Covid-19 News Live Updates: Vaccines and Antibody Treatment

ImageThe burial of a coronavirus victim in New Delhi in April.
Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

NEW DELHI — India’s coronavirus death toll could now amount to a government payout of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The country’s Supreme Court has ordered India’s disaster management agency to pay 50,000 rupees, about $671, to families of people who have died from Covid. India’s official toll from the pandemic is 449,260, although experts estimate that the true number of Covid deaths is several times higher. Even that smaller number would suggest payouts amounting to about $300 million.

The number of families applying for compensation could quickly balloon, because the government has expanded the definition of what qualifies as a Covid-19 death to anyone who died within 30 days of a positive RT-PCR test or clinical examination confirming the infection.

“This is a herculean task for the government,” said Gaurav Kumar Bansal, the lawyer who brought the litigation to India’s top court.

India’s National Disaster Management Act stipulates that government compensation of 400,000 rupees, about $5,400, should be given to families who lose relatives in typhoons, floods and other disasters.

Millions of India’s 1.4 billion people live below the poverty line, and the Supreme Court order, issued on Monday, came in response to public interest litigation, a type of case in India that is brought on behalf of the public at large rather than by any specific plaintiff.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government declared the pandemic a disaster in March 2020, a move that gave it power to impose a strict nationwide lockdown.

Mr. Bansal said the disaster declaration should also have led to compensation payments being made.

“We challenged them to pick and choose,” he said. “If it is notified as a disaster, then all provisions of the Disaster Management Act will apply.”

The government offered $671 per death. The Supreme Court, which factored in the agency’s other costs, agreed.

Anirudh Singh Rathore, 60, a garment trader in the capital, New Delhi, lost his wife to India’s ferocious second wave last spring. He has applied online for compensation through the Delhi government, but he is doubtful that the money will arrive.

“Such compensation is not easy to take from the government,” he said. “It is very easy to announce but difficult to get.”

Credit…Lukas Coch/EPA, via Shutterstock

Australia and New Zealand moved closer on Tuesday to fully reopening their economies in the coming months, with leaders in both countries outlining steps to allow people vaccinated against the coronavirus to move more freely.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that Australia could allow vaccinated foreign tourists to enter the country in 2022 at the earliest, even as it prioritizes travel by its own inoculated citizens and permanent residents.

Skilled migrants and students who are vaccinated would then be allowed in, he said in an interview on Channel Seven, reaffirming plans announced in recent days.

“We will get to international visitors as well — I believe next year,” Mr. Morrison said. “The priority is Australians.”

The prime minister’s comments were the firmest assurances of when the island nation may reopen to the world, having closed its borders in March 2020. Millions of Australians have since endured lengthy lockdowns and strict border policies during the course of the pandemic.

Mr. Morrison said on Friday that an international travel ban would be lifted by mid-November as national vaccination rates continue to rise. As of Tuesday, 67 percent of Australians had received a first vaccine dose and 46 percent were fully vaccinated, according to figures compiled from government sources by the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

In neighboring New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday that people would be required to use a national vaccine certificate to get into “high-risk settings” like summer music festivals.

The certificate, which is expected to be introduced in November, will be a document that people can show in a digital form or download and print out.

New Zealand’s government is still finalizing where certificates will be used beyond large-scale events, though restaurants and bars are one possibility, Ms. Ardern said at a news conference. They will not be required for shopping in supermarkets or receiving health care, she added.

Ms. Ardern urged people in the country to get vaccinated before the passes became a requirement. “It’s one of the best ways we can ensure that summer plans can go ahead uninterrupted,” she said. “It will help us to keep people safe.”

“To be fully vaccinated and fully protected and enjoy the things you love,” she added, “you need to be vaccinated — this month, not in December.”

The plan follows in the footsteps of countries like France and Israel, which have used similar passes to manage access to cafes, restaurants and other services.

New Zealand also said this week that because of an outbreak of the Delta variant in Auckland that has proved impossible to suppress, the country would move away from a zero-Covid plan that has allowed residents to live with few restrictions throughout the pandemic.

As of Monday, nearly 80 percent of people age 12 and up in New Zealand had received one Covid vaccine dose and about 48 percent had received two doses.

Credit…Stacey Brimer/Oshner Health

Louisiana’s largest nonprofit health care provider will increase its employees’ insurance fees next year if their spouses or domestic partners are not vaccinated against the coronavirus, the provider said.

Ochsner Health said in a letter to its employees last month that it was adding the extra charge — about $200 a month, starting next year — for unvaccinated spouses and domestic partners who are covered by the company’s insurance plan.

The letter said the move was an effort to “protect our entire Ochsner team, which includes employees, their families and the communities we serve.”

About this data

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data. Currently hospitalized is the most recent number of patients with Covid-19 reported by hospitals in the state for the four days prior. Dips and spikes could be due to inconsistent reporting by hospitals. Hospitalization numbers early in the pandemic are undercounts due to incomplete reporting by hospitals to the federal government.

Warner Thomas, the company’s president and chief executive, said in a statement that spouses and domestic partners would be allowed to file for medical or religious exemptions to the policy.

“This is not a mandate,” he said, because spouses and domestic partners can switch insurance plans to avoid the new fee.

“The reality is the cost of treating Covid-19, particularly for patients requiring intensive inpatient care, is expensive,” he added.

Mr. Thomas said that about 90 percent of the company’s Covid patients since December had been unvaccinated. According to a New York Times analysis in August, fully vaccinated people accounted for as much as 5 percent of hospitalizations in 40 states and Washington, D.C.

In August, Ochsner said that its employees must be vaccinated by the end of this month. Around 70 percent of its employees were inoculated at the time the mandate was announced.

The provider’s decision to charge extra was similar to a policy implemented by Delta Air Lines, which said in August that starting on Nov. 1, it would charge any employee who remains unvaccinated an additional $200 per month to remain on the company’s health care plan.

Delta became the first large U.S. employer to embrace an idea that has been widely discussed but is mired in legal uncertainty: charging unvaccinated employees more for health insurance.

Insurance surcharges may appeal to companies that are seeking a less coercive means to increase vaccination rates, said Wade Symons, a partner at Mercer, a benefits consulting firm.

New infections in Louisiana on Sunday were less than a fifth of the amount in August, when the state reached a pandemic high, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations are experiencing a similar trend.

The state authorities are still struggling to vaccinate people, however. Less than half of the state’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, according to a Times database, which is below the nationwide average of 56 percent.

Credit…Sonny Tumbelaka/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Indonesia will allow international flights to begin landing at the airport on Bali island next week as it weighs reopening the country to foreign tourists for the first time in more than 18 months.

International carriers from countries including China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates could resume flights to Bali on Oct. 14, Luhut Pandjaitan, a top minister in the cabinet of President Joko Widodo, said on Monday.

Under the current rules, eligible passengers would include Indonesian citizens as well as foreigners with a work permit or business visa. They would be subject to eight days quarantine at a hotel at their own expense.

Bali is Indonesia’s most important tourist destination, and closing the island to foreign tourists has devastated the tourism industry, leading to tens of thousands of people losing their jobs. Indonesia has been the Southeast Asian nation hit hardest by Covid, with nearly 143,000 deaths. It reached a peak of nearly 57,000 cases a day in July, though the number of infections has dropped sharply since then.

Foreign tourists have been barred from entering Indonesia since April of last year, and international flights have been allowed to land only in Jakarta, the capital, and the city of Manado on Sulawesi island.

Indonesia’s tourism minister, Sandiaga Uno, told reporters that reopening Bali’s airport to overseas flights would serve as a “trial opening of Bali for foreign tourists,” though he did not provide a timetable for their return. Domestic tourists are already allowed to visit.

Earlier he said that Indonesia was studying the example of Thailand’s “Phuket Sandbox,” which allows vaccinated foreign tourists who test negative for Covid-19 to roam freely on Phuket island.

Taufan Yudhistira, a spokesman for Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport, said the airport had not received specific instructions for the reopening but had begun readying the international terminal and preparing health protocols.

Credit…Scott Olson/Getty Images

Southwest Airlines said on Monday that it would require all of its more than 54,000 employees to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by the first week in December to remain employed.

Gary Kelly, the company’s chief executive, said that the budget carrier needed to follow competitors, including United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Jet Blue, in requiring shots for its employees. The company has contracts with the federal government, which now requires all employees at federal contractors be vaccinated.

The airline industry was hard hit during the pandemic as borders closed, tourism evaporated and remote working kept business travelers at home. In recent months, it has seen an uptick in business as more people get vaccinated and travel restrictions are relaxed around the globe.

United Airlines mandated vaccines for its 67,000 U.S.-based employees in August. American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue have since made similar announcements.

Southwest employees must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 8 or “be approved for a religious, medical or disability accommodation” the company said.

Credit…Suzy Allman for The New York Times

Lazar Hayward, a former N.B.A. player, was arrested in Hawaii last week for trying to enter the state with a fake negative Covid test, the authorities said.

Mr. Hayward, a first-round draft pick in 2010, and a woman he traveled with, Raven Randle had uploaded the fake documents onto Hawaii’s Safe Travels portal, the Kauai Police Department said in a statement on Facebook. The state requires unvaccinated travelers to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival unless they present a negative Covid test.

The pair were arrested on Sept. 28 soon after they had flown to Kauai from Los Angeles, the police said. They were immediately sent back to California.

The Safe Travels system flagged the tests, which were then investigated by the state’s Department of the Attorney General before the two were arrested, the statement said.

Mr. Hayward, 34, and Ms. Randle, 33, are due in court, but a date has not yet been set. Phone calls placed to a number listed as belonging to Mr. Hayward were not returned on Monday night.

Mr. Hayward, a standout player at Marquette University, was the 30th-overall pick in the 2010 N.B.A. draft. He spent three seasons in the league, where he played for the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder before he was sent to the N.B.A.’s development league.

Mr. Hayward and Ms. Randle traveled to Hawaii despite the governor’s request in August that tourists stay away to ease the strain on hospitals.

New infections in the state on Sunday were less than a third of the amount a month ago, when the state reached a pandemic high, according to a New York Times database. Fifty-eight percent of the state’s residents who are eligible for vaccinations are fully inoculated, which is above the nationwide average of 56 percent.

Credit…Felix Schmitt for The New York Times

In Germany, where one in four jobs depends on exports, the crisis gumming up the world’s supply chains is weighing heavily on the economy, which is Europe’s largest and a linchpin for global commerce.

Recent surveys and data point to a sharp slowdown of the German manufacturing powerhouse, and economists have begun to predict a “bottleneck recession.”

Almost everything that German factories need to operate is in short supply: not just computer chips, but also plywood, copper, aluminum, plastics and raw materials like cobalt, lithium, nickel and graphite, which are crucial ingredients of electric car batteries.

More than 40 percent of German companies said they had lost sales because of supply problems in an August survey by the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce. Europewide, exports would have been 7 percent higher in the first six months of the year if not for supply bottlenecks, according to the European Central Bank.

While every economy in the world is suffering from shortages, Germany is particularly sensitive because of its dependence on manufacturing and trade. Nearly half of Germany’s economic output depends on exports of cars, machine tools and other goods, compared with 12 percent in the United States.

Credit…Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

The European Medicines Agency, the European Union’s main drug regulator, said on Monday that a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine could be given to healthy adults at least six months after the second dose.

The agency said data showed that antibody levels increased in people age 18 to 55 with normal immune systems who had received a third dose of the vaccine. It is still assessing booster shots of the Moderna vaccine.

The agency also said that people with “severely weakened” immune systems could receive an extra dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines as early as 28 days after a second dose. It is expected that an additional shot “would increase protection in at least some of the patients,” the agency said.

The recommendation is based on studies showing that an extra dose of those vaccines could increase the ability to produce antibodies in organ transplant recipients.

In the European Union, vaccination campaigns are a prerogative of national governments, and each of the 27 member nations can decide whether to give booster shots to all of their adult residents. Some E.U. nations, such as France, Germany and Belgium, started giving extra doses to older people and those with weakened immune systems last month, while the Czech Republic and Hungary opened this possibility to all adults.

Although the European Union has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with over 73 percent of adults fully inoculated, there is no coronavirus vaccine authorized yet for children. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control warned last week that the average level of vaccination across the bloc is not sufficient to halt the virus from spreading if governments relax Covid-19 restrictions.

The agency said it was carefully monitoring “very rare” side effects of a booster shot, such as inflammatory heart conditions, but that for the moment the risk was not known.

The decisions of wealthier nations to administer booster shots while the rest of the world remains largely unvaccinated have raised alarm among health experts. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, has called for a moratorium on coronavirus vaccine booster shots for people who are not immunocompromised until at least the end of the year.

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