SYDNEY, Australia — All across the Asia-Pacific region, the countries that led the world in containing the coronavirus are now languishing in the race to put it behind them.
While the United States, which has suffered far more grievous outbreaks, is now filling stadiums with vaccinated fans and cramming airplanes with summer vacationers, the pandemic champions of the East are still stuck in a cycle of uncertainty, restrictions and isolation.
In southern China, the spread of the Delta variant led to a sudden lockdown in Guangzhou, a major industrial capital. Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia have also clamped down after recent outbreaks, while Japan is dealing with its own weariness from a fourth round of infections, spiked with fears of viral disaster from the Olympics.
the new outbreak in southern China will affect busy port terminals there. Across Asia, faltering vaccine rollouts could also open the door to spiraling variant-fueled lockdowns that inflict new damage on economies, push out political leaders and alter power dynamics between nations.
The risks are rooted in decisions made months ago, before the pandemic had inflicted the worst of its carnage.
blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine meant for Australia to control its own raging outbreak. Other shipments were delayed because of manufacturing issues.
“The supplies of purchased vaccine actually landing on docks — it’s fair to say they are not anywhere near the purchase commitments,” said Richard Maude, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Australia.
with the United States and Europe.
In Asia, about 20 percent of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with Japan, for example, at just 14 percent. By contrast, the figure is nearly 45 percent in France, more than 50 percent in the United States and more than 60 percent in Britain.
Instagram, where Americans once scolded Hollywood stars for enjoying mask-free life in zero-Covid Australia, is now studded with images of grinning New Yorkers hugging just-vaccinated friends. While snapshots from Paris show smiling diners at cafes that are wooing summer tourists, in Seoul, people are obsessively refreshing apps that locate leftover doses, usually finding nothing.
“Does the leftover vaccine exist?” one Twitter user recently asked. “Or has it disappeared in 0.001 seconds because it is like a ticket for the front-row seat of a K-pop idol concert?”
keep its borders closed for another year. Japan is currently barring almost all nonresidents from entering the country, and intense scrutiny of overseas arrivals in China has left multinational businesses without key workers.
The immediate future for many places in Asia seems likely to be defined by frantic optimization.
China’s response to the outbreak in Guangzhou — testing millions of people in days, shutting down entire neighborhoods — is a rapid-fire reprise of how it has handled previous flare-ups. Few inside the country expect this approach to change anytime soon, especially as the Delta variant, which has devastated India, is now beginning to circulate.
has threatened residents with fines of around $450 for refusing vaccines. Vietnam has responded to its recent spike in infections by asking the public for donations to a Covid-19 vaccine fund. And in Hong Kong, officials and business leaders are offering a range of inducements to ease severe vaccine hesitancy.
Nonetheless, the prognosis for much of Asia this year is billboard obvious: The disease is not defeated, and won’t be anytime soon. Even those lucky enough to get a vaccine often leave with mixed emotions.
“This is the way out of the pandemic,” said Kate Tebbutt, 41, a lawyer who last week had just received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine at the Royal Exhibition Building near Melbourne’s central business district. “I think we should be further ahead than where we are.”
Reporting was contributed by Raymond Zhong in Taipei, Taiwan, Ben Dooley in Tokyo, Sui-Lee Wee in Singapore, Youmi Kim in Seoul and Yan Zhuang in Melbourne, Australia.
In less polarized times, Dr. Shi was a symbol of China’s scientific progress,at the forefront of research into emerging viruses.
She led expeditions into caves to collect samples from bats and guano, to learn how viruses jump from animals to humans. In 2019, she was among 109 scientists elected to the American Academy of Microbiology for her contributions to the field.
“She’s a stellar scientist — extremely careful, with a rigorous work ethic,” said Dr. Robert C. Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
The Wuhan Institute of Virology employs nearly 300 people and is home to one of only two Chinese labs that have been given the highest security designation, Biosafety Level 4. Dr. Shi leads the institute’s work on emerging infectious diseases, and over the years, her group has collected over 10,000 bat samples from around China.
Under China’s centralized approach to scientific research, the institute answers to the Communist Party, which wants scientists to serve national goals.“Science has no borders, but scientists have a motherland,” Xi Jinping, the country’s leader, said in a speech to scientists last year.
Dr. Shi herself, though, does not belong to the Communist Party, according to official Chinese media reports, which is unusual for state employees of her status. She built her career at the institute, starting as a research assistant in 1990 and working her way up the ranks.
Dr. Shi, 57, obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Montpellier in France in 2000 and started studying bats in 2004 after the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which killed more than 700 people around the world. In 2011,she made a breakthrough when she found bats in a cave in southwestern China that carried coronaviruses that were similar to the virus that causes SARS.
“Those who are most reliant also are the folks who are trying to literally go to their dialysis appointments,” said Stephanie Gidigbi Jenkins, who works on federal policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council and is a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s board. “We totally forget who really is most dependent on our transit system.”
In Cleveland, the transit authority cut downtown rush hour service early in the pandemic and halted express bus routes from suburban park-and-rides. But it didn’t cut service through neighborhoods where officials believed more workers, including hospital staff, had in-person duties.
“Do we have the heart to say after they’ve worked 12 hours to serve the community that now when they walk out to their bus, they’re going to have to wait almost an hour before the bus can pick them up?” said Joel B. Freilich, director of service management for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.
In 2019, the agency planned improvements to off-peak service, now rolling out this month. The pandemic further confirmed for officials, Mr. Freilich said, that every hour is rush hour for someone.
In larger regional transit agencies, these decisions will be more fraught.
“Inside almost every transit agency, inside its politics, inside its decision-making, there’s this inevitable conflict between the suburban commuter interest who’s trying to get out of congestion, who’s very focused on the problem of peak congestion, and then there’s the interest of people trying to get around all day,” said Jarrett Walker, a transportation consultant who led the planning for the Cleveland changes.
But there are other ways in which everyone’s interests better align in a world where travel peaks aren’t so sharp. Less congested city streets could mean faster bus travel, more space for cyclists, and more humane commutes for the people who still drive.
And if all of this means some lower-income transit riders shift to driving on roads that are no longer quite so terrible?
The discussion could shape the path ahead for economic policy, helping to determine how much support President Biden has for infrastructure spending proposals and how patient the Fed can be in removing emergency monetary policy supports.
“This is the largest year-over-year increase in prices since the Great Recession, and massive stimulus spending is a contributing factor,” Senator Mike Crapo, Republican of Idaho, wrote on Twitter. “Proposals for further federal spending, coupled with job-killing tax hikes, are not the remedy for economic recovery.”
The White House has been focused on alleviating bottlenecks where it can, reviewing the supply chain for semiconductors and critical minerals used in all sorts of products. But controlling inflation falls largely to the Fed.
The data comes less than a week before the central bank’s June meeting, which will give the Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, another opportunity to address how he and his colleagues plan to achieve their two key goals — stable prices and full employment — in the tricky post-pandemic economic environment.
“The Fed has never said how big a reopening spike it expected, but we’re guessing that policymakers have been surprised by the past two months’ numbers,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a note following the release.
The big policy question facing the Fed is when, and how quickly, it will begin to slow its $120 billion in monthly government-backed bond purchases. That policy is meant to keep borrowing of all kinds cheap and stoke demand, and because it bolsters stock prices, markets are very attuned to when central bankers will taper it.
Mr. Powell and his colleagues have repeatedly said that they need to see “substantial” further progress toward maximum employment and stable inflation that averages 2 percent over time before they pull back from that policy.
LONDON — The top economic officials from the world’s advanced economies reached a breakthrough on Saturday in their yearslong efforts to overhaul international tax laws, unveiling a broad agreement that aims to stop large multinational companies from seeking out tax havens and force them to pay more of their income to governments.
Finance leaders from the Group of 7 countries agreed to back a new global minimum tax rate of at least 15 percent that companies would have to pay regardless of where they locate their headquarters.
The agreement would also impose an additional tax on some of the largest multinational companies, potentially forcing technology giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google as well as other big global businesses to pay taxes to countries based on where their goods or services are sold, regardless of whether they have a physical presence in that nation.
Officials described the pact as a historic agreement that could reshape global commerce and solidify public finances that have been eroded after more than a year of combating the coronavirus pandemic. The deal comes after several years of fraught negotiations and, if enacted, would reverse a race to the bottom on international tax rates. It would also put to rest a fight between the United States and Europe over how to tax big technology companies.
has been particularly eager to reach an agreement because a global minimum tax is closely tied to its plans to raise the corporate tax rate in the United States to 28 percent from 21 percent to help pay for the president’s infrastructure proposal.
EU Tax Observatory estimated that a 15 percent minimum tax would yield an additional 48 billion euros, or $58 billion, a year. The Biden administration projected in its budget last month that the new global minimum tax system could help bring in $500 billion in tax revenue over a decade to the United States.
The plan could face resistance from large corporations and the world’s biggest companies were absorbing the development on Saturday.
“We strongly support the work being done to update international tax rules,” said José Castañeda, a Google spokesman. “We hope countries continue to work together to ensure a balanced and durable agreement will be finalized soon.”
said this month that it was prepared to move forward with tariffs on about $2.1 billion worth of goods from Austria, Britain, India, Italy, Spain and Turkey in retaliation for their digital taxes. However, it is keeping them on hold while the tax negotiations unfold.
Finishing such a large agreement by the end of the year could be overly optimistic given the number of moving parts and countries involved.
“A detailed agreement on something of this complexity in a few months would just be lighting speed,” said Nathan Sheets, a former Treasury Department under secretary for international affairs in the Obama administration.
The biggest obstacle to getting a deal finished could come from the United States. The Biden administration must win approval from a narrowly divided Congress to make changes to the tax code and Republicans have shown resistance to Mr. Biden’s plans. American businesses will bear the brunt of the new taxes and Republican lawmakers have argued that the White House is ceding tax authority to foreign countries.
Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, said on Friday that he did not believe that a 15 percent global minimum tax would curb offshoring.
“If the American corporate tax rate is 28 percent, and the global tax rate is merely half of that, you can guarantee we’ll see a second wave of U.S. investment research manufacturing hit overseas, that’s not what we want,” Mr. Brady said.
At the news conference, Ms. Yellen noted that top Democrats in the House and Senate had expressed support for the tax changes that the Biden administration was trying to make.
LONDON — Over Memorial Day weekend, 135,000 people jammed the oval at the Indianapolis 500. Restaurants across the United States were thronged with customers as mask mandates were being discarded.
The formula, which gained the Biden administration’s blessing, was succinct: In essence, if you are fully vaccinated, you can do as you please.
But while the United States appears to be trying to close the curtain on the pandemic, across the ocean, in Britain and the European Union, it is quite a different story.
Despite plunging infection levels and a surging vaccine program, parts of Europe are maintaining limits on gatherings, reimposing curbs on travel and weighing local lockdowns.
Wellcome Sanger Institute, said of Delta. “It just means we have less certainty about what things will look like going forward.”
estimated on Friday that the Delta variant was roughly 60 percent more contagious than the earlier one from Britain. Health officials also warned that cases caused by the Delta variant might lead to a higher risk of hospitalization, though it was too early to say for certain.
The divergent strategies of European nations and the United States also reflect broader differences in how Western governments are thinking about their responsibility to unvaccinated people, scientists said.
in unvaccinated pockets of the United States, where the virus continues to sicken and kill people at elevated rates. The Biden administration is still searching for ways to overcome that vaccine hesitancy.
In Britain, even with more than 90 percent of people over 65 having been fully vaccinated, health officials have resisted as speedy a reopening as they seek to expand inoculation rates in lower-income and nonwhite areas.
“We know the virus predominantly hits poorer communities and people of color hardest,” said James Naismith, a structural biologist and the director of Britain’s Rosalind Franklin Institute, a medical research center. “The U.S. strategy perhaps reflects a more deep-rooted commitment to individualism. The U.K.’s vaccination campaign is highly managed and mirrors more a sense of being our brother’s keeper.”
Britain decided last year to delay second vaccine doses to give more people the partial protection of a single dose. That helped it weather the wintertime surge but also left it potentially exposed to the Delta variant. Health officials said this past week that there was strong evidence of “a reduction in vaccine effectiveness” for the new variant that was most pronounced after a single dose.
Health officials have since changed the guidance to speed up second doses, but many scientists are urging the government not to commit to reopening until the impact of the variant becomes clearer.
76 percent overall have gotten one shot. As a result, some scientists say, upticks in new infections are tolerable so long as the vast majority do not lead to serious illness or death.
“This variant is going to find it hard to spread, because it’s limited to younger people and limited to certain parts of the country,” Professor Spector said.
He said the government needed to help the neighborhoods where it was spreading and, beyond that, encourage people to keep working from home and socially distancing when possible. But delaying the easing of restrictions, he said, was not necessary.
“We need to get used to the idea there will be a few thousand cases every day and that this is a part of our life,” Professor Spector said. “Those cases will be milder.”
Germany, France and Austria all moved quickly to bar most visitors from Britain.
Like Britain, the bloc was chastened by a surge of the variant from Britain this winter that contributed to one of the world’s highest death tolls. Governments were hammered for failing to cement the gains of last summer, when lockdowns were lifted across most of Europe.
In the bloc, 47 percent of the adult population has received a first dose, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, but only 23 percent have full protection.
For those reasons, European leaders have said that vigilance is needed, even though infections have fallen about 80 percent since mid-April.
“This progress is fragile,” Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s director in Europe, warned last month. “We have been here before. Let us not make the same mistakes that were made this time last year.”
Still, now that supply bottlenecks have eased, European officials are confident that 70 percent of adults will be fully vaccinated by July.
The quandary that Europe faces over how to react to the Delta variant may recur as the virus continues to evolve, some scientists said. As long as it remains in wide circulation, even more transmissible variants could emerge, forcing countries to grapple with whether to hunker down yet again or risk the virus spreading through unprotected populations.
Poorer nations are facing far more difficult choices, though. If the same sort of lockdowns that controlled the variant from Britain prove insufficient against this new one, those countries could have to choose between even more draconian and economically damaging shutdowns or even more devastating outbreaks. The Delta variant has already taken a horrifying toll on South Asia.
“Globally, it’s a nightmare, because most of the world is still not vaccinated,” said Jeremy Kamil, a virologist at Louisiana State University Health Shreveport. “It raises the stakes.”
SAN FRANCISCO — When India’s government ordered Facebook and other tech companies to take down posts critical of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic in April, the social network complied on some posts.
But once it did, its employees flocked to online chat rooms to ask why Facebook had helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India stifle dissent. In one internal post, which was reviewed by The New York Times, an employee with family in India accused Facebook of “being afraid” that Mr. Modi would ban the company from doing business in the country. “We can’t act or make decisions out of fear,” he wrote.
Weeks later, when clashes broke out in Israel between Israelis and Palestinians, Facebook removed posts from prominent Palestinian activists and briefly banned hashtags related to the violence. Facebook employees again took to the message boards to ask why their company now appeared to be censoring pro-Palestinian content.
“It just feels like, once again, we are erring on the side of a populist government and making decisions due to politics, not policies,” one worker wrote in an internal message that was reviewed by The Times.
inflammatory posts from former President Donald J. Trump. But since Mr. Trump left office in January, attention has shifted to Facebook’s global policies and what employees said was the company’s acquiescence to governments so that it could continue profiting in those countries.
“There’s a feeling among people at Facebook that this is a systematic approach, one which favors strong government leaders over the principles of doing what is right and correct,” said Ashraf Zeitoon, Facebook’s former head of policy for the Middle East and North Africa region, who left in 2017.
Facebook is increasingly caught in a vise. In India, Russia and elsewhere, governments are pressuring it to remove content as they try to corral the platform’s power over online speech. But when Facebook complies with the takedown orders, it has upset its own employees, who say the social network has helped authoritarian leaders and repressive regimes quash activists and silence marginalized communities.
BuzzFeed News and the Financial Times earlier reported on some of the employee dissatisfaction at Facebook over Israeli and Palestinian content.
A divide between Facebook’s employees and the global policy team, which is composed of roughly 1,000 employees, has existed for years, current and former workers said. The policy team reports to Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer.
many tricky international situations over the years, including in Russia, Vietnam and Myanmar, where it has had to consider whether it would be shut down if it did not work with governments. That has led to the employee dissent, which has begun spilling into public view.
That became evident with India. In April, as Covid-19 cases soared in the country, Mr. Modi’s government called for roughly 100 social media posts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to be pulled down. Many of the posts included critiques of the government from opposition politicians and calls for Mr. Modi’s resignation.
Facebook removed some of the posts and briefly blocked a hashtag, #ResignModi. The company later said the hashtag had been banned by mistake and was not part of a government request.
But internally, the damage was done. In online chat rooms dedicated to human rights issues and global policy, employees described how disappointed they were with Facebook’s actions. Some shared stories of family members in India who were worried they were being censored.
Last month, when violence broke out between Israelis and Palestinians, reports surfaced that Facebook had erased content from Palestinian activists. Facebook’s Instagram app also briefly banned the #AlAqsa hashtag, a reference to Al Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Facebook later explained that it had confused the #AlAqsa hashtag with a Palestinian militant group called Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
Understand the Covid Crisis in India
Employees bristled. “We are responding to people’s protests about censoring with more censoring?” one wrote in an internal message, which was reviewed by The Times.
Nick Clegg, who leads public affairs, to explain the company’s role in removing content tied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to attendees. The employee called the situation in Israel “fraught” and asked how Facebook was going “to get it right” with content moderation.
Mr. Clegg ran through a list of policy rules and plans going forward, and assured staff that moderation would be treated with fairness and responsibility, two people familiar with the meeting said. The discussion was cordial, one of the people said, and comments in the chat box beside Mr. Clegg’s response were largely positive.
But some employees were dissatisfied, the people said. As Mr. Clegg spoke, they broke off into private chats and workplace groups, known as Tribes, to discuss what to do.
Dozens of employees later formed a group to flag the Palestinian content that they said had been suppressed to internal content moderation teams, said two employees. The goal was to have the posts reinstated online, they said.
Members of Facebook’s policy team have tried calming the tensions. In an internal memo in mid-May, which was reviewed by The Times, two policy team members wrote to other employees that they hoped “that Facebook’s internal community will resist succumbing to the division and demonization of the other side that is so brutally playing itself out offline and online.”
One of them was Muslim, and the other was Jewish, they said.
“We don’t always agree,” they wrote. “However, we do some of our best work when we assume good intent and recognize that we are on the same side trying to serve our community in the best possible way.”
“Retailers were asking and requiring you to wear masks,” said Willy Solis, a shopper for the delivery app Shipt in Denton, Texas, who works in stores like Target, Kroger and CVS. “A large majority of people were still doing the right thing and wearing them.”
Since the C.D.C. announcement, however, “it’s been a complete shift,” Mr. Solis said. Denton, like Yorktown, sits in a county that supported former President Donald J. Trump by a single-digit margin in the November election.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 97 percent of Democrats said in a March poll that they wore a mask “at least most of the time” when they might be in contact with people outside their homes, and a similar portion of Democrats said they believed masks limit the spread of coronavirus.
That compared with only 71 percent of Republicans who said they wore a mask outside the home at least most of the time, and just half said they thought masks were effective.
That suggests that a significant number of Republicans have worn masks only to comply with rules, not because they believed it was important, said Ashley Kirzinger, the Kaiser foundation’s associate director for public opinion and survey research. She cited polling showing that Republicans were also less likely to be vaccinated.
Matt Kennon, a room-service server at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Miss., said that before the C.D.C. relaxed its recommendations, the resort’s policy was that all guests must wear masks in common areas unless they were eating, drinking or smoking, and that it was strictly enforced.
“There were several security checkpoints around the place where we’d have someone from security let them know, ‘Please put on a mask,’” said Mr. Kennon, a shop steward with his union, UNITE HERE. “There were stations with disposable masks for guests to wear in case they didn’t have one.”
In the story of how the modern world was constructed, Toyota stands out as the mastermind of a monumental advance in industrial efficiency. The Japanese automaker pioneered so-called Just In Time manufacturing, in which parts are delivered to factories right as they are required, minimizing the need to stockpile them.
Over the last half-century, this approach has captivated global business in industries far beyond autos. From fashion to food processing to pharmaceuticals, companies have embraced Just In Time to stay nimble, allowing them to adapt to changing market demands, while cutting costs.
But the tumultuous events of the past year have challenged the merits of paring inventories, while reinvigorating concerns that some industries have gone too far, leaving them vulnerable to disruption. As the pandemic has hampered factory operations and sown chaos in global shipping, many economies around the world have been bedeviled by shortages of a vast range of goods — from electronics to lumber to clothing.
In a time of extraordinary upheaval in the global economy, Just In Time is running late.
“It’s sort of like supply chain run amok,” said Willy C. Shih, an international trade expert at Harvard Business School. “In a race to get to the lowest cost, I have concentrated my risk. We are at the logical conclusion of all that.”
shortage of computer chips — vital car components produced mostly in Asia. Without enough chips on hand, auto factories from India to the United States to Brazil have been forced to halt assembly lines.
But the breadth and persistence of the shortages reveal the extent to which the Just In Time idea has come to dominate commercial life. This helps explain why Nike and other apparel brands struggle to stock retail outlets with their wares. It’s one of the reasons construction companies are having trouble purchasing paints and sealants. It was a principal contributor to the tragic shortages of personal protective equipment early in the pandemic, which left frontline medical workers without adequate gear.
a shortage of lumber that has stymied home building in the United States.
Suez Canal this year, closing the primary channel linking Europe and Asia.
“People adopted that kind of lean mentality, and then they applied it to supply chains with the assumption that they would have low-cost and reliable shipping,” said Mr. Shih, the Harvard Business School trade expert. “Then, you have some shocks to the system.”
An Idea That Went ‘Way Too Far’
presentation for the pharmaceutical industry. It promised savings of up to 50 percent on warehousing if clients embraced its “lean and mean” approach to supply chains.
Such claims have panned out. Still, one of the authors of that presentation, Knut Alicke, a McKinsey partner based in Germany, now says the corporate world exceeded prudence.
“We went way too far,” Mr. Alicke said in an interview. “The way that inventory is evaluated will change after the crisis.”
Many companies acted as if manufacturing and shipping were devoid of mishaps, Mr. Alicke added, while failing to account for trouble in their business plans.
“There’s no kind of disruption risk term in there,” he said.
Experts say that omission represents a logical response from management to the incentives at play. Investors reward companies that produce growth in their return on assets. Limiting goods in warehouses improves that ratio.
study. These savings helped finance another shareholder-enriching trend — the growth of share buybacks.
In the decade leading up to the pandemic, American companies spent more than $6 trillion to buy their own shares, roughly tripling their purchases, according to a study by the Bank for International Settlements. Companies in Japan, Britain, France, Canada and China increased their buybacks fourfold, though their purchases were a fraction of their American counterparts.
Repurchasing stock reduces the number of shares in circulation, lifting their value. But the benefits for investors and executives, whose pay packages include hefty allocations of stock, have come at the expense of whatever the company might have otherwise done with its money — investing to expand capacity, or stockpiling parts.
These costs became conspicuous during the first wave of the pandemic, when major economies including the United States discovered that they lacked capacity to quickly make ventilators.
“When you need a ventilator, you need a ventilator,” Mr. Sodhi said. “You can’t say, ‘Well, my stock price is high.’”
When the pandemic began, car manufacturers slashed orders for chips on the expectation that demand for cars would plunge. By the time they realized that demand was reviving, it was too late: Ramping up production of computer chips requires months.
stock analysts on April 28. The company said the shortages would probably derail half of its production through June.
The automaker least affected by the shortage is Toyota. From the inception of Just In Time, Toyota relied on suppliers clustered close to its base in Japan, making the company less susceptible to events far away.
‘It All Cascades’
In Conshohocken, Pa., Mr. Romano is literally waiting for his ship to come in.
He is vice president of sales at Van Horn, Metz & Company, which buys chemicals from suppliers around the world and sells them to factories that make paint, ink and other industrial products.
In normal times, the company is behind in filling perhaps 1 percent of its customers’ orders. On a recent morning, it could not complete a tenth of its orders because it was waiting for supplies to arrive.
The company could not secure enough of a specialized resin that it sells to manufacturers that make construction materials. The American supplier of the resin was itself lacking one element that it purchases from a petrochemical plant in China.
One of Mr. Romano’s regular customers, a paint manufacturer, was holding off on ordering chemicals because it could not locate enough of the metal cans it uses to ship its finished product.
“It all cascades,” Mr. Romano said. “It’s just a mess.”
No pandemic was required to reveal the risks of overreliance on Just In Time combined with global supply chains. Experts have warned about the consequences for decades.
In 1999, an earthquake shook Taiwan, shutting down computer chip manufacturing. The earthquake and tsunami that shattered Japan in 2011 shut down factories and impeded shipping, generating shortages of auto parts and computer chips. Floods in Thailand the same year decimated production of computer hard drives.
Each disaster prompted talk that companies needed to bolster their inventories and diversify their suppliers.
Each time, multinational companies carried on.
The same consultants who promoted the virtues of lean inventories now evangelize about supply chain resilience — the buzzword of the moment.
Simply expanding warehouses may not provide the fix, said Richard Lebovitz, president of LeanDNA, a supply chain consultant based in Austin, Texas. Product lines are increasingly customized.
“The ability to predict what inventory you should keep is harder and harder,” he said.
Ultimately, business is likely to further its embrace of lean for the simple reason that it has yielded profits.
“The real question is, ‘Are we going to stop chasing low cost as the sole criteria for business judgment?’” said Mr. Shih, from Harvard Business School. “I’m skeptical of that. Consumers won’t pay for resilience when they are not in crisis.”
Sarah Cavey, a real estate agent in Denver, was thrilled last fall when Colorado introduced an app to warn people of possible coronavirus exposures.
Based on software from Apple and Google, the state’s smartphone app uses Bluetooth signals to detect users who come into close contact. If a user later tests positive, the person can anonymously notify other app users whom the person may have crossed paths with in restaurants, on trains or elsewhere.
Ms. Cavey immediately downloaded the app. But after testing positive for the virus in February, she was unable to get the special verification code she needed from the state to warn others, she said, even after calling Colorado’s health department three times.
“They advertise this app to make people feel good,” Ms. Cavey said, adding that she had since deleted the app, called CO Exposure Notifications, in frustration. “But it’s not really doing anything.”
announced last year that they were working together to create a smartphone-based system to help stem the virus, their collaboration seemed like a game changer. Human contact tracers were struggling to keep up with spiking virus caseloads, and the trillion-dollar rival companies — whose systems run 99 percent of the world’s smartphones — had the potential to quickly and automatically alert far more people.
Soon Austria, Switzerland and other nations introduced virus apps based on the Apple-Google software, as did some two dozen American states, including Alabama and Virginia. To date, the apps have been downloaded more than 90 million times, according to an analysis by Sensor Tower, an app research firm.
But some researchers say the companies’ product and policy choices limited the system’s usefulness, raising questions about the power of Big Tech to set global standards for public health tools.
Stephen Farrell and Doug Leith, computer science researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, wrote in a report in April on Ireland’s virus alert app.
CA Notify in December, about 65,000 people have used the system to alert other app users, the state said.
“Exposure notification technology has shown success,” said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, the chief information officer of UC San Diego Health, which manages California’s app. “Whether it’s hundreds of lives saved or dozens or a handful, if we save lives, that’s a big deal.”
In a joint statement, Apple and Google said: “We’re proud to collaborate with public health authorities and provide a resource — which many millions of people around the world have enabled — that has helped protect public health.”
Let Us Help You Protect Your Digital Life
Based in part on ideas developed by Singapore and by academics, Apple and Google’s system incorporated privacy protections that gave health agencies an alternative to more invasive apps. Unlike virus-tracing apps that continuously track users’ whereabouts, the Apple and Google software relies on Bluetooth signals, which can estimate the distance between smartphones without needing to know people’s locations. And it uses rotating ID codes — not real names — to log app users who come into close contact for 15 minutes or more.
said last year in a video promoting the country’s alert system, called Corona-Warn-App.
But the apps never received the large-scale efficacy testing typically done before governments introduce public health interventions like vaccines. And the software’s privacy features — which prevent government agencies from identifying app users — have made it difficult for researchers to determine whether the notifications helped hinder virus transmission, said Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
“The apps played virtually no role at all in our being able to investigate outbreaks that occurred here,” Dr. Osterholm said.
Some limitations emerged even before the apps were released. For one thing, some researchers note, exposure notification software inherently excludes certain vulnerable populations, such as elderly people who cannot afford smartphones. For another thing, they say, the apps may send out false alarms because the system is not set up to incorporate mitigation factors like whether users are vaccinated, wearing masks or sitting outside.
Proximity detection in virus alert apps can also be inconsistent. Last year, a study on Google’s system for Android phones conducted on a light-rail tram in Dublin reported that the metal walls, flooring and ceilings distorted Bluetooth signal strength to such a degree that the chance of accurate proximity detection would be “similar to that of triggering notifications by randomly selecting” passengers.
Kimbley Craig, the mayor of Salinas, Calif. Last December, when virus rates there were spiking, she said, she downloaded the state’s exposure notification app on her Android phone and soon after tested positive for Covid-19. But after she entered the verification code, she said, the system failed to send an alert to her partner, whom she lives with and who had also downloaded the app.
“If it doesn’t pick up a person in the same household, I don’t know what to tell you,” Mayor Craig said.
In a statement, Steph Hannon, Google’s senior director of product management for exposure notifications, said that there were “known challenges with using Bluetooth technology to approximate the precise distance between devices” and that the company was continuously working to improve accuracy.
The companies’ policies have also influenced usage trends. In certain U.S. states, for instance, iPhone users can activate the exposure notifications with one click — by simply turning on a feature on their settings — but Android users must download a separate app. As a result, about 9.6 million iPhone users in California had turned on the notifications as of May 10, the state said, far outstripping the 900,000 app downloads on Android phones.
Google said it had built its system for states to work on the widest range of devices and be deployed as quickly as possible.
Some public health experts acknowledged that the exposure alert system was an experiment in which they, and the tech giants, were learning and incorporating improvements as they went along.
One issue they discovered early on: To hinder false alarms, states verify positive test results before a person can send out exposure notifications. But local labs can sometimes take days to send test results to health agencies, limiting the ability of app users to quickly alert others.
In Alabama, for instance, the state’s GuideSafe virus alert app has been downloaded about 250,000 times, according to Sensor Tower. But state health officials said they had been able to confirm the positive test results of only 1,300 app users. That is a much lower number than health officials would have expected, they said, given that more than 10 percent of Alabamians have tested positivefor the coronavirus.
“The app would be a lot more efficient if those processes were less manual and more automated,” said Dr. Scott Harris, who oversees the Alabama Department of Public Health.
Colorado, which automatically issues the verification codes to people who test positive, has reported higher usage rates. And in California, UC San Diego Health has set up a dedicated help line that app users can call if they did not receive their verification codes.
Dr. Longhurst, the medical center’s chief information officer, said the California app had proved useful as part of a larger statewide public health push that also involved mask-wearing and virus testing.
“It’s not a panacea,” he said. But “it can be an effective part of a pandemic response.”