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Covid Live News Updates: India, Vaccines, Masks and Reopening

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Administering Covishield, the Serum Institute version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, in Bengaluru, India.
Credit…Aijaz Rahi/Associated Press

As inoculations help a sense of normalcy return in the lives of many Americans, much of the world remains gripped by the pandemic, with little hope that a significant number of vaccine doses will be made available soon.

The effort to vaccinate enough of the world’s population to get the virus under control — already a huge struggle, experts said — was set back again this week after the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, signaled that it would not be able to export doses until the end of the year.

The Serum Institute’s manufacturing capacity is at the heart of Covax, a global effort to vaccinate the populations of low- and middle-income countries. The program is already more than 140 million doses behind schedule, and the Serum Institute announcement suggested that its goal of two billion doses by the end of the year would be all but impossible to meet.

Dr. Arthur Reingold, chief of the epidemiology division at the University of California, Berkeley, said that the delay was “not surprising, given the drastic situation” in India, which has been pummeled by the virus in recent weeks.

Faced with India’s devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, the institute has diverted all its manufacturing powers to domestic needs, falling behind on commitments to the Covax partnership as well as on bilateral commercial deals with many countries.

“It simply means that poor countries of the world, the low- and middle-income countries of the world,” Dr. Reingold said, “are going to have to wait longer to come anywhere close to the kind of vaccination coverage that we’ve achieved in some of the wealthier countries.”

More than 47 percent of people in the United States have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Our World in Data project at Oxford University. In the United Kingdom, the figure is 54 percent, and in Germany, nearly 38 percent.

But only 10 percent of people in India have received a dose of the vaccine. Just over 1 percent of people in Honduras have received a shot, and less than 1 percent have been at least partially vaccinated in Somalia.

Experts have warned that — aside from the humanitarian aspect — the global inequity in vaccinations can affect wealthier countries that have vaccinated significant portions of their populations. If the virus is allowed to run rampant anywhere, it could allow the emergence of a new variant that may evade vaccines.

The United States was hit by its own setback on Wednesday, which could still have global implications, when the chief executive of Emergent BioSolutions, whose Baltimore plant ruined millions of coronavirus vaccine doses, revealed that more than 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine were now on hold as regulators checked them for possible contamination.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been viewed by public health officials as an important tool to vaccinate populations that are more difficult to reach, because it requires only one dose and does not need the special low-temperature storage required by the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

The rate of vaccinations in the United States has slowed considerably in recent weeks, though about 1.8 million doses are being administered to Americans each day on average, according to a New York Times database.

President Biden announced on Monday that the United States would send 20 million doses of the three vaccines abroad. The 100 million Johnson & Johnson doses under inspection could pad the American stockpile, or be sent to help meet the dire need abroad.

Still, Dr. Reingold said that it was “time well spent” to “very carefully look at those doses and ensure that they’re safe and effective.”

The Marigold nursing home in Washington, D.C., in April. Researchers said that the use of vaccinations appeared to protect nursing home residents who did not get immunized.
Credit…Nate Palmer for The New York Times

Nursing home residents, considered among the most vulnerable to Covid-19, appear to receive significant protection from vaccination, according to research published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In a letter to the editor, the researchers said that the use of vaccinations also appeared to protect nursing home residents who did not themselves get a shot. That finding suggests, researchers said, that unvaccinated residents benefit when others around them are immunized.

“These findings show the real-world effectiveness” of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines “in a vulnerable nursing home population,” the researchers wrote.

The findings conform to recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the protective benefit of vaccination. The federal agency, in hoping to encourage widespread immunizations, has said that those who get inoculated face sharply reduced risk, but considerable risk remains for those who do not.

The nursing home population has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, with the virus spreading rapidly in close quarters among people with weakened immune systems. More than 132,000 U.S. nursing home residents have died during the pandemic, about one-third of all the country’s deaths from Covid-19.

The study published on Wednesday drew from more than 20,000 residents of 280 nursing homes in 21 states. Of those, almost 4,000 were unvaccinated and the rest received either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. About 70 percent had received two doses.

The study looked at residents of nursing homes that had received at least one dose as of Feb. 15 and anyone at the facilities present on the first day of their vaccination clinic who had not yet been vaccinated as of March 31.

After receiving a first dose, 4.5 percent of residents still contracted the virus, although most cases were asymptomatic, researchers wrote. Of those receiving the second dose, only 0.3 percent got the virus after 14 days.

The benefit carried over to those in the same nursing homes who did not get vaccinated. Their rate of infection dropped to 0.3 percent from 4.3 percent. For all groups, most infections were asymptomatic; and the rate of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infections decreased over time.

“Robust vaccine coverage among residents and staff, together with the continued use of face masks and other infection-control measures, is likely to afford protection for a small number of unvaccinated residents,” the researchers wrote.

Protesters performed during a demonstration by entertainment and cultural workers outside the occupied Odéon Theater in Paris last month.
Credit…Stephane De Sakutin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

While many cultural attractions in France were reopening on Wednesday as coronavirus restrictions were partially lifted, about a hundred state-funded theaters around the country remained under occupation by protesters, most of them actors, theater workers and students, forcing some institutions to cancel shows and raising worries of a prolonged crisis.

When the demonstrators first occupied theaters in Paris, Strasbourg and elsewhere several months ago, reopening theaters was one of their main demands, but now the protests may be keeping them closed. The anger has since coalesced around larger complaints that have pitted cultural workers against the French government, especially over an unpopular overhaul of unemployment benefits. The protesters, who worry that they will lose leverage and visibility if they move out, have vowed to continue their occupations.

The Odéon Theater in Paris, one of the main protest points, said this week that it had no choice but to cancel performances of “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, featuring Isabelle Huppert, as long as the 40 or so protesters continued to occupy the space day and night.

Stéphane Braunschweig, the director of the theater, said in a statement on Tuesday that it was impossible to stage evening shows with adequate safety and sanitary conditions if the occupation continued, and that his offer to let the protesters occupy the theater during the daytime only had been rejected.

Last week, after the government announced new subsidies and measures to support cultural workers, Mr. Braunschweig and the directors of other large state-funded theaters in Lyon, Nice and in Marseille, where shows were canceled at the Criée Theater this week, had called for the occupations to end.

“The social struggle, whatever its legitimacy, cannot for us prevent the resumption of cultural life,” they wrote in a joint statement.

Protesters at the Odéon accused the director of refusing to consider solutions that would let the occupation continue alongside performances.

“Management is trying to place the blame of the cancellation on us even though we are asking exactly the opposite,” Denis Gravouil, a representative for the C.G.T. union, told reporters in front of the theater on Wednesday.

Mr. Gravouil noted that theaters were opening at below half capacity because of coronavirus restrictions, meaning that many actors and technicians still couldn’t resume their jobs, and he said the government hadn’t fully addressed the pandemic-related loss of income for many of them.

“We don’t want to block shows, we want everyone to work,” he said.

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

A healthcare worker prepared a vaccine dose at a vaccination site in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia as the dose’s recipient watched, last week.
Credit…Khasar Sandag for The New York Times

At a time when most countries are scrambling for coronavirus vaccines, Mongolia already has enough to fully vaccinate more than half its citizens, in large part thanks to deals with both China and Russia.

Officials are so confident about the nation’s vaccine riches that they are promising citizens a “Covid-free summer.”

Mongolia’s success in procuring so many doses within months is a big victory for a low-income, developing nation. Many poor countries have been waiting in line for shots, hoping for the best. But Mongolia, using its status as a small geopolitical player between Russia and China, was able to snap up doses at a clip similar to that of much wealthier countries.

Mongolia has a population not much bigger than Chicago’s. The small democratic nation is used to living in the shadows of Russia and China, which often treat it as a geopolitical pawn.

But during a pandemic, being a small nation sandwiched between two vaccine makers with global ambitions can have advantages.

“It speaks to the Mongolian ability to play to the two great powers and maximize their benefits even while they are on this tightrope between these two countries,” said Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies in Brussels.

It is also a win for China and Russia, which have extensive resource interests in Mongolia and ambitions to appear to play a role in ending the pandemic, even when much of the world has expressed deep skepticism over their homegrown vaccines.

In other news from around the globe:

  • The Parliament of Ukraine named a new health minister, who promised to speed up vaccinations, including by trying to manufacture vaccine domestically, Reuters reported. Viktor Lyashko, previously a deputy health minister, was promoted on Thursday to replace Maksym Stepanov, who was fired this week after Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal accused him of failing to supply vaccines quickly enough.

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has extended the period of time the Pfizer-BionNTech vaccine can be refrigerated. The agency now says undiluted and thawed vaccines can be stored for up to 30 days, rather than up to five, as before. The European Medicines Agency announced a similar recommendation earlier in the week.

  • Prince William, the second in line to the throne of Britain, said on Thursday that he had received his first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine. He shared a photo on social media of the injection at the Science Museum in London on Tuesday, thanking everyone involved in the country’s vaccination program. The prince is 38, part of an age group that became eligible to book inoculations last week. Queen Elizabeth II, his grandmother, was vaccinated in January and his father, Prince Charles, received a first dose in February.

Anna Schaverien and Kaly Soto contributed reporting.

Downtown Lake Oswego, Ore., in early April. Oregon is lifting its indoor mask mandate for people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Credit…Gillian Flaccus/Associated Press

Oregon has lifted its mask mandate for people who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, but is requiring businesses, workplaces and houses of worship to verify the vaccination status of individuals before they enter buildings without a mask.

This statewide mandate, one of the first of its kind in the country, raised concerns that the procedure of verifying vaccinations could be too cumbersome for workers.

Many states have lifted mask requirements without requiring confirmation that individuals have been vaccinated. New York lifted its mask mandate on Tuesday for vaccinated people, though businesses will be allowed to enforce stricter rules. Some Republican governors, like Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, have instead not only lifted mask rules but banned local governments from enforcing their own. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, also a Republican, issued an executive order last month prohibiting businesses from requiring vaccine documentation.

The notion of relying on the honor system, which some states and businesses have adopted, has raised its own questions. And business groups in Oregon expressed concerns that a mandate to check vaccination status could become — like mask enforcement — a difficult and potentially dangerous proposition for workers.

“We have serious concerns about the practicality of requiring business owners and workers to be the enforcer,” said Nathaniel Brown, a spokesman for Oregon Business and Industry, which represents companies like Nike, as well as small businesses. “We are hearing from retailers and small businesses who are concerned about putting their frontline workers in a potentially untenable position when dealing with customers.”

The Oregon Health Authority said in new guidance on Tuesday that effective immediately, businesses would be required to continue to enforce mask requirements unless they had established a policy to confirm proof of vaccination using a card or photo of one before individuals can enter the building without a mask.

Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said last week that Oregonians who were fully vaccinated no longer needed to wear masks in most public settings, except in places like schools, public transit and health care settings.

But she quickly noted that businesses would have “the option” of lifting mask requirements only if they instituted verification. “Some businesses may prefer to simply continue operating under the current guidance for now rather than worrying about vaccination status, and that’s fine,” she said.

A spokesman for Fred Meyer, a grocery store chain in the Pacific Northwest owned by Kroger, said that it would continue to require customers and employees to wear masks in its stores.

New York has created the Excelsior Pass, a digital proof of Covid-19 vaccination, which will be used at some sites like Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. Jen Psaki, President Biden’s press secretary, reiterated on Monday that the federal government would not be issuing “vaccine passports,” the development of which she said should be left up to the private sector.

Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Governor Brown, said that “businesses that do not want to implement vaccine verification can keep current health and safety measures in place, which includes masks and physical distancing for all individuals.”

Asked if businesses would face penalties for allowing customers to go maskless without checking their vaccination status, Mr. Boyle said that “in the past year state agencies have issued fines for businesses that are out of compliance with health and safety guidance.”

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