Covid-19 News: Live Updates on Cases, Vaccines and Variants
NEW DELHI — A catastrophic second wave of the coronavirus is battering India, which is reporting the world’s highest number of new infections as hospitals and patients beg for fast-diminishing oxygen supplies and other emergency aid.
Canada has joined Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand in barring travelers coming from India. And the U.S. State Department advised people against going to India after the Centers for Disease Control raised the risk level to its highest measure.
Facing a barrage of criticism for his government’s handling of the second wave, Prime Minister Narendra Modi canceled plans to travel to West Bengal for a campaign rally as an election takes place in that state.
Even as cases have climbed, Mr. Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party and other parties have continued to hold mass rallies with thousands of people unmasked. The government has also allowed an enormous Hindu festival to draw millions of pilgrims despite signs that it has become a superspreader event.
The catastrophe in India is playing out vividly on social media, with Twitter feeds and WhatsApp groups broadcasting hospitals’ pleas for oxygen and medicines, and families’ desperate searches for beds in overwhelmed Covid-19 wards. With many hospitals short of ventilators, television reports have shown patients lying inside ambulances parked outside emergency rooms, struggling to breathe.
Swati Maliwal, an activist and politician in Delhi, tweeted that her grandmother had died while waiting to be admitted outside a hospital in Greater Noida near New Delhi.
“I kept standing there for half hour and pleading for admission and nothing happened,” she wrote. “Shame! Pathetic!”
The death toll from the virus rose more than 2,200 on Friday, a new high.
On Thursday, Fortis Healthcare, one of India’s top hospital chains, tweeted an S.O.S. message to Mr. Modi and his chief deputy, Amit Shah, the minister for home affairs, appealing for more oxygen at a hospital in Haryana State on the Delhi border.
“Fortis Hospital in #Haryana has only 45 minutes of oxygen left,” the company wrote, asking government officials “to act immediately and help us save patients’ lives.”
Four hours later, the hospital received a tanker, the company tweeted.
At AIIMS Hospital in Delhi, India’s premier research hospital, contact tracing among health care workers was suspended because there weren’t enough personnel to spare for the exercise, according to Srinivas Rajkumar, a representative for the resident doctors’ association.
In Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai and is one of India’s worst-hit states, a hospital fire blamed on a faulty air-conditioning unit killed at least 13 Covid-19 patients on Friday, the second Covid hospital tragedy in the state this week. At least 22 patients were killed in a hospital in the city of Nashik on Wednesday after a leak cut off their oxygen supplies.
Beginning on Saturday, Indians age 18 or older can register for a Covid-19 vaccine, but demand is expected to far outstrip supply. So far, more than 135 million people have received at least one dose, about a tenth of India’s population of nearly 1.4 billion. Two vaccines have received emergency use authorization, with at least five others in the pipeline.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s independent vaccine advisory panel is meeting today to review the latest findings about a potential rare side effect that led to a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.
If the panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, decides that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the potential risk, then the government is likely to end the pause.
The meeting comes 10 days after the U.S. government recommended that inoculations with the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine be halted while researchers investigated six reports of unusual blood clots out of 6.8 million people who had received it.
Top officials said in interviews with The New York Times that they had found a few additional cases of the rare blood clots, but would not specify how many. They said that the overall rate did not appear to have changed significantly since last week.
The committee could recommend that Johnson & Johnson add a formal warning label about the side effect, as the company has done in the European Union. Roughly 10 million doses or more of the vaccine, produced at the company’s factory in the Netherlands, are sitting on shelves across the United States and could be deployed immediately.
The meeting comes as the federal government is also investigating problems at a Baltimore factory that was slated to help satisfy the country’s demand. Emergent BioSolutions, the plant’s operator, has produced tens of millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, but they cannot be distributed until regulators certify the plant.
After Emergent had to discard up to 15 million possibly contaminated doses of the vaccine last month, federal regulators conducted an inspection that found a series of problems, including the risk that other batches could have been contaminated.
Last week’s pause followed reports of six women who experienced a rare type of blood clot in the brain within three weeks of getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The clots were accompanied by an unusual drop in platelets, components of the blood that normally help heal wounds.
On Thursday, the Oregon health authorities reported that a death was being investigated for a possible connection to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The woman who died was in her 50s and had symptoms consistent with the blood clotting cases identified in eight other Johnson & Johnson recipients in the U.S. Dr. Shimi Sharief, the state health authority’s senior health adviser, emphasized that it was not known whether the woman’s death was related to the vaccine.
The C.D.C. committee met the day after the announcement, and a representative from Johnson & Johnson provided details on the six cases, along with two others. Rather than voting, the panel decided to hold a second meeting the following week, giving them time to better assess the data.
European regulators, who have also been scrutinizing the shots, said on Tuesday that they would allow these vaccinations to resume with the addition of a formal warning label.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will effectively prevent serious illness and death from a coronavirus variant that has kept cases in New York City stubbornly high, two independent studies suggest.
City officials had repeatedly warned that the variant may be more contagious and may dodge the immune response. But researcher say that the antibodies stimulated by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are only slightly less potent at controlling the variant than the original form of the virus.
“We’re not seeing big differences,” said Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York who is a member of the team that published one of the studies on Thursday.
The results are based on laboratory experiments with blood samples from small numbers of vaccinated people and have not yet been peer-reviewed. Still, they are consistent with what is known about similar variants, several experts said, and they add to a growing body of research that suggests that the two main vaccines in the United States are protective against all of the variants identified so far.
“The take-home message is that the vaccines are going to work against the New York variant and the South African variant and the U.K. variant,” said Nathan Landau, a virologist at N.Y.U.’s Grossman School of Medicine who led the study.
With summer on the horizon, states are beginning to rethink social-distancing measures.
In Rhode Island, Gov. Dan McKee said that starting May 7, the state will stop requiring masks outside, and social gatherings can increase to 25 people indoors and 75 people outdoors. By May 28, the state will lift capacity limits on businesses and houses of worship, the bar areas of restaurants will be able to open, and dance floors can once again be filled.
“It’s a good day for everyone here in the Ocean State,” Mr. McKee said at a news conference on Thursday. “It’s a little early to put a ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign up, but we’re getting ready to order that sign.”
Mr. McKee attributed the reopening plans to the state’s vaccination rate — 48 percent of residents have received at least one shot, and 33 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database. But masks will still be required indoors.
Rhode Island is not alone.
On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said that the state would phase out all pandemic restrictions, except the indoor mask mandate, by May 19. And in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said on Wednesday that he would announce “a pretty significant amount of guidance” for summer activities next week.
“We don’t want to lurch, in other words go forward and then have to pull something back,” Mr. Murphy said at his weekly news conference. “And we don’t want to start that now. But we also owe people our best guesses for what it’s going to look like for graduation, summer, the beaches and what not.”
As more people get vaccinated and the outdoors become more appealing with spring weather and sunshine, one question persists: Do people still need to wear masks outside? Science shows that the risk of viral transmission outside is very low. The Times’s Well columnist, Tara Parker-Pope, suggests making sure activities meet two out of the following three conditions: outdoors, distanced and masked.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Thursday that the agency was “looking at the outdoor masking question” and whether to revise current guidance.