Here’s what you need to know:
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times
Across the United States, prominent epidemiologists are divided over whether the country has reached a turning point in the fight against the coronavirus, though they agreed on one thing: The U.S. epidemic is not close to over, and people cannot let down their guard.
Even after its peak, any epidemic remains dangerous: Sometimes just as many people are infected after the peak as were before.
But some experts, noting that new cases are finally dropping in the majority of states, believe the epidemic is on its way out. According to a New York Times database, daily virus cases have dropped about 25 percent since Jan. 9, when they hit a seven-day average of just under 260,000. Other virus trackers have arrived at similar findings.
But some experts, looking abroad, note that new viral variants sent cases shooting upward in Britain, Ireland, South Africa and northern Brazil — and believe the United States is merely in a lull before a new spike begins.
Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota and a member of President Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, said he thought that the next three months “could be the worst part of the pandemic.”
“I hope I’m dead wrong,” he said.
Essentially, epidemiologists agree that the new variants of the virus are competing with the vaccine: whichever spreads faster will determine the course of the epidemic.
There was no agreement on when those new variants might push the case-curve upward again.
Dr. Osterholm predicted that it would happen by late February. Dr. Christopher J. L Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, said the variant surge Britain seemed slower, so he predicted late March at the earliest,
If the variant found in South Africa arrives, a spike could happen faster, since that variant seems to spread more aggressively and is pushing up case counts all over southern Africa. But it has not been spotted in this United States as yet.
Although deaths in the United States are still close to the peak — a seven-day average of about 3,500 a day — most experts believe they will soon start dropping even faster than new infections, for two reasons.
One is that many nursing home patients, who have accounted for about 40 percent of all deaths, have now been vaccinated, as have some of their caregivers. The other is that as hospital caseloads ease and medical workers are under less pressure, more patients survive.
A startling new study found that Covid-19 patients in Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals were twice as likely to die if they were treated in intensive care units stretched to capacity than were those treated during quieter times.
For some experts, the big question now is whether we are at a peak, or merely on a plateau on the way up to a new one.
In the White House briefing room on Thursday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said that he thought the U.S. seven-day average of cases “looks like it might actually be plateauing.”
The dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, Dr. Ashish K. Jha, said he hoped cases were declining permanently, given that they are dropping almost everywhere in the country, rather than merely in a few populous states.
Beyond that, he said, cellphone-movement tracking data suggests that Americans are much less on the move — and therefore spreading virus less — than they were late last year, when back-to-college travel, Thanksgiving travel and Christmas travel each drove surges in cases.
“If we can roll out the vaccine fast enough, we may stave off another surge,” Dr. Jha said.
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Where cases per capita are
Credit…Miles Fortune for The New York Times
One year ago today, health officials told Americans about a traveler who had just come home from Wuhan, China, sought treatment at an urgent-care clinic north of Seattle after falling ill — and set off alarm bells.
The man had the first confirmed coronavirus case in the United States.
In announcing the news, the officials struck a tone at once reassuring and worrisome. They said they believed the risk to the public was low. But they also cautioned that more cases were likely to come.
And come they did: The nation has now recorded more than 24 million cases and 400,000 deaths.
It began slowly. In the first five weeks, American officials reported about 45 known cases and no known deaths from the virus. But in the past five weeks, the country recorded over 7.4 million cases and close to 100,000 deaths. On Wednesday alone, officials recorded at least 184,237 new cases and at least 4,357 deaths. In terms of deaths, it was the second-worst day of the pandemic. The seven-day average of virus deaths each day stood at 3,054, as of Wednesday.
It was also a day on which a new president, on his first full day in office, vowed to do better after ousting an incumbent widely derided for his handling of the pandemic. On Thursday, President Biden was going on the offensive against the virus, with a “full-scale wartime effort” that included use of executive authority to protect workers, advance racial equity and ramp up the manufacturing of test kits, vaccines and supplies.
In contrast, Mr. Trump had let state governments take the lead. The Biden advisers said they were stunned by the vaccination plan — or the lack of one — that they inherited, and said the Trump team failed to share crucial information about supplies and vaccine availability.
In 2020, the first known coronavirus case in the U.S., of the traveler from Wuhan, took place in Snohomish County, Wash., and it led to an extensive effort to isolate the patient and monitor the contacts he had encountered since returning from China.
Other travelers also ended up testing positive, and genomic sequencing showed that a different branch of the virus took root independently on the East Coast of the United States.
Although the Seattle area became the epicenter of an early outbreak at the end of February, researchers are not sure if the man who returned to the Seattle area set it off.
Genomic sequencing suggested that the man, who is now 36, was part of a virus branch that spread across the region. But researchers looking at timing and genetic variations across the region believe the outbreak may have begun with another, unknown person.
Washington’s early outbreak led the state to record 37 of the nation’s first 50 coronavirus deaths. But the state has since fared far better than the nation as a whole. If the United States had maintained a death rate comparable to Washington’s, there would be some 220,000 fewer coronavirus deaths.
U.S. Will Work with W.H.O. on Global Virus Response, Fauci Says
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said the United States would remain in the World Health Organization and pledged commitment to international Covid-19 response.
“I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization. Yesterday, President Biden signed letters retracting the previous administration’s announcement to withdraw from the organization. And those letters have been transmitted to the secretary general of the United Nations and to you, Dr. Tedros, my dear friend. I am also pleased to announce today that the United States plans to work multilaterally to respond to and recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. President Biden will issue a directive, a directive later today, which will include the intent of the United States to join COVAX and support the ACT Accelerator to advance multilateral efforts for Covid-19 vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic distribution, equitable access and research and development.” “This is a good day for W.H.O. and a good day for global health. The role of the United States, its global role, is very, very crucial, and I send my deep thanks and warm congratulations to President Biden and Vice President Harris, and to the American people. Thank you, President Biden, for honoring your pledge to maintain the membership of the United States in W.H.O.”
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said the United States would remain in the World Health Organization and pledged commitment to international Covid-19 response.CreditCredit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times
A day after President Biden reinstated American ties with the World Health Organization, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci told the organization that the United States was committed to working closely with other nations to implement a more effective global response to the pandemic.
“Given that a considerable amount of effort will be required by all of us,” Dr. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said via video link during a meeting of the group’s executive board, “the United States stands ready to work in partnership and solidarity to support the international Covid-19 response, mitigate its impact on the world, strengthen our institutions, advance epidemic preparedness for the future, and improve the health and well-being of all people throughout the world.”
Dr. Fauci said the United States would re-engage at all levels with the W.H.O. and intended to join Covax, a program set up by the agency to distribute vaccines to poorer nations.
His comments, which came exactly one year after the United States recorded its first Covid-19 case, underscored the alacrity with which the Biden administration is reversing both the substance and tone of the Trump administration’s approach.
“This is a good day for the W.H.O. and a good day for global health,” the agency’s leader, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said, thanking Mr. Biden for honoring his pledge to resume W.H.O. membership and Dr. Fauci for his personal support to the body over many years, as well as his leadership in America’s response to the pandemic.
Mr. Biden’s decision to rejoin the W.H.O. stood in stark contrast to the approach taken by his predecessor. Mr. Trump had announced the United States would pull out of the W.H.O. in May, accusing the organization of kowtowing to China, and had sought to blame China for not doing enough to stop the spread of the virus. He had also accused Beijing of hiding the true scope of infections from the W.H.O., targeting the agency in the process.
A panel established by the organization said in a damning report that there was much blame to go around. It criticized the slow response of governments and public health organizations. Investigators, who are still working on their final report, said they could not understand why a W.H.O. committee waited until Jan. 30 to declare an international health emergency. (The Chinese government had lobbied other governments against declaring such an emergency.) The investigators also said that despite years of warnings that a pandemic was inevitable, the agency was slow to make changes.
On Thursday, addressing “my dear friend” Dr. Tedros, Dr. Fauci thanked the W.H.O. for its leadership of the global response to the pandemic. “Under trying circumstances,” he said, “this organization has rallied the scientific and research and development community to accelerate vaccines, therapies and diagnostics; conducted regular, streamed press briefings that authoritatively track global developments; provided millions of vital supplies from lab reagents to protective gear to health care workers in dozens of countries; and relentlessly worked with nations in their fight against Covid-19.”
The United States, he said, would fulfill its financial obligations to the W.H.O., halt the previous administration’s moves to draw down American staff and see technical collaboration at all levels as a fundamental part of its relationship with the agency.
Dr. Fauci also set out broader aims for increasing global pandemic preparedness, including developing an improved early warning and rapid response mechanism for dealing with biological threats, and strengthening pandemic supply chains.
“We will work with partners around the world to build a system that leaves us better prepared for this pandemic and for the next one,” he said.
Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times
That Covid-19 vaccine appointment may not just be hard to get — it may not even be all that secure.
Thousands of people across the country learned that their appointments had been abruptly canceled in the last few days, after vaccine shipments to local health departments and other distributors fell short of what was expected.
The health department in Erie County, N.Y., which includes Buffalo, canceled seven days of appointments this week, affecting 8,010 people, saying the state had sent far fewer doses than the county ordered. All future appointments should be considered “tentative, and are subject to vaccine availability,” the department said in a statement on Wednesday.
“We made appointments based on our hope and expectation that we would be able to fill those,” said Kara Kane, a department spokeswoman. “There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of questions, a lot of concern.”
Dianne Bennett, 78, lost a first-dose appointment at the Erie County Medical Center because of the cancellations, as did her husband. They were told to try again later, but Ms. Bennett said they had no idea when another appointment would be available.
“It’s such a lottery,” she said. “I just think it’s outrageous.”
Similar issues have cropped up across the country, as demand far outpaces supply and vaccine providers struggle to predict how many doses will arrive.
At Beaufort Memorial Hospital in South Carolina, hospital officials canceled 6,000 scheduled appointments through March 30 after they were notified that thousands of vaccine doses they expected were not coming.
San Francisco’s public health department expects to run out of vaccine on Thursday, The Los Angeles Times reported, because the city’s allocation dropped sharply from a week ago and the state did not replace doses that had to be discarded.
Local health officials throughout California say they have trouble scheduling appointments because they are unsure how much vaccine they will receive from week to week, the paper said.
In New York City, 23,000 vaccination appointments scheduled for Thursday and Friday were postponed because of a shipping delay, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday, a day after warning that the city’s supply would soon be exhausted.
“We already were feeling the stress of a shortage of vaccine,” the mayor said at a news conference. “Now the situation has been made even worse.”
Recent moves to open up eligibility have aggravated the situation.
After the state of Georgia announced that anyone 65 or older could get the vaccine, the 10-county Northwest Health District was swamped with more than 10,000 appointment requests in one weekend — far more than it could satisfy with the supply it had on hand. So it shut down its scheduling website, and told people to call their local health department to arrange an appointment instead, frustrating many people who thought they had already secured a slot.
“We’re having to schedule appointments at least a week out, based on anticipated delivery, but we don’t know what will show up on a daily basis,” said Logan Boss, the spokesman for the health district. “It’s difficult to explain that to the public.”
Biden Rolls Out Coronavirus Strategy
President Biden signed a string of executive orders and presidential directives on Thursday, rolling out a “full-scale, wartime” coronavirus strategy, including requiring masks on some planes, trains and buses.
I understand the despair and frustration of so many Americans, and how they’re feeling. I understand why many governors, mayors, county officials, tribal leaders feel like they’re left on their own without a clear national plan to get them through the crisis. Let me be very clear. Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better. The memorial we held two nights ago will not be our last one, unfortunately. There are moments in history when more is asked of a particular generation, more is asked of Americans than other times. We are in that moment, now. History is going to measure whether we are up to the task. I believe we are. Next one is making sure that the National Guard and FEMA support is available. This next one is relates to expanding access to treatment for Covid-19.
President Biden signed a string of executive orders and presidential directives on Thursday, rolling out a “full-scale, wartime” coronavirus strategy, including requiring masks on some planes, trains and buses.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Biden, pledging a “full-scale wartime effort” to combat the coronavirus pandemic, signed a string of executive orders and presidential directives on Thursday aimed at combating the worst public health crisis in a century, including new requirements for masks on interstate planes, trains and buses and for international travelers to quarantine after arriving in the United States.
“History is going to measure whether we are up to the task,” Mr. Biden declared in an appearance in the State Dining Room of the White House, with Vice President Kamala Harris and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, his chief Covid-19 medical adviser, by his side.
With thousands of Americans dying every day from Covid-19, a national death toll that exceeds 400,000 and a new, more infectious variant of the virus spreading quickly, the pandemic poses the most pressing challenge of Mr. Biden’s early days in office. How he handles it will set the tone for how Americans view his administration going forward, as Mr. Biden himself acknowledged.
In a 200-page document released earlier Thursday called “National Strategy for the Covid-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness,” the new administration outlines the kind of centralized federal response that Democrats have long demanded and that President Donald J. Trump refused.
Despite his repeated calls for unity, the new president took a shot at his predecessor, saying, “For the past year we couldn’t rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and coordination that we needed, and we have seen the tragic cost of that failure.”
But the Biden plan is in some respects overly optimistic and in others not ambitious enough, some experts say. It is not clear how he would enforce the quarantine requirement. And his promise to inject 100 million vaccines in his first hundred days is aiming low, since those 100 days should see twice that number of doses available.
Mr. Biden bristled at a reporter’s question when he was asked if the goal should be for a higher number. “When I announced, you all said it’s not possible,” Mr. Biden said. “Come on, give me a break, man.”
Because the currently approved coronavirus vaccines require two doses, but some Americans have already had their first shots, Mr. Biden’s promise should cover 65 million to 70 million Americans, said Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration under Mr. Trump.
“I think we can reach that goal and probably reach higher, by focusing on how many people are being vaccinated for the first time each day,” Dr. Gottlieb said. With vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna already granted emergency approval and a third, by Johnson & Johnson, likely to be authorized soon, he said, “we can definitely reach many more patients.”
Beyond the 100-day mark is where the problem lies. Federal health officials and corporate executives agree that it will be impossible to increase the immediate supply of vaccines before April at the earliest, because of lack of manufacturing capacity.
“The brutal truth is it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated,” Mr. Biden said.
It makes political sense for Mr. Biden to lower expectations, and on Capitol Hill, the new president is not getting much of a honeymoon. The No. 2 House Republican, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, said in a statement, “Comments made about vaccine supply and distribution by the White House’s coronavirus czar are old Washington spin.” He added, “The fact is the Biden administration inherited contracts for 300 million doses of vaccines for two approved vaccines and two in the final stage of clinical trials.”
But the Biden team has been quick to point fingers at what they see as the Trump administration’s failures.
“What we’re inheriting is so much worse than we could have imagined,” said Jeff Zients, the new White House Covid-19 response coordinator, adding, “The cooperation or lack of cooperation from the Trump administration has been an impediment. We don’t have the visibility that we would hope to have into supply and allocations.”
In a display of his oft-stated promise to put federal health experts front and center, Mr. Biden was accompanied in the State Dining Room by Dr. Fauci and Mr. Zients. Four other officials participated by video: Xavier Becerra, the nominee for health secretary; Vivek Murthy, the nominee for Surgeon General, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an adviser on racial equity in health.
Efforts to untangle and speed up the distribution of vaccines — perhaps the most pressing challenge for the Biden administration that is also the most promising path forward — will be a desperate race against time, as states across the country have warned that they could run out of doses as early as this weekend.
Though Mr. Biden has indicated his administration would release more doses as they became available and keep fewer in reserve, he said last week that he would not change the recommended timing for second doses: 21 days after the first dose for Pfizer’s vaccine, and 28 days for Moderna’s.
The administration is asking Congress for $1.9 trillion for pandemic relief, and White House officials said they would need much of that money to put their Covid-19 plan into place.
Credit…China Daily, via Reuters
Three locally transmitted coronavirus cases were confirmed on Thursday in Shanghai, China’s largest city, as fears rose over another large-scale outbreak in the country where the virus was first detected.
The three cases, the first in the city in about two months, were connected to prominent hospitals in the city, China’s business capital. Two of the infected individuals worked at the hospitals, one at Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center and the other at Renji Hospital. They lived in the same residential complex. The third person was a close contact.
The infections were found during routine nucleic tests for hospital employees. The positive results led to closures at the outpatient sections of both hospitals and a citywide campaign to test all hospital employees.
Shanghai is the latest Chinese city to experience a recent outbreak, the worst since the pandemic first emerged in late 2019.
Beijing, the capital, and the provinces of Hebei, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Shanxi and Shandong have all recently reported new infections. This week alone, China reported more than 400 local infections, a steep and sudden increase.
Beijing has implemented new rules restricting the number of passengers allowed on public transportation, and extended the quarantine period for travelers returning from overseas.
Schools have been closed and the authorities on Wednesday announced that travelers returning to rural areas for the Chinese New Year holiday, the largest annual human migration in the world, must test negative for the virus and quarantine at home for 14 days.
Ma Xiaowei, the National Health Commission minister, has blamed the recent outbreak on travelers returning from overseas and on workers handling imported food.
The authorities said on Wednesday that two cases recently found in Beijing were of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant, first found in Britain.
Here are other developments from around the world:
Five people were killed in a fire on Thursday that roared through an unfinished plant at the Serum Institute of India, which is producing millions of doses of the AstraZeneca and Oxford University coronavirus vaccine. Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of Serum, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, said in a tweet that the destruction would not disrupt production of the vaccine, labeled Covishield in India. Covishield and a locally developed vaccine were rolled out as part of India’s massive inoculation drive this week, and Serum has promised 200 million doses to Covax, an international health group that has negotiated vaccine purchases for less wealthy countries, as soon as the end of January.
A senior member of South Africa’s government, Jackson Mthembu, died on Thursday from complications related to Covid-19, the office of President Cyril Ramaphosa said. Mr. Mthembu, 62, was a minister in the office of the presidency and a prominent figure in the governing African National Congress, who led media briefings on the government’s Covid-19 response. “Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and lifelong champion of freedom and democracy,” Mr. Ramaphosa said in a statement. It was unclear whether Mr. Ramaphosa had come into recent contact with Mr. Mthembu, who said he had tested positive on Jan. 11. But a spokesman for Mr. Ramaphosa, Tyrone Seale, said that the president was not in quarantine and that much of the government’s work had been carried out remotely.
Glastonbury Festival, Britain’s largest music event, has been canceled for a second year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the organizers said on Thursday. The summer music festival has in recent years seen headline performances from Adele, The Killers and Kanye West, and usually attracts around 200,000 attendees. With Britain now under its third lockdown, Glastonbury’s organizers Michael and Emily Eavis said in a statement that it had “become clear that we will simply not be able to make the festival happen this year.” Those who paid deposits for tickets last year would now have spaces reserved in 2022, they said, when “we are very confident that we can deliver something really special.”
The mayor of Rio de Janeiro announced on Wednesday that all Carnival festivities would be canceled this year as Brazil struggles with high rates of new virus cases and a lagging vaccination campaign.
Carnival festivities, which normally take place in February, were postponed in the fall, and officials had hoped that the city could hold street parades and parties in July instead. But Mayor Eduardo Paes wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that no such celebrations would be possible in 2021.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me to imagine we will have the conditions to hold carnival in July,” Mr. Paes wrote on Facebook. “Certainly in 2022 we will be able (having all been properly vaccinated) to celebrate life and our culture with all the intensity we deserve.”
Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll stands at more than 210,000, second only to the United States, and the state of Rio de Janeiro has the highest mortality rate in the country. New cases have jumped sharply in recent weeks; the country has recorded an average of 50,000 cases a day over the last week.
The country started its vaccination campaign earlier this week, but with only six million doses for a population of 213 million, picking up the pace will be difficult. Deals with vaccine manufacturers in China and India have been delayed, and it remains unclear when more doses will become available.
Brazil is also battling two new variants of the coronavirus, at least one of which is more contagious and could be contributing to the recent surge of cases. Both variants also have a mutation that may weaken the efficacy of vaccines.
Citing concern over the new variants, Britain banned flights from Latin America and Portugal, and Italy suspended flights to Brazil. But both mutated viruses had already slipped the country’s borders, and been discovered as far away as Japan and South Korea.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times
What does it mean to go to public school in the United States during the pandemic? The answer looks vastly different across the country.
With little guidance from the federal government, the nation’s 13,000 districts have largely come up with their own standards for when it is safe to open schools and what virus mitigation measures to use. Those decisions have often been based as much on politics as on public health data.
In some rural and suburban areas, especially in the South, Midwest and Great Plains, most students have studied in person, except for temporary closures during outbreaks. In many cities, the bulk of students haven’t been in a classroom since March. And in some districts, like New York City, only younger students have the option of going to school in person, with many attending only part-time.
To give readers a sense of the varying ways the pandemic has affected public education in America, The New York Times profiled seven districts across the country.
Los Angeles Unified School District, a predominantly Latino district that is the nation’s second largest, has operated remotely all fall, citing the city’s high rate of virus transmission. Cherokee County, Ga., a mostly white suburban district, offered in-person instruction all fall, until the entire district was closed as staffing shortages mounted. Wausau, Wis., a small, majority-white district in a state became one of the worst virus hot spots for a period in the fall, vacillated between in-person and remote instruction.
In the District of Columbia Public Schools, a majority Black district, we followed efforts to re-engage students during a semester of all-remote instruction. In Providence, R.I., the governor’s push for schools to open allowed its mostly Hispanic students to come back to class, unlike in other Northeastern cities.
The tiny rural Roosevelt Independent School District in West Texas, made the fraught decision to require all students to return to school in person to combat a wave of academic failures. And Edison, N.J., a large suburban district where a majority of the students are Asian, has struggled to make hybrid education work.
The series found that few districts have comprehensively assessed where their students are, and what skills they have and have not learned since schools across the country closed last March. As a result, we don’t know what approaches to remote instruction have worked or failed.
The limited data from assessments and grades this fall does, however, suggest that disadvantaged students have lost the most ground during months of remote learning.
It also seems that the vaccine will not bring a quick return of students to classrooms. More likely, many schools will continue to require masks and social distancing well into the 2021-22 school year. And while few districts have said so explicitly, many students may not see teachers or classmates in person until the fall.
Credit…Stefanie Loos/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
As European countries brace for a potential surge of coronavirus cases linked to the new variants, countries have reimposed strict lockdown measures, and some have made “medical” grade masks mandatory in some areas.
Starting this week in Germany, N95 or surgical-grade masks are compulsory for people on public transportation, in office spaces and in shops. Such masks are also set to become mandatory in public transport and in shops in Austria next week, and France could soon follow. The French authorities are considering whether they should implement a recommendation from the country’s health advisory council that people drop homemade masks, and wear surgical or highly protective fabric masks instead.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said concerns about the new variants had driven the decision on masks.
“We have to slow the spread of this variant. That means we cannot wait until the danger is palpable,” the chancellor told reporters on Thursday, in explaining the decision to further tighten restrictions. “There is still some time to ward off the danger posed by this virus. All of the measures that we have agreed to are preventive.”
Effectively, the German authorities are trying to buy time by slowing the spread of the new variant long enough for the weather to warm and for the number of people vaccinated to increase, Ms. Merkel said. Her government has been criticized for weeks for failing to acquire enough doses of the vaccine to inoculate everyone who wants one.
The chancellor pushed back against the charge on Thursday, saying that everyone in Germany would have the opportunity to be vaccinated “by the end of the summer,” or Sept. 21. “But I cannot guarantee how many people will get themselves vaccinated,” she added.
The more contagious variant discovered in Britain has been found in 60 countries, according to the World Health Organization, but how it spreads, and whether it has already contributed to countries’ surges, remains unclear. Other variants have been detected in South Africa and in Brazil, and while none is known to be more deadly or to cause more severe disease, the authorities in some European countries have scrambled to impose measures like new mask rules or tightened lockdowns to limit their spread.
In Germany, people now have to wear N95, FFP2 or FFP3 masks, or generic surgical ones — the disposable masks that are usually blue — in some public spaces. Cloth masks and other face coverings, like face shields, are not considered sufficient and are no longer accepted in highly trafficked areas, including stores and public transportation.
The new rules imposed in Germany are tougher than guidelines from the World Health Organization, which recommends medical masks only for health care workers, people with Covid-19 symptoms and those over 60 years old or who have underlying conditions. Wearing what it calls a nonmedical mask both indoors and outdoors is enough for the general public, according to the organization.
There is widespread evidence that masks limit the risk of infection, but not all masks provide the same level of protection. A study that compared transmission rates in 16 countries and was published in The Lancet in June found that while face masks contributed to a large reduction in risk of infection, the risks were even lower when people wore a N95 mask or a similar model compared with disposable surgical masks.
N95 masks are more expensive, raising concerns that the new rules will be discriminatory for low-income families. The Austrian government has promised free masks for people on low incomes and those over 65, and Germany is making masks available to those who are vulnerable, or 60 and older.
In France, the recommendations from the country’s health advisory council are not compulsory, but the authorities could decide to make them so. At the beginning of the pandemic, French officials stumbled over recommendations on masks, and the country later faced a widespread shortage that threatened the safety of health care workers and pushed people to make their own masks. Wearing a mask in public spaces, whether indoors or outdoors, has been compulsory for months.
Neither Germany nor Britain, which in recent weeks has faced a resurgence of cases and its highest numbers of daily deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, requires people to wear masks outdoors.
When Britain’s tally of deaths from Covid-19 passed 1,000 last March, a senior health official said that it would be “a good result” to keep the eventual total below 20,000.
After two consecutive days of record death reports, the figure now stands at 93,290, the highest in Europe and the fifth highest worldwide. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, when 1,820 deaths were reported, Prime Minister Boris Johnson described recent numbers as “appalling.”
Mr. Johnson also warned of “more to come,” as a wave of cases that began late last year, many of them from the more transmissible coronavirus variant, continues to push Britain to new extremes.
Britain has relied on national lockdown measures, implemented in early January after Mr. Johnson was forced to roll back plans for a Christmas easing of restrictions, to reduce the pressure on its National Health Service. It’s also seeking to vaccinate widely and rapidly, concentrating on first doses in a program that has so far reached 4.6 million people, about 7 percent of the population.
Though case figures have shown declines in recent days, the latest interim results from one of the country’s largest studies into coronavirus infections, released on Thursday, brought less encouraging news. Scientists said infections in England had “plateaued” at the highest levels their study had recorded so far.
“We’re not seeing the decline that we really need to see given the pressure on the N.H.S. from the current very high levels of the virus in the population,” Prof. Paul Elliott of Imperial College London, who leads the research program, told the BBC.
Looking at infections in England from Jan. 6 to 15, the report warned of a “worrying” potential uptick in cases, though it cautioned that the results do not yet reflect the impact of the latest lockdown.
“If prevalence continues at the high rate we are seeing then hospitals will continue to be put under immense pressure, and more and more lives will be lost,” Professor Elliott said in a summary of the report.
Credit…Pool photo by Yoan Valat
President Emmanuel Macron of France tried to address growing frustration and anxiety among French university students on Thursday by vowing to allow in-person classes one day per week, subsidize mental health counseling and ramp up access to cheap cafeteria meals.
Nurseries and schools are open in France, which is not under lockdown but has enforced a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. But university campuses have been widely closed since November and have shifted to online classes, leading many isolated students to voice growing psychological, financial and social concerns.
Hundreds of students demonstrated in front of the higher education ministry in Paris on Wednesday and expressed their anger online with the hashtag #etudiantsfantomes, or “ghost students.” Many complain of long-distance learning fatigue, intense feelings of depression and loneliness, and dwindling job prospects as France’s economy suffers the repercussions of the pandemic.
In a live discussion on Thursday at the University of Paris-Saclay, south of the French capital, students told the French president how they struggled to focus on their computer screens for hours on end. Mr. Macron said that they should be allowed to attend in-person courses one day a week as long as classroom occupancy stays below 20 percent. The timeline to implement such plans, though, would be left to individual schools.
A previous announcement by the government that only first-year university students would be able to return to campuses for small seminars had been widely criticized as insufficient.
Mr. Macron urged students to help each other cope with the pandemic, and acknowledged that young people around France were bearing the brunt of restrictions. But he warned that they would continue for several more months.
Mr. Macron, noting that the number of daily virus cases was continuing to increase amid worries over new coronavirus variants, said it wouldn’t be “reasonable” to fully reopen for the spring term.
“The return to normality won’t be until the first semester of next year,” Mr. Macron warned. “I’m going to be honest with you, the next few weeks are going to be quite hard.”
Mr. Macron promised that the government would help students pay for consultations with mental health professionals and that all students would have access to two cafeteria meals per day for 1 euro. Previously, only scholarship students had access to a single 1-euro meal per day.
The closure of bars, restaurants and cafes, as well as establishments like theaters and cinemas, has cut many university students off from much-needed part-time work, forcing some to seek help from food banks and charities to make ends meet.
Credit…Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press
The party is coming to an end — or, at least, to a pause — in Dubai, which allowed its hotels, restaurants and clubs to keep on offering live entertainment for the last half-year in the hope of sustaining its economically vital tourism industry. On Thursday, Dubai, one of the seven sheikhdoms that make up the United Arab Emirates, announced that it would immediately suspend issuing new entertainment permits because coronavirus cases were mounting.
The resurgence of the virus in Dubai has forced the city to backtrack on promoting itself as one of the world’s few remaining havens for fun during the coronavirus pandemic. Though it imposed a strict lockdown early on, Dubai reopened to tourists in July, and by the winter holidays, tourism had come alive again, as bars and clubs filled with people escaping lockdowns in other countries.
Dubai had reason for optimism: Industry analysts reported that hotels there were 71 percent full in December, and the emirates had begun inoculating its population with vaccines from Pfizer and Sinopharm faster than any other country except Israel. Much of the emirates’ population is young, which may have helped hold down the country’s death toll.
But as reports of new coronavirus cases began to rise in recent weeks, Dubai’s greatest source of tourists, Britain, announced that it would start requiring anyone who returned from Dubai to quarantine. Israel, which sent thousands of tourists to Dubai after the emirates and Israel agreed to normalize relations late last year, imposed the same restriction.
The emirates announced 3,529 new cases on Thursday, setting a record for the 10th straight day.
Bars and restaurants in Dubai remain open, but the city’s tourism office said it would stop issuing permits for live performances and concerts in the interest of “public health and safety.” It did not say when the permits might resume.
Credit…Anthony Vazquez/Chicago Sun-Times, via Associated Press
The fight over the reopening of Chicago’s public schools escalated this week, as the governing body of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to send a resolution to its members calling on them to refuse to go to work in person starting as soon as Monday and to authorize a strike if the district locks them out of its electronic systems. Union members are voting on the resolution Thursday through Saturday.
The Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third largest school district, began a phased reopening earlier this month, starting with prekindergarten students and some special education students, to be followed by kindergarten through eighth grade students on Feb. 1. Parents of a little more than a third of students eligible to return have opted to send their children back, while the rest chose to keep their children learning from home.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and district leaders have argued that giving families the option to send their children back to school in person is critical to avert potential long-term harm to students’ progress. But the teachers’ union has fiercely opposed reopening, saying that returning to schools in person is not safe until cases fall and all staff members have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
Roughly 3,800 teachers and paraprofessionals who work in prekindergarten and special education classrooms were called back to school buildings on Jan. 4, and the remainder of staff who work in kindergarten through eighth grade classrooms are expected to return to buildings on Monday.
As of last Friday, 87 teachers and paraprofessionals had refused to come to work in person and were considered absent without leave, meaning they were no longer being paid and had been locked out of district electronic systems, including those used for remote teaching.
In a statement on Wednesday night, a spokeswoman for the district said that it had agreed to the union’s safety demands at every step of the reopening process and remained committed to reaching a mutually acceptable agreement on reopening.
“CTU leadership wants to close schools that are already safely open to students, and cancel in-person learning for the tens of thousands of students who are relying on their dedicated educators to provide in-person learning in the coming weeks,” the spokeswoman, Emily Bolton, said. “Stripping tens of thousands of students of the opportunity for safe, in-person learning is not an option or a viable solution for families who have been planning to return since December.”