Here’s what you need to know:President Biden during a CNN town hall-style even in Milwaukee on Tuesday.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Biden said on Tuesday that every American who wanted a Covid-19 vaccination would be able to get one by the end of July, striking a more optimistic tone than he delivered last week when he warned that logistical and distribution hurdles would most likely mean that many people would still not have been vaccinated by the end of the summer.
Mr. Biden made the comment in Milwaukee during a town-hall-style meeting hosted by CNN. When the host, Anderson Cooper, asked him when every American who wanted a vaccine was “going to be able to get a vaccine” Mr. Biden replied without hesitation: “By the end of July this year.”
He then qualified the remark slightly, telling Mr. Cooper that the doses would “be available” by then. But he also said he did not expect it to take months to get the shots into people’s arms.
At a time when Americans are yearning to get back to what life was like before the pandemic, Mr. Biden sought to offer reassurance tempered with reality.
While the president said he did not want to “overpromise,” he said at one point that “by next Christmas I think we’ll be in a very different circumstance, God willing, than we are today.” At another point he predicted that by the time the next school year starts in September, the nation would be “significantly better off than we are today.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued guidelines that urge school districts to reopen as soon as possible if they follow safety precautions.
Last week, the Biden administration said it had secured 200 million more doses of coronavirus vaccines, enough to inoculate every American adult. The additional doses amount to a 50 percent increase in supply, and will give the administration enough in total to cover 300 million people by the end of the summer.
But Mr. Biden warned at the time that it would still be difficult to get those shots into people’s arms. “It’s one thing to have the vaccine,” Mr. Biden said then. “It’s another thing to have vaccinators.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden used his bully pulpit to urge Americans to get vaccinated, addressing questions about the efficacy of the vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, which has not yet been granted emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. That vaccine has been shown to be slightly less efficacious against some of the more contagious variants of the coronavirus than the two vaccines already in use, one by Moderna and other by Pfizer BioNTech. Mr. Biden said Americans needed to take it if it was offered.
“The clear notion is if you’re eligible, if it’s available, get the vaccine,” he said. “Get the vaccine.”
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United StatesOn Feb. 16
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A Covid-19 vaccination site in the Bronx on Tuesday. The White House announced an increase in the vaccine supply to a total of 13.5 million per week. Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times
As winter storms threatened to upend distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, the White House on Tuesday said that states collectively would begin receiving 13.5 million doses each week — a jump of more than two million doses due in part to a shift in the way the government is allocating doses of Pfizer’s vaccine. And Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that a new federal pharmacy program would provide two million weekly doses, a doubling of its initial supply.
The increases were welcome developments for state officials desperate to inoculate more vulnerable Americans before more contagious variants of virus become dominant.
The Biden administration has been working with Pfizer, the maker of one federally authorized vaccine, to get the company more manufacturing supplies, including pumps and filtration units, through the Defense Production Act. The administration announced last week that Pfizer and Moderna, the other maker of the vaccine authorized in the United States, would be able to deliver a total of 400 million doses by the end of May, well ahead of schedule.
The latest boost in supply came partly because Pfizer, as of this week, is getting credit for six doses instead of five doses per vial, a White House spokesman said. Two-thirds of the boost came from increased output, the spokesman said. Officials now say there is an ample supply of the specialized syringes needed to extract the extra Pfizer dose. The White House warned state officials last week that because of that accounting change, the number of doses that the federal government said it had delivered would shoot up, even if the amount of vaccine in each vial did not.
Ms. Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that with the latest increase, vaccine deliveries had jumped 57 percent since President Biden was inaugurated. Administration officials have regularly framed those increases as Mr. Biden’s accomplishment, even though, at least to some degree, the supplies were expected to grow as Pfizer and Moderna ramped up manufacturing.
The announcement on Tuesday came as winter storms in the South continued to disrupt vaccine distribution. Clinics were closed and shipments were stalled in states where the pace of vaccinations had already lagged behind the national average. Vaccine appointments were rescheduled or canceled from Texas to Kentucky.
A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday that the government was projecting “widespread delays” in vaccine shipments and deliveries in the coming days, because weather was affecting a FedEx facility in Memphis and a UPS facility in Louisville, both vaccine shipping hubs.
“C.D.C. and federal partners are working closely with the jurisdictions, as well as manufacturing and shipping partners, to assess weather conditions and help mitigate potential delivery delays and cancellations,” the spokeswoman said.
Ms. Psaki said that officials were monitoring the storms and in touch with state and local governments. She said there was a “contingency plan to ensure people are getting the doses they need at an appropriate timeline.”
The increase in doses for pharmacies announced on Tuesday came after White House officials had warned that supplies to that program would initially be extremely limited. More than 40,000 pharmacies are expected to receive doses as part of the program.
On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and adviser to Mr. Biden, revised his own estimate from last week, when he predicted the beginning of an “open season” by April. “That timeline will probably be prolonged, maybe into mid-to-late May and early June,” he said in an interview with CNN.
Campbell Robertson contributed reporting.
An employee scans packages at Amazon’s distribution center in Staten Island, N.Y., November 2020. Conditions at the site is the focus of a lawsuit.Credit…Brendan Mcdermid/Reuters
New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, sued Amazon on Tuesday evening, arguing that the company provided inadequate safety protection for workers in New York City during the pandemic and retaliated against employees who raised concerns over the conditions.
The case focuses on two Amazon facilities: a large warehouse on Staten Island and a delivery depot in Queens. Ms. James argues that Amazon failed to properly clean its buildings, conducted inadequate contact tracing for known Covid-19 cases, and “took swift retaliatory action” to silence complaints from workers.
“Amazon’s extreme profits and exponential growth rate came at the expense of the lives, health and safety of its frontline workers,” Ms. James argued in the complaint, filed in New York Supreme Court.
Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for Amazon, said the company cared “deeply about the health and safety” of its workers.
“We don’t believe the attorney general’s filing presents an accurate picture of Amazon’s industry-leading response to the pandemic,” Ms. Nantel said.
Last week, Amazon preemptively sued Ms. James in federal court in an attempt to stop her from bringing the charges. The company argued that workplace safety was a matter of federal, not state, law.
In its 64-page complaint last week, Amazon said its safety measures “far exceed what is required under the law.”
New York, in its suit, said Amazon received written notification of at least 250 employees at the Staten Island warehouse who had Covid-19. In more than 90 of those cases, the infected employee had been at work in the previous week, yet Amazon did not close portions of the building to provide proper ventilation as the state required, the filing said.
Ms. James also argued that Amazon had retaliated against Christian Smalls, a worker the company fired in the spring. Mr. Smalls had been raising safety concerns with managers and led a public protest in the parking lot of the Staten Island facility.
Amazon has said Mr. Smalls was fired for going to the work site for the protest even though he was on paid quarantine leave after he had been exposed to a colleague who had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Ms. James said that by firing Mr. Smalls and reprimanding another protest leader, Amazon sent a chilling message to others.
Eighty percent of Oregon’s 560,000 public schoolchildren remain in fully remote instruction.Credit…Sara Cline/Associated Press
Shortly before Christmas, as Oregon schools faced their 10th month under some of the nation’s sternest coronavirus restrictions, Gov. Kate Brown began a major push to reopen classrooms.
She offered to help districts pay for masks, testing and tracing, and improved ventilation. Most important, she prioritized teachers and school staff members for vaccination — ahead of some older people.
Her goal: to resume in-person classes statewide by Feb. 15.
But today, roughly 80 percent of Oregon’s 560,000 public schoolchildren remain in fully remote instruction. And while some districts are slowly bringing children back, two of the largest, Portland and Beaverton, do not plan to reopen until at least mid-April — and then only for younger students.
Oregon’s halting efforts to return children to classrooms are being repeated up and down the West Coast. The region’s largest city school districts — from Seattle to Portland to San Francisco to Los Angeles — have remained mostly closed, even as Boston, New York, Miami, Houston and Chicago have been resuming in-person instruction.
And the release on Friday of guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that urge school districts to reopen has not changed the minds of powerful teachers’ unions opposed to returning students to classrooms without more stringent precautions.
Tough state health restrictions imposed by Ms. Brown, a Democrat, helped protect the state from experiencing the high death tolls occurring elsewhere. But by December, she was growing alarmed at the toll social isolation was having on children.
“Eleven- and 12-year-olds were attempting suicide,” she said in a recent interview.
Worried that schools would not reopen until the 2021-22 school year if she waited to vaccinate teachers along with other essential workers, Ms. Brown rejected federal guidelines and bumped school employees up in priority, before people 65 and older, even though that constituency would — and did — protest.
Oregon was among a handful of states at the time, and the only one on the West Coast, to single out school employees for the vaccine. (About half of states now prioritize teachers.)
Rental prices in New York City have dropped, but the biggest cuts are mostly in Manhattan, not in cheaper neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens where many essential workers live.Credit…Tom Sibley for The New York Times
Two things have been true since the pandemic flattened New York’s rental market last March: Prices have fallen sharply, but not for the people who need relief most.
Now a new report shows how little those price cuts have helped the more than 1 million New Yorkers the city calls essential workers.
From mid-March to the end of 2020, there were 11,690 apartments citywide that were considered affordable to essential workers, up more than 40 percent from a year before, according to the listing website StreetEasy. But that share represented just 4 percent of the total market-rate inventory in the city.
Essential workers — a broad category that includes teachers, bus drivers and grocery clerks, among others — make an average of about $56,000 a year. Using a common calculation to measure affordability, based on 30 percent of gross income, the highest comfortable rent on that salary is about $1,400 a month.
Record rent cuts have not bridged the gap. In January, the median monthly asking rent in Manhattan was $2,750, a 15.5 percent drop from the year prior, according to StreetEasy. Brooklyn and Queens also had record cuts of 8.6 percent, dropping to $2,395 and $2,000.
“It highlights a tale of two cities,” said Nancy Wu, an economist with StreetEasy, noting that the biggest price cuts have tended to occur in pricey neighborhoods in Manhattan, where only 12 percent of essential workers live. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens, where roughly half of that work force resides, often had smaller discounts, or lost affordable inventory, because of high demand.
But most of Manhattan’s affordable apartments were studios, Ms. Wu said, while nearly half of essential workers have at least one child.
Of course, many New Yorkers spend more on rent than they can comfortably afford. In 2018, the latest year data were available, almost 53 percent of New Yorkers were rent-burdened, meaning they spent more than 30 percent of their gross income on rent, according to the New York University Furman Center.
Japan’s late start on vaccines has raised questions about whether it will be ready to host the Olympics, which are scheduled to begin in Tokyo this July after a one-year delay. Credit…Koji Sasahara/Associated Press
TOKYO — Japan began its national coronavirus vaccination program on Wednesday, starting with the first of 40,000 medical workers and planning to reach the general population by the summer.
The comparatively late start has raised questions at home and abroad about whether the country will be ready to host the Olympics, which are scheduled to begin in Tokyo this July after the pandemic forced a one-year delay.
Japan has managed to keep coronavirus infection levels relatively low and, so far, has recorded around 7,200 deaths. But the authorities declared a one-month state of emergency in early January, after daily case counts reached nearly 8,000. They have since extended it until at least the beginning of March, partly in response to more contagious coronavirus variants.
The vaccine rollout has been slower than in many other developed countries in part because the authorities requested that Pfizer run separate medical trials in Japan. That reflected some public ambivalence toward vaccinations, a general sense of caution that most recently surfaced after media reports about rare side effects related to vaccines for HPV.
Speaking to the news media on Tuesday, Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the rollout, emphasized that it was important to “show the Japanese people that we have done everything possible to prove the efficacy and safety of the vaccine.”
While that slowed the program’s start, he said, “We think it will be more efficient.”
Major obstacles to a rapid rollout remain. Japan relies on other countries for its entire vaccine supply and is still working to approve the vaccines from AstraZeneca and Moderna. It is also short of the special syringes that would allow its doctors to extract an extra, sixth dose from each vial supplied by Pfizer.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr. Kono said the vaccination program was not linked to the Games.
Speaking on Wednesday, the governor of Shimane Prefecture, which has recorded only 280 cases, threatened to pull it out of activities around the Olympic torch relay for fear of spreading infection.
In other developments across the world:
President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa received the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine on Wednesday, hours after 80,000 doses arrived in the country. Health care workers will be among the first to receive the vaccine. The country paused its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine this month after a study suggested that it failed to prevent mild or moderate illness from a variant found in the country. South Africa has recorded nearly 1.5 million coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic, with 48,855 deaths, according to a New York Times database.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, secured a contract for an additional 300 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, the commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced on Wednesday. The deal allows European countries to order up to 150 million doses in 2021, with an option for as many next year and authorization to donate unused doses to other countries. The commission, which has been under intense scrutiny following the sluggish vaccination rollout across Europe, had previously signed a contract for 160 million doses.
A five-day lockdown that started last week in the Australian state of Victoria will end at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, after 24 hours without a new coronavirus case. Residents will remain restricted to five visitors at a time and will still be required to wear masks in indoor public places.
The city of Auckland, New Zealand, will also emerge from a lockdown at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, after the authorities said that contact tracers could manage a cluster of six local cases. “We don’t have a widespread but rather a small chain of transmission which is manageable via testing procedures,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters.
Hong Kong plans to relax restrictions on a range of businesses on Thursday, provided they enforce use of a government-made app for contact tracing or keep records of customers. Employees must also be tested for the coronavirus every two weeks. Separately, on Tuesday, vaccine experts appointed by the Hong Kong government recommended the use of the Sinovac vaccine, a sign that health authorities will approve it for the city’s 7.5 million residents. They approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in January.
Prosecutors in China said that a batch of fake coronavirus vaccines had been shipped outside the country last year, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Monday. The fake vaccines were produced by a counterfeiting ring that the authorities broke up in February. Prosecutors said last week that the ring had manufactured and sold about 580,000 vials, for a profit of almost $280 million. The police have also arrested suspects they say smuggled 2,000 vials into Hong Kong, believing them to be genuine. Prosecutors said that 600 of those vaccines were later sent overseas, but did not say where.
Health authorities in Germany have documented rapid growth in the more infectious coronavirus variant first found in Britain, despite a general drop in new infections during a monthslong lockdown. Jens Spahn, the German health minister, said during a news conference on Wednesday that the variant now accounted for 22 percent of tested coronavirus samples, up from 6 percent at the beginning of February.
Palestinian health workers unloading the Gaza Strip’s first shipment on Wednesday.Credit…Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters
JERUSALEM — The first doses of coronavirus vaccine arrived in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after Israel approved their delivery.
Mai al-Kaila, the health minister of the Palestinian Authority, said that 2,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine had been shipped to the territory.
She said the vaccines would be allocated to frontline medical teams, but the territory’s Health Ministry said the first priority would be dialysis patients and people undergoing transplants, followed by medical workers.
The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule over parts of the West Bank, while the Hamas militant group controls Gaza. In Gaza, with a population of about 2 million, the number of recorded Covid cases has declined sharply after a surge in December.
The vaccines were delivered amid a heated debate over whether Israel bears responsibility for the health of Palestinians living in occupied territory.
While human rights groups have argued international law requires Israel to provide Palestinians with access to vaccines on a par with what it makes available to its own citizens, supporters of Israel’s policies have contended that the Palestinians assumed responsibility for health services when they signed the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.
The vaccines delivered to Gaza were not supplied by Israel but by the Palestinian Authority.
Still, their transfer required Israeli approval and provoked a debate in Israel’s Parliament. Several right-wing lawmakers had demanded that the government make their delivery conditional on the return of two Israeli citizens and of the bodies of two soldiers believed to be held by Hamas.
“It is forbidden for Israel and its leader to abandon the fate of captive citizens and give up an opportunity to bring back the bodies of the fallen soldiers,” Zvi Hauser, a member of Parliament, told a parliamentary committee that discussed the matter on Monday.
A Hamas spokesman rejected the idea as “an attempt at extortion.”
However, an Israeli government official said that senior Israeli officials had recommended that the request be approved. It was on Wednesday.
The Sambódromo in Rio de Janiero, normally the site of carnival parades, was lit on Friday in honor of victims of Covid.Credit…Buda Mendes/Getty Images
In good times and bad, Rio de Janeiro’s famously boisterous Carnival has endured, often thriving when the going got particularly tough.
People partied hard during years of war, hyperinflation, repressive military rule, runaway violence and even the Spanish Flu in 1919, when the Carnival was considered among the most decadent on record.
This year, though, the only thing keeping the spirit of Carnival faintly alive is online events produced by groups that traditionally put on extravagant street performances.
“It’s very sad for Rio not to have Carnival,” Daniel Soranz, the city’s health secretary, said this past Saturday morning, standing in the middle of the Sambódromo parade grounds as elderly residents got vaccinated under white tents. “This is a place to party, to celebrate life.”
Marcilia Lopes, 85, a fixture of the Portela samba school who hasn’t missed a Carnival for decades, looked relieved after she got her first dose of the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine.
She has been so scared of catching the virus for the past year that she refused to leave home for anything. On her birthday, she asked her children not to even bother buying a cake — she was in no mood to celebrate. So Ms. Lopes is missing her beloved Carnival this year, but stoically.
“I’m at peace,” she said. “Many people are suffering.”
Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak has been among the most severe in the world. It has killed more than 239,000 people here, second only to the death toll in the United States, and several Brazilian states are grappling with large caseloads.
As a second wave took hold in recent months, local officials across the country canceled the traditional Carnival celebrations, which normally bring in hundreds of million of dollars in tourism revenue and create tens of thousands of temporary jobs.
Marcus Faustini, Rio de Janeiro’s secretary of culture, said that as painful as it was to slog through carnival season without revelry, there was no responsible way to adapt the megaparty for this era of social distancing.
“It would make no sense to hold this party at this time and run the risk of driving a surge of cases,” he said. “The most vital thing right now is to protect lives.”
Lis Moriconi contributed reporting.
In Europe, pandemic spending has largely focused on helping people and businesses through the crisis.Credit…Yann Schreiber/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Billions of euros are being deployed to nationalize payrolls, suppress bankruptcies and avoid mass unemployment as Europe battles the pandemic. Trillions more are being earmarked for stimulus to stoke a desperately needed recovery.
The European Union has upended its policies to finance the largess, breaking with decades of strict limits on deficits, and overcoming visceral German resistance to high debt.
Austerity mantras led by Germany dominated Europe during the 2010 debt crisis, when profligate spending in Greece, Italy and other southern eurozone countries pushed the currency bloc toward a breakup.
The pandemic, which has killed over 450,000 people in Europe, is seen as a different animal altogether — a threat ravaging all the world’s economies simultaneously.
In the United States, President Biden is pursuing an aggressive strategy to combat the pandemic’s toll with a $1.9 trillion economic aid plan. While the national debt is now almost as large as the economy, supporters say the benefits of spending big now outweigh the costs of higher debt.
In Europe, pandemic spending has so far largely focused on floating people and businesses through the crisis.
For Philippe Boreal, a janitor at a luxury hotel in Cannes, the support has been vital.
“Without the aid, things would be much worse,” said Mr. Boreal, who is collecting more than 80 percent of his paycheck, allowing him to pay essential bills and buy food for his wife and teenage daughter.
But, he said, “at some point you ask yourself, ‘How are we going to pay for all this?’”
For now, such spending is affordable. And government debt may never have to be fully paid back if central banks keep buying it.
But some economists worry that inflation and interest rates could rise if stimulus investment revives growth too rapidly, forcing central banks to put a brake on easy-money policies. And weaker countries could struggle with the higher borrowing costs that resulted.
To people in charge of steering their economies through the pandemic, those potential troubles seem far away.
“We need to reimburse the debt, of course, and to work out a strategy for paying down the debt,” the French economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, said in an interview with a small group of journalists. “But we won’t do anything before growth returns — that would be crazy.”
For the strategy to work, Europe must act quickly to ensure a robust recovery, economists warn. While leaders approved a €750 billion ($857 billion) stimulus deal last year, countries haven’t been unleashing stimulus spending, to kick-start a revival and create jobs, nearly as rapidly as the United States has.
“Most of what’s been done in Europe is survival support,” said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London.