Covid-19 Live News: Updates on Vaccines, the Virus and Variants

Credit…Nathan Howard/Getty Images

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine offered school districts early access to vaccines for their staff if they committed to opening classrooms by March 1.

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency related to child and adolescent mental health and banned fully virtual instruction starting in April.

In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker announced that most elementary schools would be required to offer full-time in-person instruction by April 5, and most middle schools by April 28.

The three are part of a significant and bipartisan group of governors who have decided it is time to flex some muscle and get students back into classrooms, despite union resistance and bureaucratic hesitancy.

The push has come from both ends of the political spectrum. Democratic governors in Oregon, California, New Mexico and North Carolina, and Republicans in Arizona, Iowa, West Virginia and New Hampshire, among other states, have all taken steps to prod, and sometimes force, districts to open.

The result has been a major increase in the number of students who now have the option of attending school in-person, or will in the next month.

According to a school reopening tracker created by the American Enterprise Institute, 7 percent of the more than 8,000 districts being tracked were operating fully remotely on March 22, the lowest percentage since the tracker was started in November. Forty-one percent of districts were offering full-time in-person instruction, the highest percentage in that time. Those findings have been echoed by other surveys.

In interviews, several governors described the factors motivating their decision to push districts to reopen, including the substantial evidence that there is little virus transmission in schools if mitigation measures are followed, the decline in overall cases from their January peak, and, most of all, the urgency of getting students back in classrooms before the school year ends.

“Every day is an eternity for a young person,” Mr. Inslee, a Democrat, said. “We just could not wait any further.”

In the weeks since most of the governors acted, nationwide cases have started to rise again, which could complicate the effort to get children back in school. Many school staff members have already been offered vaccines, which has reduced the resistance from teachers’ unions to reopening and, provided staff vaccination rates are high, will limit the opportunities for the virus to spread in schools.

Even so, in areas where cases are increasing sharply, like Michigan, some schools have had to revert to remote learning temporarily because so many students were in quarantine.

But for the time being, at least, the moves by these governors have yielded significant results.

In Ohio, nearly half of all students were in districts that were fully remote at the beginning of 2021. By March 1, that number was down to 4 percent, and it has shrunk further in the weeks since.

In Washington, before Mr. Inslee issued his proclamation, the state’s largest district, Seattle Public Schools, was locked in a standoff with its teachers’ union over a reopening plan. Days after Mr. Inslee announced he would require districts to bring students back at least part time, the two sides reached an agreement for all preschool and elementary school students and some older students with disabilities to return by April 5.

And in Massachusetts, the move by Mr. Baker, a Republican, has spurred a sea change, with dozens of districts bringing students back to school for the first time since the pandemic began, and hundreds shifting from part-time to full-time schedules.

“It’s worked exceedingly well,” Mr. DeWine, also a Republican, said of his decision to offer vaccines to Ohio districts that pledged to reopen. “We’ve got these kids back in school.”

A vaccination site in Seattle last month. More than a third of the U.S. population has now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
Credit…Jason Redmond/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For the first time, more than three million people, on average, are receiving a Covid-19 vaccine each day in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The milestone reflects a steady increase in the capacity of states to deliver shots into arms. In early March, the nation surpassed an average of two million doses administered each day. The average hovered at around 800,000 doses a day in mid-January. And nearly a third of the United States population has received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as more states expand eligibility and production ramps up.

The news, which comes as President Biden enters the homestretch of his first 100 days in office and amid the general declines in new virus cases, deaths and hospitalizations since January, offers signs of hope for a weary nation. But the average number of new reported cases has risen 19 percent over the past two weeks, and federal health officials say that complacency about the coronavirus could bring on another severe wave of infections.

“We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an emotional plea to Americans this week. “But right now I’m scared.”

The rising vaccination rate has prompted some state officials to accelerate their rollout schedules. This week, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut expanded access to people 16 and older, several days ahead of schedule. And Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado opened universal eligibility about two weeks earlier than planned.

“No more having to sort out if you’re in or if you’re out,” said Julie Willems Van Dijk, the deputy secretary of the Department of Health Services in Wisconsin, where anyone 16 or older will be eligible for a vaccine as of Monday. “It’s time to just move forward and get everybody with a shot in their arm.”

In another promising development, federal health officials said on Friday that Americans who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus can travel “at low risk to themselves” within the United States and abroad.

But these days, most signs of hope are offset by peril.

Over the past week, there has been an average of 64,730 cases per day, an increase of 19 percent from two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database. New deaths on average have declined, but they are still hovering around 900 a day. More than 960 were reported on Friday alone.

The C.D.C. predicted this week that the number of new Covid-19 cases per week in the United States would “remain stable or have an uncertain trend” over the next four weeks, and that weekly case numbers could be as high as about 700,000 even in late April.

Cases are already increasing significantly in many states, particularly in the Midwest and Northeast, as variants spread and some governors relax mask mandates and other restrictions. Dr. Walensky said this week that if states and cities continued to loosen public health restrictions, the nation could face a potential fourth wave.

Michigan, one of the worst-hit states, is reporting nearly 6,000 cases a day — up from about 1,000 a day in late February — even though half of its residents over 65 are now fully vaccinated.

And in Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine said that new variants were aggravating the state’s caseload, even as vaccinations picked up.

“We have to understand that we are in a battle,” he said.

As if to underscore how fragile the nation’s recovery is, a quintessential American ritual — the start of the baseball season — has already faced a virus-related delay.

Major League Baseball officials said on Friday that the league had found only five positive cases in more than 14,000 tests of league personnel. But because four of those people were Washington Nationals players, the team’s Opening Day game against the New York Mets was postponed, and then the team’s full three-game weekend series.

“It’s one of those things that brings it to light that we’re not through it yet,” Brian Snitker, the Atlanta Braves manager, told The Associated Press. “We’re still fighting this.”

Benjamin GuggenheimLauryn Higgins and

Christian worshipers at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, during a Good Friday procession in Jerusalem.
Credit…Dan Balilty for The New York Times

JERUSALEM — In the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday morning, in the alleys of the Christian quarter, it was as if the pandemic had never happened.

The winding passageways that form the Via Dolorosa, along which Christians believe Jesus hauled his cross toward his crucifixion, were packed with over 1,000 worshipers. The Good Friday procession, where the faithful retrace the route Jesus is said to have taken, was back.

“It is like a miracle,” said the Rev. Amjad Sabbara, a Roman Catholic priest who helped lead the procession. “We’re not doing this online. We’re seeing the people in front of us.”

Pandemic restrictions forced the cancellation of last year’s ceremony and required priests to hold services without congregants present. Now, thanks to Israel’s world-leading vaccine rollout, religious life in Jerusalem is edging back to normal. And on Friday, that brought crowds back to the city’s streets, and relief to even one of Christianity’s most solemn commemorations: the Good Friday procession.

For much of the past year, the pandemic kept the Old City eerily empty. But with nearly 60 percent of Israeli residents fully vaccinated, the city’s streets were once again thrumming, even if international tourists were still absent.

At the gathering point for the procession on Friday, there was scarcely space to stand. The crowd moved slowly off, singing mournful hymns as they proceeded along what Christians consider a re-enactment of Jesus’ last steps.

In the alley outside the chapel of St. Simon of Cyrene, the marchers trailed their fingers over an ocher limestone in the chapel wall. According to tradition, Jesus steadied himself against the stone after a stumble.

Finally, they reached the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which believers think was the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and, ultimately, resurrection.

For some, the Good Friday procession carried even more resonance than usual — its themes of suffering, redemption and renewal seeming particularly symbolic as the end of a deadly pandemic appeared finally in sight.

“We have gained hope again,” said George Halis, 24, who is studying to be a priest and who lives in the Old City. “Last year was like a darkness that came over all of earth.”

But for now, that togetherness still faces limits. There are still restrictions on the number of worshipers at Easter services. Masks are still a legal requirement. And foreigners still need an exemption to enter Israel — keeping out thousands of pilgrims, to the cost of local shopkeepers who depend on their business.

Half-empty pews at a Palm Sunday mass at St. Sebastian’s Roman Catholic Church in Queens.
Credit…Anna Watts for The New York Times

The Rev. Henry Torres told his parishioners, who had gathered on Palm Sunday in socially distanced rows of half-empty pews, that God had not abandoned them.

The coronavirus had killed dozens of regulars at the church, St. Sebastian Roman Catholic Church in Queens, N.Y., and the pandemic forced it to close its doors for months last year. But the parishioners were there now, he said, which was a sign of hope.

“Even through difficulties, God is at work,” Father Torres said. “Even when people are suffering, even if it may seem that God is silent, that does not mean that God is absent.”

That is a message that many Christians — and the cash-strapped churches that minister to them — are eager to believe this Easter, as the springtime celebration of hope and renewal on Sunday coincides with rising vaccination rates and the promise of a return to something resembling normal life.

Religious services during the Holy Week holidays, which began on Palm Sunday and end on Easter, are among the most well-attended of the year, and this year they offer churches a chance to begin rebuilding their flocks and regaining their financial health. But the question of whether people will return is a crucial one.

Across New York City, many churches have still not reopened despite state rules that would allow them to do so.

The Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, pastor at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, a nationally prominent Black church, said concerns over the virus, and its disproportionate impact on the Black community, would keep his church from reopening until at least the fall.

Nicholas Richardson, a spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of New York, said many of its churches had also not reopened. When the diocese introduced a program last fall to allow its 190 parishes to pay a reduced tithe to the diocese, roughly half of them applied.

“It varies church by church,” he said. “Pledges are not necessarily dramatically down, but donations given to the collection plate are hopelessly down.”

President Alberto Fernández of Argentina receiving his first dose of the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine in January.
Credit…via Reuters

BUENOS AIRES — President Alberto Fernández of Argentina had an initial positive coronavirus test and is awaiting the results of a more precise analysis to determine whether he has contracted the virus despite being vaccinated earlier this year.

In a series of tweets early Saturday morning, Mr. Fernández said he had taken a quick antigen test after experiencing a “light headache” and having a fever of 99.1 degrees.

The president, who received the test result on his 62nd birthday, said he would remain in isolation while waiting for the results of the more rigorous PCR test.

“I am physically well, and although I would have liked to end my birthday without this news, I’m also in good spirits,” the president wrote on Twitter.

If the positive result is confirmed, Mr. Fernández would join a list of world leaders who have contracted the virus, including Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, former President Donald J. Trump and President Emmanuel Macron of France.

What sets Mr. Fernández apart from those leaders is that he appears to be the first to test positive after having been fully vaccinated.

Mr. Fernández received the first dose of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine on Jan. 21 and the second dose on Feb. 11.

Russia’s Gamaleya Institute, which developed Sputnik V, wished the president well and said that while the vaccine has an efficacy rate of 91.6 percent, it is fully effective in preventing critical cases.

“If the infection is indeed confirmed and occurs, the vaccination ensures quick recovery without severe symptoms,” the institute wrote in a statement on Twitter.

Antigen tests allow for results in minutes, but have been shown to be less accurate than more time-consuming P.C.R. tests. Last year Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio tested negative for the coronavirus in a P.C.R. test hours after receiving a positive antigen test.

Word of Mr. Fernández’s test result comes shortly after Argentina tightened its borders amid an upsurge of infections. Several of its neighbors, particularly Brazil, are experiencing a sharp increase in cases as new, more contagious variants of the virus engulf the region.

Argentina has reported nearly 2.4 million Covid-19 cases and more than 56,000 deaths.

Officials at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, in Nairobi last month, logging Kenya’s first delivery of Covid-19 vaccine through the global initiative known as Covax.
Credit…Daniel Irungu/EPA, via Shutterstock

Kenya has canceled the private importation and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, citing the need to safeguard against the possible introduction of fake doses and to ensure “greater transparency and accountability.”

Licenses given to private hospitals and clinics to administer the vaccines were canceled and any entity found to be advertising or vaccinating people for a fee will be prosecuted, the National Emergency Response Committee on Coronavirus said on Friday evening.

“Participation of the private sector in the vaccination exercise threatens the gains made in the fight against Covid-19 and puts the country at international risk should counterfeit commodities find their way into the Kenyan market,” read a statement signed by the health minister Mutahi Kagwe.

The suspension comes days after private health facilities started administering Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, charging up to $70 for a shot. While the vaccine had received emergency use authorization in Kenya, there was confusion when some health officials said the jabs were not approved for commercial sale.

The authorities said those who received the first dose of vaccine through private plans would receive their second dose when due, but did not specify how.

Last month, Kenya received its first Covid-19 vaccines — over a million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot supplied through the global initiative known as Covax. So far, nearly 200,000 doses have been administered, with most going to health workers, security officers and teachers, along with people over 58.

But the first batch of Covax vaccines came a month late and the next shipment, which was expected this month, is already facing delays.

“There is an expectation that they will begin again in full in May, with catch-up accelerating thereafter,” a Covax spokesman said in a statement.

The suspension also comes as Kenya is undergoing a third wave of soaring infection rates, rising deaths and scarce intensive care unit beds. To curb the spread, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a partial lockdown last week, including longer curfew hours, the closure of bars and schools, and limiting traveling in Nairobi, the capital, and surrounding counties.

On Friday, the British Embassy in Kenya said that beginning April 9, travelers who have been in or passed through Kenya in the past 10 days will be denied entry into England. British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights will be required to quarantine in a government-approved facility for 10 days.

Syrian students walked near their school in a suburb of Damascus on Tuesday. A surge in virus cases has prompted officials to close some schools in the country.
Credit…Youssef Badawi/EPA, via Shutterstock

Syria is witnessing a sharp increase in coronavirus cases. Last month, state media reported that intensive care units in state hospitals in the capital, Damascus, were full, and that medical staff were told to prepare for a large influx of coronavirus patients.

And the dire situation has affected schools. Hatoun Tawashi, a health ministry official, told a local radio station that cases rose dramatically last week in schools, and that many students and teachers did not show up.

As the war-torn country experiences a severe increase in coronavirus cases, the government announced on Saturday that primary schools around Syria would close down indefinitely next week. Universities will suspend classes for only two weeks and high schools will remain open.

The education minister, Darem Tabbaa, told Syria’s state news agency, SANA, that the closures would go into effect Monday, and that final exams for grades five up to high school would be held over four days starting April 25. The Ministry of Higher Education said private and public universities would suspend classes for two weeks starting Monday.

Syria has been mired in a 10-year civil war that has left hundreds of thousands dead, and displaced millions of people, including over five million refugees outside the country. The country’s severely depleted health care sector has registered more than 19,000 coronavirus cases, including 1,288 deaths, since Syria’s first case was logged in March of last year. The real numbers are believed to be much higher however, as testing is limited, and the country’s crushing economic crisis has left most Syrians unable to afford tests.

Last month, President Bashar al-Assad and his wife, Asma tested positive for the virus. The president has recovered and returned to regular duties last week.

According to the World Health Organization, there are nearly 21,000 cases in the last rebel stronghold in Syria’s northwest along the border with Turkey, as well as some 9,000 cases in areas controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters in the northeast.

The W.H.O. said last month that it would oversee a Covid vaccination campaign in Syria that is expected to start this month, with the aim of inoculating 20 percent of the population by the end of 2021.

Hussein Arnous, Syria’s prime minister, told reporters on Saturday that Syria would receive vaccines from China, Russia and the W.H.O. “within days.”

Global Roundup

People at an open market in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Wednesday. The country is bracing for a lockdown.
Credit…Monirul Alam/EPA, via Shutterstock

NEW DELHI — As a new wave of coronavirus infections grips the densely populated region of South Asia, home to a quarter of the world’s population, Bangladesh on Saturday announced a second lockdown and officials in Mumbai, India’s largest city, said they were on the verge of declaring one.

The authorities in Bangladesh said the nation of 165 million people would go into a weeklong lockdown beginning on Monday to curb the spread of the virus. The country shut down for two months starting in March last year.

Bangladesh on Friday registered nearly 7,000 cases in 24 hours, the highest since the spread of the virus in the country last year. The daily death toll has been around 50 for the past week, but what has particularly alarmed officials is the high test positivity rate, with 24 percent of virus tests conducted coming back positive.

Farhad Hossain, Bangladesh’s state minister for public administration, told the local news media that “industries and factories will remain open,” but would operate in shifts and follow strict health protocols. The exceptions appeared to be aimed at reducing the economic impact and avoiding the kind of exodus of laborers that led to a humanitarian crisis in India last year.

Infections have also been rising sharply in Pakistan, which has struggled to source vaccines for its population, and in India, where a vaccination drive is only now picking up pace — despite the country being home to one of the world’s largest suppliers of vaccines.

Just a few weeks ago, India was a major exporter of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it was using that to exert influence in South Asia and around the world. But as infections soared, the country decided to cut back on exports and is now holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million doses that the Serum Institute of India, the private company that is one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine, makes each day.

India on Saturday recorded its biggest single-day spike in cases since September, with government officials reporting nearly 90,000 cases and 714 deaths over the past 24 hours. Single-day figures sometimes contain anomalies, but the country’s seven-day average of new cases, a more reliable gauge, has been rising sharply since early March.

Nearly half of deaths and new infections in recent weeks have been traced to the state of Maharashtra, home to Mumbai, the country’s financial hub.

Uddhav Thackeray, the state’s chief minister, warned in a televised address on Friday that a lockdown was imminent if people continued with their relaxed attitude. Even when people are vaccinated, he noted, protection from infection is not absolute.

“The vaccine is like an umbrella in the rain,” Mr. Thackeray said. “But what we are facing right now is a storm.”

As cases rise, law enforcement officials across India are adopting stringent measures, including fining violators who don’t wear masks. India has also expanded its vaccination drive, now administering over three million jabs a day.

But the government’s messaging is at times contradictory, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and many senior officials continue to hold large rallies in several states where local elections are underway.

The government has also allowed a huge monthlong Hindu festival to go ahead on the banks of Ganges River. One million to five million people are expected to participate in the festivities in the city of Haridwar each day, officials say.

In other virus news from around the world:

  • On Saturday, Catalonia became the latest region of Spain whose authorities defied a government decree that a face mask must be worn in all public spaces, including beaches, independent of whether social distancing can be maintained. Miquel Sàmper, the region’s interior minister, told a Catalan radio station that the regional government believed that it was “pure logic” that “when you are sunbathing, you need not wear a mask,” although the mask should be worn on the beach if a person moved about and got into close contact with others. Regional politicians from the Canary and Balearic Islands, two Spanish archipelagoes that are major tourism hubs, have also criticized the decree, which the central government made without consulting them first.

  • San Marino, a microstate surrounded by Italy, feared being left behind in Europe’s inoculation campaign. Now it has jumped ahead, with the Sputnik vaccine sent by an unlikely, faraway friend.

  • Turkey began administering Pfizer-BioNTech shots. With coronavirus infections surging and Ramadan approaching, the government also recently moved to reimpose strict social distancing measures, including a prohibition on the large gatherings for meals before sunrise and after sunset that are traditional during the Muslim holy month.

Crowds at the Gare de Lyon, the main train station in Paris on Friday ahead of new measures. The national rail authority said it expected nearly 1 percent of the country’s population to travel over the weekend despite restrictions.
Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

Parisians filled packed trains on Saturday as France entered a third lockdown, with the national rail authority saying it expected nearly 1 percent of the country’s population to travel over the weekend despite lockdown restrictions.

Intensive care units in France are now as full as they were in April last year at the peak of the first wave, and on Saturday the country of 67 million recorded over 46,000 new cases and 301 deaths.

Although new measures include a ban on traveling farther than 10 kilometers, about six miles, from home except for essential reasons and a 7 p.m. curfew, many bought train tickets after President Emmanuel Macron announced the new lockdown on Wednesday.

Mr. Macron had said that those living in urban areas could use the Easter weekend to travel to the countryside and spend the three-weeks-long lockdown there, and the authorities said they would also show “tolerance” over the weekend to let parents arrange for child care with grandparents.

Similar moves last year prompted anger from local residents and fears that city dwellers living in areas with high rates of infection would spread the virus to regions that had so far been spared.

Yet nothing like last year’s exodus was expected.

Some Parisians left the capital last month after restrictions were imposed in the city and its surroundings. The new restrictions, which also include bans on gatherings of more than six people and on outdoor drinking, now apply nationwide. Schools will also shut.

In La Baule, a popular seaside town of 17,000 on the Western coast, the mayor told Le Monde that he expected more than 30,000 people to flock to the resort town for the third lockdown.

“To leave at any cost,” Le Parisien newspaper wrote on its Saturday front page.

The Red Light District in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, was nearly deserted on Thursday night.
Credit…Ilvy Njiokiktjien for The New York Times

When international travel came to a halt last year, Amsterdam — like cities everywhere — was drained of tourists almost overnight. The effect, according to Sonia Philipse, the owner of the restaurant Lavinia Good Food, was both surreal and serene: Without the crowds, her city was quieter and more beautiful than she had ever seen it.

“At this point we’re missing our tourists again,” Ms. Philipse said recently. “But I think there was a moment of really big joy in getting our city back.”

In 2019, a record-breaking 21.7 million people visited Amsterdam, a city with a population of about 870,000. After the pandemic wiped out tourism in 2020, and with visitor numbers still low, Amsterdam’s leaders are trying to introduce new restrictions in an effort to ensure that old problems stemming from tourism don’t reappear when visitors return.

Even before the pandemic, city leaders put in place measures to try to address residents’ complaints about disruptive tourists who disrespected prostitutes, drove up housing prices by occupying short-term vacation rentals and had taken over some of the city’s most beautiful, historic areas. Officials raised the tourist tax and banned several types of businesses, including guided tours of the Red Light District, new hotels in the city center and new shops that cater to tourists.

“Constantly increasing numbers of visitors, misconduct, a shrinking retail mix, rising property prices, commercialization of public space and criminal subversion all call for measures to be taken,” Amsterdam’s mayor, Femke Halsema, wrote of the city center in a letter to the City Council in 2019.

Ms. Halsema proposed four scenarios for the future of sex work in the Red Light District. One of those scenarios — the relocation of sex workers to a “prostitution hotel” elsewhere in the city — recently attracted the support of a majority of City Council members and is awaiting full approval.

Another headline-grabbing proposal from the mayor’s office would make it illegal for visitors to buy cannabis in Amsterdam’s coffee shops, which are concentrated in the Red Light District, an ancient part of Amsterdam’s city center and a huge magnet for tourists. Amsterdam has also joined more than 20 other European cities to advocate stricter rules on vacation-rental platforms at the European Commission and in the European Parliament.

The proposals have provoked opposition from local business owners and those in the sex work industry, who argue that the government should increase enforcement of existing prohibitions against public urination, public drunkenness and disturbing the peace.

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