MacKay Memorial Hospital in Taipei. The hospital has been converting ordinary treatment rooms into Covid wards, Dr. Lee said, but serious cases keep streaming in.
“Medical workers are becoming more and more anxious,” he said.
Health officials in Taiwan reported 472 local infections on Friday, continuing a three-week streak of daily case counts in the triple digits. Before the surge, the island had managed to shield itself from the pandemic for over a year. But with less than 3 percent of Taiwan’s 23.5 million residents vaccinated, health experts say it could be awhile before the spread of the virus abates significantly.
Taiwan’s inoculation efforts received a boost on Friday with a donation of 1.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Japan. The United States says it will provide vaccines to Taiwan as part of a donation of 25 million doses to countries and regions worldwide.
Taiwan is trying to ease the burden on hospitals by directing only seriously ill Covid-19 patients to be treated there. People with milder cases are being ordered to isolate in quarantine hotels or at home. Health officials said this week that less than half of the island’s 4,900 hospital rooms dedicated to Covid patients were occupied.
Facilities are more stretched in the northern cities of Taipei and New Taipei, where the recent cases have been concentrated. Overburdened hospitals in those cities have sent some patients to facilities elsewhere on the island.
Taiwan’s physician- and nurse-to-patient ratios are low by rich-country standards. In recent weeks, Taipei hospitals have enlisted doctors from all departments and specialties to help with frontline testing and care.
“They generally have been trained, but maybe they haven’t actually done it before, so they’re out of practice,” said Dr. Chen Liang-fu, a spokesman for the Taipei Doctors Union. “The psychological pressure is very great.”
So far, Taipei has not had to press medical students into service to care for Covid patients, as happened last year in United States hospitals.
“We at least don’t want to repeat the same sacrifices that other countries made,” said Dr. Vincent Yi-fong Su, a respiratory disease specialist at the Yang-Ming campus of Taipei City Hospital.
The Australian softball players who arrived in Japan this week for the Tokyo Olympics have spent most of their lives trying to reach the world’s pre-eminent sporting event.
Now they will experience much of their Olympic moment living in small hotel rooms far from Tokyo, being tested daily for the coronavirus and doing gym workouts in groups no larger than six. All fully vaccinated, they cannot go to bars, restaurants or shrines.
The team is the first to touch down in the host country before the Games, which open in seven weeks, and its constricted arrival offers a preview of an Olympics like no other, held as much of the globe remains in the clutches of a deadly pandemic.
“We’re the guinea pigs at this point,” said Tahli Moore, 27, who plays second base and outfield. “We’re showing it’s possible, and we’re showing it’s really safe.”
Despite assurances from Olympic organizers and Japanese government officials, close to a quarter of the 528 communities that had initially signed up to host Olympic teams from abroad will no longer do so. Some towns have withdrawn their invitations.
In many cases — about 100 — international teams have decided not to come to Japan in advance of the Games because of coronavirus concerns, said Yasuhiro Omori, an official with the Cabinet Secretariat division that is overseeing the host town initiative.
As Vietnam faces its worst outbreak of the coronavirus, its one-party government is asking businesses and residents to help it buy vaccines and other supplies. And people appear to be listening.
The official Vietnam News Agency reported this week that the equivalent of nearly $152 million had been raised in May from “agencies, organizations and individuals” in Vietnam and beyond. The campaign is a project of the Health Ministry and the Vietnam Fatherland Front, a powerful state-backed organ that includes organizations for workers, women and other groups.
The campaign, like the outbreak, is far from over. The government sent a mass text on Friday seeking donations to help “prevent and control” Covid-19, linking to a website that said the fund-raising campaign would run through August.
It is hard to gauge the extent to which the fund-raising campaign reflects public support for the government’s efforts. Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party does not tolerate dissent, and the Fatherland Front is hardly independent — its duties include drawing up lists of candidates for the country’s rubber-stamp National Assembly.
Still, a number of Vietnamese celebrities, public figures and corporations have donated to the campaign, the local news media reported. Dominic Scriven, the founder of Dragon Capital, an investment company in Ho Chi Minh City, said on Twitter that his company and its staff had contributed $2.1 million.
Vietnam, a country of 97 million people, has kept its total coronavirus caseload in the thousands, even as those of other Southeast Asian countries spiraled into the hundreds of thousands or millions. Its success stems from a combination of border closures, strict quarantine measures, localized lockdowns and diligent contact tracing.
But more than half of Vietnam’s roughly 8,000 cases have been reported in the past month, and it is now averaging more than 200 cases a day.
The authorities are especially concerned about a cluster linked to a church in Ho Chi Minh City and outbreaks at factories in the north. They are also tracking the emergence of a coronavirus variant that is part of a strain first found in India, recently renamed the Delta variant.
The outbreak is a threat in part because Vietnam has administered just over one million vaccine doses, one of the lowest rates in the world, according to a New York Times database.
The government has said that it will need 150 million vaccine doses to inoculate about 75 percent of the population and that buying them will cost about $1.1 billion. As of Wednesday, it had received donations worth about $1.2 million.
The local news media reported on Friday that Vietnam had approved use of the Sinopharm vaccine, making it the third to be authorized after the AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccines.
The New Delhi suburb of Nangli Vihar is not the poorest or the most crowded in India’s capital, nor is it the worst-hit by Covid-19. But in recent weeks, as the coronavirus ricocheted from house to house, it did more than kill.
With hospitals full and the government largely absent, fear began to spread. People shut their doors, shattering many of the relationships that make up a neighborhood.
New Delhi is starting to reopen after suffering one of the world’s deadliest outbreaks. New York Times journalists Karan Deep Singh and Atul Loke spent a week with the residents of a few blocks in Nangli Vihar as they begin to emerge from fear and isolation — and often after tremendous loss.
Travelers returning to Britain from Portugal and its island territories of Madeira and the Azores will no longer be able to avoid quarantining as of Tuesday, British officials said on Thursday, complicating the plans of people hoping for easy getaways this summer.
Last month, Britain had put Portugal and 12 other countries and territories with low coronavirus caseloads on a “green list,” allowing visitors coming from Britain to avoid a quarantine period upon returning from those locations.
Britons fatigued by a miserable winter and a four-month national lockdown had begun flocking to Portugal, because most of the other green-listed places were either not accepting tourists or were not already favored destinations. The process still involved several forms and P.C.R. virus tests, whose costs can total hundreds of dollars.
The decision to move the country off the green list was a “safety first approach” Grant Shapps, Britain’s transportation secretary, told the BBC on Thursday.
The decision comes as Britain has experienced its highest rate of infections since late March, with more than 5,200 new cases reported on Thursday. More than 75 percent of the country’s adult population has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and half have been fully vaccinated, according to public data.
On Friday, Britain’s drug regulator approved the use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds — the United States and the European Union approved its use last month. Several outbreaks have been reported in British schools in recent weeks, but the country’s health authorities said on Thursday that they were not a source of major concern.
“Infection and outbreak trends in schools have remained consistent with the expectations of public health and education experts and in line with what is happening nationally,” Public Health England said in a statement.
Portugal had remained on Britain’s green list even as the rate of positive coronavirus cases there rose 37 percent over the past two weeks. British fans poured into the city of Porto to see two of England’s top soccer teams, Chelsea and Manchester United, face off in the Champions League final last Saturday. (Chelsea won.)
Portugal has seen the spread of the virus variant first identified in India, now known as Delta, Mr. Shapps said in a public statement released on Thursday.
Officials did not add any new countries to the green list — a decision that also dealt a blow to Spain, particularly for its two tourism-dependent archipelagos, the Canary Islands and the Balearic Islands, which had seen improvement in their virus numbers. British travelers are the largest international contingent of visitors to Spain, accounting for 18 million of the almost 84 million who came to the country in 2019, before the pandemic.
The announcements caused disappointment for British visitors who had booked trips already or hoped that wider travel in Europe was on the rebound. It also caused dismay for the travel industry, which has been hit hard by the pandemic.
In Portugal, vendors had been excited to welcome back tourists, although some in the country had grumbled about foreign visitors not following local restrictions, which include mask wearing outdoors and a 10:30 p.m. curfew.
The move by British officials comes as cases remain generally low in Britain, though officials have been working to contain surges of the Delta variant.
Milloni Doshi, a 25-year-old student from India who is supposed to start her master’s degree this fall at Columbia University in New York, has received two doses of a Covid vaccine. But her inoculation was with Covaxin, a vaccine made by an Indian manufacturer and widely used in India.
That vaccine is not approved by the World Health Organization, as required by the university. So Columbia has told her that she must be inoculated wtih a different vaccine once she arrives on campus, even though no one can say for sure whether it is safe to do so.
“I am just concerned about taking two different vaccines,” she said. “They said the application process would be the toughest part of the cycle, but it’s really been all of this that has been uncertain and anxiety inducing.”
Since March, more than 400 colleges and universities in the United States have announced vaccine mandates that require students to be immunized against Covid-19, but the rules have been designed primarily with domestic students in mind. They have access to the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, three of the eight authorized by W.H.O., according to a spokesman for the health agency.
The disparity could hinder not just the students, but also the colleges that have made it a major priority to retain them. International students brought in close to $39 billion in tuition dollars in the year before the pandemic, according to one analysis.