Covid-19 Live Updates: Vaccine Mandates and Booster News


ImageIn Vienna, the Austrian capital, on Thursday.
Credit…Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

Austria will go into a nationwide lockdown on Monday and impose a coronavirus vaccination mandate in February, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said on Friday. It is the first such lockdown in a European nation since the spring, and the first national vaccine mandate to be announced in a Western democracy.

Austria has one of Europe’s highest national coronavirus infection rates, with 14,212 new cases registered in 24 hours on Thursday. And the Alpine country has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Western Europe, with just 66 percent of the population fully inoculated.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

Recent restrictions on unvaccinated people have failed to bring the outbreak sufficiently under control, leading to the measures announced on Friday.

“For a long time — maybe too long — I and others assumed that it must be possible to convince people in Austria to voluntarily get vaccinated,” Mr. Schallenberg said on Friday. “We therefore have reached a very difficult decision to introduce a national vaccine mandate.”

The lockdown, reminiscent of those imposed across Europe last winter, before coronavirus vaccines were available, will last for at least 10 days and affect both vaccinated and unvaccinated people. Schools, where students are tested regularly, will remain open, as will grocery stores.

“We have 21 months of the pandemic behind us, and we know we can only end this when we vaccinate enough people,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mückstein said, adding that the lead-time of several months was needed to prepare for the mandate, including clarifying the legal situation.

In a sign of soaring worry over the latest fourth wave, Austria just days ago went a step further than most countries by announcing a lockdown on unvaccinated people. That will remain in place after the full lockdown expires, Mr. Schallenberg said.

Requiring people to be vaccinated against Covid starting on Feb. 1 broke new ground again, and Mr. Schallenberg defended the decision, citing the high number of Austrians who had refused to get a shot and the divisive political climate that supported them.

The far-right Freedom Party, whose leaders have proudly resisted the vaccines on grounds of personal liberties, called for a demonstration on Saturday against the new measures.

“For a long time, the political consensus has been that we do not want compulsory vaccinations in this country,” Mr. Schallenberg said when announcing the new measures. “But we have to face reality.”

A handful of countries in Asia have imposed mandatory vaccinations against coronavirus for their adult populations, including Indonesia, Micronesia and Turkmenistan.

But Austria’s new measures epitomize a painful reality that several European countries face: Current rates of vaccinations, albeit among the highest in the world, have not been enough to prevent a surge of infections as winter sets in and more people remain indoors.

Vaccinations have been shown to vastly limit infections — and the severity of infections, pushing moves by more countries to place restrictions on the unvaccinated in the hopes of encouraging them to get shots. Most inoculated people have been protected from hospitalization in intensive-care units and death from the virus.

Some in Austria said they found it hard to believe that a lockdown was coming at this stage of the pandemic.

“I will very happily go into lockdown in solidarity with caregivers and to save lives,” Sabine Beck, 51, an environmentalist living in Vienna. “But of course I’m angry. I consider it a complete failure that it comes so late.”

Credit…Christof Stache/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As Austria prepares to go into a national lockdown next week, the health minister in neighboring Germany suggested on Friday that a similar measure remained an option for his far larger country as coronavirus cases there continue to reach record levels.

“We are in a position where nothing should be ruled out,” the minister, Jens Spahn, told a news conference in response to a reporter’s question about a lockdown for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

His remarks came one day after lawmakers in Parliament voted to force unvaccinated people going to work or using public transit to provide daily test results. The country’s vaccination rate among adults is about 79 percent.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and state governors also agreed on Thursday night to require proof of vaccination or recovery from coronavirus infection for people entering restaurants, bars and hair salons or attending events in states where hospital beds are becoming scarce.

On Friday, the governor of Saxony, Germany’s hardest-hit state in the latest virus outbreak, announced new restrictions starting on Monday, including a ban on some events and larger gatherings regardless of the inoculation status of those attending. The governor, Michael Kretschmer, said that state lawmakers would approve the measures Friday afternoon.

Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration on Friday authorized booster shots of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus vaccines for everyone 18 and older, opening up eligibility to tens of millions more fully vaccinated adults.

Moderna and Pfizer both announced that regulators had broadened the authorization for their booster shots.

The move simplifies eligibility, fulfills a pledge by President Biden to offer the shots to every American adult and formally allows a practice already in place in at least 10 states. Fearful that waning protection and the onset of winter will set off a wave of breakthrough infections, a growing number of governors had already offered boosters to everyone 18 and older ahead of the holidays.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious disease expert, has argued relentlessly over the past month for booster shots for all adults, a position shared by most of Mr. Biden’s other health advisers. Dr. Fauci has said that a dip in antibody levels in fully vaccinated people was a clear sign that booster shots were needed. Public health experts who argue that healthy younger adults do not need them, he has said, are ignoring the risks of symptomatic Covid-19.

“Enough is enough. Let’s get moving on here,” he said at an event Wednesday night. “We know what the data are.”

If the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees, all adults who received a second shot of either Pfizer or Moderna at least six months ago will likely be eligible for a booster shot by the weekend. A meeting of the agency’s outside advisers is scheduled for Friday.

Credit…Charly Triballeau/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Japan’s government agreed on Friday to spend $490 billion on stimulus measures, a move by its prime minister to boost an economy battered by coronavirus restrictions and by a supply chain crunch that has affected the country’s largest manufacturers.

Japan announced a partial easing of border restrictions this month and has lifted virtually all restrictions on its economy amid a falling virus caseload. And its rate of fully vaccinated people — 76 percent of the population, according to a New York Times tracker — is one of the highest among rich nations. But a ban on international tourists continues to weigh on economic growth.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The stimulus package, Japan’s largest to date, accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s economic output, officials said. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Friday that it could increase economic output about 5.6 percent.

“I want to bring Japan’s economy, which has been severely damaged, onto a trajectory of recovery,” he told reporters.

The package includes aid to struggling businesses and hospitals, money for strengthening semiconductor supply chains, and programs to encourage domestic tourism and investment in a nationwide university endowment fund.

It also includes a one-time cash handout of 100,000 yen, or $878, per child under 18 for households where the highest-earning parent is paid less than about $84,300 a year. About nine in 10 households with children are eligible.

The cash handouts to young families are not especially popular. Critics have questioned the need for them in a country with an aging society.

Last spring, the government sent stimulus checks to every resident, but they did little to raise inflation or consumer spending. Analysts estimate that about 70 percent of the handouts went to household savings.

Mr. Kishida’s cabinet approved the stimulus package on Friday, less than two months after he won a runoff election for leadership of the country’s governing Liberal Democratic Party. Japan’s economy is the world’s third largest after those of the United States and China.

Credit…Tang Chhin Sothy/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Cambodia reopened for fully vaccinated tourists from overseas this week without quarantine after a nationwide campaign succeeded in achieving one of the world’s highest vaccination rates.

The move was welcomed by desperate tourism operators and workers, who have struggled to make a living since the start of the pandemic.

“I rejoice at and fully support the news of reopening the country to vaccinated tourists without quarantine,” said Chhay Sivlin, the president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents. Tourism directly accounted for more than 12 percent of the country’s economy in 2019 and provided jobs to 630,000 people, she said.

Last month, the Southeast Asian nation of about 16 million announced plans to let fully vaccinated foreign tourists begin entering the country at the end of November if they first quarantined in selected areas for five days.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

But citing the rapid pace of inoculations and a vaccination rate of 88 percent, Prime Minister Hun Sen accelerated that plan and said that fully vaccinated tourists could arrive without quarantine, effective on Monday.

“This is a big step towards reopening the entire country,” said Mr. Hun Sen, an authoritarian leader who came to power in 1984. “I hope our compatriots enjoy our reopening. It is widely due to the country having achieved such an outstanding rate of vaccination.”

While the prime minister put the fully vaccinated rate at 88 percent based on a population of 16 million, The New York Times database puts the rate at 80 percent, based on a population of nearly 16.5 million.

More than two million people have received a third dose.

About 90 percent of Cambodia’s vaccines came from China, including more than nine million doses of Sinovac and nearly four million doses of Sinopharm.

Under the new rules, travelers arriving from abroad can skip quarantine if they are fully vaccinated, test negative for the virus before departure and test negative again on arrival. Travelers who are not vaccinated must still spend 14 days in quarantine.

Ms. Sivlin said that tourist bookings were beginning to pick up and that airlines were working to increase the number of flights to Cambodia.

Some flights are scheduled to the capital, Phnom Penh, but none for Siem Reap, the town near the ancient city of Angkor that is one of the most popular destinations in Southeast Asia.

Like many of its neighbors, Cambodia reported relatively few virus cases in 2020 but faced a deadly surge this year. Still, its overall numbers have remained relatively low, with about 120,000 total cases and 2,900 deaths.

Credit…Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press

A court in a southern Chinese border region said this week that it had given a man a two-year suspended prison sentence for lying when he entered the country about whether he had been exposed to the coronavirus or developed symptoms.

The move is the latest sign of China’s efforts to chase full elimination of the virus through stringent “Covid zero” measures, even as the rest of the world looks to open up.

The man, who was identified only by his surname, Cao, was convicted of lying on a health declaration form when he crossed China’s border with Vietnam in late April, the court said on its Weixin social media account.

He concealed that he had been staying in a hotel in Vietnam where some people with coronavirus infections were also staying, the court said. Then he obtained cold medicine and hid a fever and other symptoms consistent with a coronavirus infection.

Once in China, he also sneaked out of his quarantine room to meet friends, the court said. Mr. Cao could not be reached for comment.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The court in Pingxiang, along the Vietnam border in China’s Guangxi region, posted the announcement to its Weixin account on Wednesday. It said it had fined Mr. Cao $31,000.

The court statement and a report by the official Xinhua news agency said that Mr. Cao had symptoms consistent with the coronavirus, but did not say whether he had tested positive for the disease. Huang Qinmei, the deputy mayor of Chongzuo, the city of which Pingxiang is part, said at a news conference in May that Mr. Cao had tested positive.

Because Mr. Cao concealed information about his Covid exposure and apparent symptoms, the court said, 459 people who came in direct or indirect contact with him were also quarantined at a cost to the government of about $100,000. Another 29 customs staff members had to stay in their homes for 14 days.

Some social media users posted comments on the Xinhua report contending that the punishment was not harsh enough.

Li You contributed research.

Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

About a third of people in the United States and Britain think their countries have suffered damage to their global reputations over their responses to the pandemic, according to a survey released on Friday, while Canadians rated their country’s response more positively.

Respondents to the poll, which was conducted by the Policy Institute at King’s College London, were split in the United States and Britain on whether their countries should cooperate internationally to quash the virus moving forward or whether they should work independently.

“The public in the U.K. and the U.S. seem in two minds on whether each country should hunker down and protect themselves or reach out to the rest of the world,” said Bobby Duffy, the director of the institute that conducted the survey.

“But it’s actually an understandable response,” he added. “People feel like we should think of ourselves first in the current crisis but work with others to help prevent future global health challenges.”

The United States and Britain have experienced two of the worst Covid outbreaks among wealthy nations.

New cases have been rising in the United States as colder winter temperatures and the holiday season approach, with nearly 95,000 additional infections recorded daily.

Britain is reporting an average of nearly 40,000 daily virus cases. And despite a surge in cases this fall, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has opposed introducing preventive measures such as mask mandates and health passes.

The survey, an online poll conducted in October and November, found that about 38 percent of respondents in the United States believed the country’s handling of the pandemic has damaged its global reputation, 21 percent said its impact had been positive and 25 percent said they felt it had no effect.

In Britain, about 36 percent said the government’s mishandling of the health crisis had damaged the country’s global standing, 21 percent said it had improved it, and 31 percent said they considered the impact insignificant.

Only 19 percent of people in Canada said their country’s reputation had taken a hit, while 33 percent said it had improved amid the government’s pandemic response and 37 percent said it had made no difference.

The poll included 1,099 adults in the United States, 1,129 people aged 16 to 75 in Britain, and 1,088 adults in Canada.

It follows a highly critical 151-page parliamentary inquiry into Britain’s initial response to the coronavirus, which ranked it as “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced” and charged that it had cost thousands of lives.





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