Then came the Delta variant. Despite keeping their countries largely sealed off, the virus found its way in. And when it did, it spread quickly. In the summer, South Korea battled its worst wave of infections; hospitals in Indonesia ran out of oxygen and beds; and in Thailand, health care workers had to turn away patients.
With cases surging, countries quickly shifted their vaccination approach.
Sydney, Australia, announced a lockdown in June after an unvaccinated limousine driver caught the Delta variant from an American aircrew. Then, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had previously said vaccination “was not a race,” called in July on Australians to “go for gold” in the country’s inoculation drive.
The State of Vaccine Mandates in the U.S.
Vaccine rules.On Aug. 23, the F.D.A. granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and up, paving the way for mandates in both the public and private sectors. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
Schools. California became the first state to issue a vaccine mandate for all educators in public and private schools. New York City has also introduced a vaccine mandate for teachers and staff, but it has yet to take effect because of legal challenges. On Sept. 27, a federal appeals panel reversed a decision that temporarily paused that mandate. it. Los Angeles has mandated vaccines for students 12 and older who are attending class in person.
Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get vaccinated. Mandates for health care workers in California and New York State appear to have compelled thousands of holdouts to receive shots.
New York City. Proof of vaccination is required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations. City education staff and hospital workers must also get a vaccine.
At the federal level. On Sept. 9,President Biden announced a vaccine mandate for the vast majority of federal workers. This mandate will apply to employees of the executive branch, including the White House and all federal agencies and members of the armed services.
In the private sector. Mr. Biden has mandated that all companies with more than 100 workers require vaccination or weekly testing, helping propel new corporate vaccination policies. Some companies, like United Airlines and Tyson Foods, had mandates in place before Mr. Biden’s announcement.
He moved to overcome a supply shortage, compounded by the slow regulatory approval. In August, Australia bought one million Pfizer doses from Poland; this month, Mr. Morrison announced a purchase of a million Moderna shots from Europe.
When the Delta outbreak emerged, fewer than 25 percent of Australians over the age of 16 had received a single shot. In the state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, 86 percent of the adult population has now received a first dose, and 62 percent of adults are fully vaccinated. The country expects to fully inoculate 80 percent of its population over the age of 16 by early November.
“There was great community leadership — there were people from across the political divide who came out to support vaccination,” said Greg Dore, an infectious-disease expert at the University of New South Wales. “It really helped us turn around a level of hesitancy that was there.”
Many governments have used incentives to encourage inoculations.
In South Korea, the authorities eased restrictions in August on private gatherings for fully vaccinated people, allowing them to meet in larger groups while maintaining stricter curbs for others. Singapore, which has fully vaccinated 82 percent of its population, previously announced similar measures.
Researchers there have also analyzed the pockets of people who refuse to be inoculated and are trying to persuade them.
The spread of the Delta variant has delayed office reopenings, disrupted the start of school and generally dashed hopes for a return to normal after Labor Day. But it has not pushed the U.S. economic recovery into reverse.
Now that recovery faces a new test: the removal of much of the aid that has helped keep households and businesses afloat for the past year and a half.
The Paycheck Protection Program, which distributed hundreds of billions of dollars in grants and loans to thousands of small businesses, concluded last spring. A federal eviction moratorium ended last month after the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s last-minute effort to extend it. Most recently, an estimated 7.5 million people lost unemployment benefits when programs that expanded the system during the pandemic were allowed to lapse.
Next up: the Federal Reserve, which on Wednesday indicated it could start pulling back its stimulus efforts as early as November.
OpenTable, for example, have fallen less than 10 percent from their early-July peak. That is a far smaller decline than during the last Covid surge, last winter.
“It has moved down, but it’s not the same sort of decline,” Mr. Bryson said of the OpenTable data. “We’re living with it.”
$120 billion in monthly bond purchases — which have kept borrowing cheap and money flowing through the economy — but it will almost certainly keep interest rates near zero into next year. Millions of parents will continue to receive monthly checks through the end of the year because of the expanded child tax credit passed in March as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion aid package.
That bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, also provided $350 billion to state and local governments, $21.6 billion in rental aid and $10 billion in mortgage assistance, among other programs. But much has not been spent, said Wendy Edelberg, director of the Hamilton Project, an economic-policy arm of the Brookings Institution.
“Those delays are frustrating,” she said. “At the same time, what that also means is that support is going to continue having an effect over the next several quarters.”
Household savings could provide a buffer — if they last.
Economists, including officials in the Biden administration, say that as the economy heals, there will be a gradual “handoff” from government aid to the private sector. That transition could be eased by a record-setting pile of household savings, which could help prop up consumer spending as government aid wanes.
A lot of that money is held by richer, white-collar workers who held on to their jobs and saw their stock portfolios swell even as the pandemic constrained their spending. But many lower-income households have built up at least a small savings cushion during the pandemic because of stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits and other aid, according to researchers at the JPMorgan Chase Institute.
“The good news is that people are going into the fall with some reserves, more reserves than normal,” said Fiona Greig, co-director of the institute. “That can give them some runway in which to look for a job.”
recent survey by Alignable, a social network for small business owners. Not all have had sales turn lower, said Eric Groves, the company’s chief executive. But the uncertainty is hitting at a crucial moment, heading into the holiday season.
“This is a time of year when business owners in the consumer sector in particular are trying to pull out their crystal ball,” he said. “Now is when they have to be purchasing inventory and doing all that planning.”
open a new location as part of a development project on the West Side of Manhattan.
Go big. If some aid ended up going to people or businesses that didn’t really need help, that was a reasonable trade-off for the benefit of getting money to the millions who did.
Today, the calculus is different. The impact of the pandemic is more tightly focused on a few industries and groups. At the same time, many businesses are having trouble getting workers and materials to meet existing demand. Traditional forms of stimulus that seek to stoke demand won’t help them. If automakers can’t get needed parts, for example, giving money to households won’t lead to more car sales — but it might lead to higher prices.
That puts policymakers in a tight spot. If they don’t get help to those who are struggling, it could cause individual hardship and weaken the recovery. But indiscriminate spending could worsen supply problems and lead to inflation. That calls for a more targeted approach, focusing on the specific groups and industries that need it most, said Nela Richardson, chief economist for ADP, the payroll processing firm.
“There are a lot of arrows in the quiver still, but you need them to go into the bull’s-eye now rather than just going all over,” Ms. Richardson said.
Postponing gives the workers who are responding to new requirements sufficient time to become fully vaccinated. And it gives companies more time to set up the logistics that accompany vaccination mandates, such as processes for tracking vaccination status and, soon, who has received a booster.
“Within a company, a C.E.O. can say: ‘Our company, our culture, our business. We need to be together, we need to be in the office, this is the date,’” said Mary Kay O’Neill, a senior health consultant at Mercer Consulting Group. “And then our friends in H.R. are like, ‘How are we going to do that?’”
For some organizations, negotiations with unions are also a factor.A spokeswoman for NPR, which has not set a date for returning to the office, said the public radio network was working “with key stakeholders, including our unions, to evaluate the best approaches to keeping our staff safe and maintaining our operations.”
With new logistics around vaccine mandates, continued uncertainty around variants, and increasingly vocal employee demands, some companies, including The New York Times and American Airlines, have opted out of setting return dates.
The agility of technology companies, alongside industries like consulting and media, is in many ways unique. CVS Health is still eyeing a fall return, albeit with a degree of flexibility worked in. And many employees never went home at all — with a good portion of workers at companies like General Motors, Ford Motor and Chevron having worked on-site throughout most of the pandemic.
Many companies that did send employees home remain eager to bring them back. The longer workers stay out of the office, the harder it may be to cajole their return. And real estate costs are difficult to justify if offices are left empty.
In finance, which traditionally puts a priority on in-person apprenticeship and hustling, the prominent firms have made being in the office a recruiting tool. Goldman Sachs brought back its employees in June and JPMorgan Chase in July. The rise of the Delta variant didn’t slow those plans down, but it did seemingly expedite measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Goldman said last month that it would require anyone who entered its U.S. offices, including clients, to be fully vaccinated.
Eighteen months into the pandemic, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, has offered the strongest sign yet that the Fed is prepared to soon withdraw one leg of the support it has been providing to the economy as conditions strengthen.
At the same time, Mr. Powell made clear on Friday that interest rate increases remained far away, and that the central bank was monitoring risks posed by the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
The Fed has been trying to bolster economic activity by buying $120 billion in government-backed bonds each month and by leaving its policy interest rate at rock bottom. Officials have been debating when to begin slowing their bond buying, the first step in moving toward a more normal policy setting. They have said they would like to make “substantial further progress” toward stable inflation and full employment before doing so.
Mr. Powell, speaking at a closely watched conference that the Kansas City Fed holds each year, used his remarks to explain that he thinks the Fed has met that test when it comes to inflation and is making “clear progress toward maximum employment.”
six million fewer jobs than before the pandemic. And the Delta variant could cause consumers and businesses to pull back as it foils return-to-office plans and threatens to shut down schools and child care centers. That could lead to a slower jobs rebound.
Mr. Powell made clear that the Fed wants to avoid overreacting to a recent burst in inflation that it believes will most likely prove temporary, because doing so could leave workers on the sidelines and weaken growth prematurely. While the Fed could start to remove one piece of its support, he emphasized that slowing bond purchases did not indicate that the Fed was prepared to raise rates.
“We have much ground to cover to reach maximum employment, and time will tell whether we have reached 2 percent inflation on a sustainable basis,” he said in his address to the conference, which was held online instead of its usual venue — Jackson Hole in Wyoming — because of the latest coronavirus wave.
The distinction he drew — between bond buying, which keeps financial markets chugging along, and rates, which are the Fed’s more traditional and arguably more powerful tool to keep money cheap and demand strong — sent an important signal that the Fed is going to be careful to let the economy heal more fully before really putting away its monetary tools, economists said.
told CNBC on Friday that he supported winding down the purchases “as quickly as possible.”
“Let’s start the taper, and let’s do it quickly,” he said. “Let’s not have this linger.”
James Bullard, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said on Friday that the central bank should finish tapering by the end of the first quarter next year. If inflation starts to moderate then, the country will be in “great shape,” Mr. Bullard told Fox Business.
“If it doesn’t moderate, then I think the Fed is going to have to be more aggressive in 2022,” he said.
ushered in a new policy framework at last year’s Jackson Hole gathering that dictates a more patient approach, one that might guard against a similar overreaction.
But as Mr. Bullard’s comments reflected, officials may have their patience tested as inflation climbs.
The Fed’s preferred price gauge, the personal consumption expenditures index, rose 4.2 percent last month from a year earlier, according to Commerce Department data released on Friday. The increase was higher than the 4.1 percent jump that economists in a Bloomberg survey had projected, and the fastest pace since 1991. That is far above the central bank’s 2 percent target, which it tries to hit on average over time.
“The rapid reopening of the economy has brought a sharp run-up in inflation,” Mr. Powell said.
They warn that if the Fed overreacts to today’s inflationary burst, it could wind up with permanently weak inflation, much as Japan and Europe have.
White House economists sided with Mr. Powell’s interpretation in a new round of forecasts issued on Friday. In its midsession review of the administration’s budget forecasts, the Office of Management and Budget said it expected the Consumer Price Index inflation rate to hit 4.8 percent for the year. That is more than double the administration’s initial forecast of 2.1 percent.
initially expected. But they still insist that it will be short-lived and foresee inflation dropping to 2.5 percent in 2022. The White House also revised its forecast of growth for the year, to 7.1 percent from 5.2 percent.
Slow price gains sound like good news to anyone who buys oat milk and eggs, but they can set off a vicious downward cycle. Interest rates include inflation, so when it slows, Fed officials have less room to make money cheap to foster growth during times of trouble. That makes it harder for the economy to recover quickly from downturns, and long periods of weak demand drag prices even lower — creating a cycle of stagnation.
“While the underlying global disinflationary factors are likely to evolve over time, there is little reason to think that they have suddenly reversed or abated,” Mr. Powell said. “It seems more likely that they will continue to weigh on inflation as the pandemic passes into history.”
Mr. Powell offered a detailed explanation of the Fed’s scrutiny of prices, emphasizing that inflation is “so far” coming from a narrow group of goods and services. Officials are keeping an eye on data to make sure prices for durable goods like used cars — which have recently taken off — slow and even fall.
Mr. Powell said the Fed saw “little evidence” of wage increases that might threaten high and lasting inflation. And he pointed out that measures of inflation expectations had not climbed to unwanted levels, but had instead staged a “welcome reversal” of an unhealthy decline.
Still, his remarks carried a tone of watchfulness.
“We would be concerned at signs that inflationary pressures were spreading more broadly through the economy,” he said.
Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine was supposed to be one of Africa’s most important weapons against the coronavirus.
The New Jersey-based company agreed to sell enough of its inexpensive single-shot vaccine to eventually inoculate a third of the continent’s residents. And the vaccine would be produced in part by a South African manufacturer, raising hopes that those doses would quickly go to Africans.
That has not happened.
South Africa is still waiting to receive the overwhelming majority of the 31 million vaccine doses it ordered from Johnson & Johnson. It has administered only about two million Johnson & Johnson shots. That is a key reason that fewer than 7 percent of South Africans are fully vaccinated — and that the country was devastated by the Delta variant.
At the same time, Johnson & Johnson has been exporting millions of doses that were bottled and packaged in South Africa for distribution in Europe, according to executives at Johnson & Johnson and the South African manufacturer, Aspen Pharmacare, as well as South African government export records reviewed by The New York Times.
donated by the United States. But about four million of the country’s 60 million residents are fully vaccinated.
That left the population vulnerable when a third wave of cases crested over the country. At times in recent months, scores of Covid-19 patients at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg were waiting in the emergency department for a bed, and the hospital’s infrastructure struggled to sustain the huge volumes of oxygen being piped into patients’ lungs, said Dr. Jeremy Nel, an infectious-disease doctor there.
“The third wave, in terms of the amount of death we saw, was the most heartbreaking, because it was the most avoidable,” Dr. Nel said. “You see people by the dozens dying, all of whom are eligible for a vaccine and would’ve been among the first to get it.”
a United Nations-backed clearinghouse for vaccines that has fallen behind on deliveries. South Africa was slow to enter negotiations with manufacturers for its own doses. In January, a group of vaccine experts warned that the government’s “lack of foresight” could cause “the greatest man-made failure to protect the population since the AIDS pandemic.”
announced in November. Aspen’s facility in Gqeberha, on South Africa’s southern coast, was the first site in Africa to produce Covid vaccines. (Other companies subsequently announced plans to produce vaccines on the continent.)
Understand the State of Vaccine and Mask Mandates in the U.S.
Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in indoor public places within areas experiencing outbreaks, a reversal of the guidance it offered in May. See where the C.D.C. guidance would apply, and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle over masks has become contentious in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
Vaccine rules . . . and businesses.Private companies are increasingly mandating coronavirus vaccines for employees, with varying approaches. Such mandates are legally allowed and have been upheld in court challenges.
College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities are requiring students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all are in states that voted for President Biden.
Schools. On Aug. 11, California announced that it would require teachers and staff of both public and private schools to be vaccinated or face regular testing, the first state in the nation to do so. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-age children are opposed to mandated vaccines for students, but were more supportive of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff members who do not have their shots.
Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring employees to get a Covid-19 vaccine, citing rising caseloads fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their work force.
New York. On Aug. 3, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York announced that proof of vaccination would be required of workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances and other indoor situations, becoming the first U.S. city to require vaccines for a broad range of activities. City hospital workers must also get a vaccine or be subjected to weekly testing. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would seek to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory for the country’s 1.3 million active-duty troops “no later” than the middle of September. President Biden announced that all civilian federal employees would have to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
South African officials hailed Aspen’s involvement as indispensable.
Aspen “belongs to us as South Africans, and it is making lifesaving vaccines,” South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, said during a visit to Aspen’s plant in March. He said he had pushed Johnson & Johnson to prioritize the doses made there for Africans.
“I want them now,” Mr. Ramaphosa added. “I’ve come to fetch our vaccines.”
results of a clinical trial suggested that the vaccine from AstraZeneca offered little protection from mild or moderate infections caused by the Beta variant that was circulating in South Africa.
Weeks later, Johnson & Johnson and the government signed a contract for 11 million doses. South Africa ordered another 20 million doses in April. That would be enough to vaccinate about half the country.
South Africa agreed to pay $10 per dose for the 11 million shots, according to the contract. That was the same price that the United Statespaid and slightly more than the $8.50 that the European Commission agreed to pay.The South African contract prohibited the government from banning exports of the vaccine, citing the need for doses to “move freely across national borders.”
introduced export controls this year to conserve scarce supplies. India halted exports produced by the Serum Institute, which was supposed to be a major vaccine supplier to poor countries. In the United States, officials said they didn’t ban exports, but they didn’t need to. The combination of the extensive vaccine production on American soil and the high prices the U.S. government was willing to pay meant that companies made the delivery of shots for Americans a priority.
Other benefits for Johnson & Johnson were embedded in the South African contract.
While such contracts typically protect companies from lawsuits brought by individuals, this one shielded Johnson & Johnson from suits by a wider range of parties, including the government. It also imposed an unusually high burden on potential litigants to show that any injuries caused by the vaccine were the direct result of company representatives engaging in deliberate misconduct or failing to follow manufacturing best practices.
“The upshot is that you have moved almost all of the risk of something being wrong with the vaccine to the government,” said Sam Halabi, a health law expert at Georgetown University who reviewed sections of the South African contract at the request of The Times.
Mr. Halabi said the contract’s terms appeared more favorable to the pharmaceutical company than other Covid vaccine contracts he had seen. South African officials have said Pfizer, too, sought aggressive legal protections.
The contract said Johnson & Johnson would aim to deliver 2.8 million doses to South Africa by the end of June, another 4.1 million doses by the end of September and another 4.1 million doses by the end of December. (The government expects the 20 million additional doses to be delivered by the end of this year, Mr. Maja said.)
The company has so far fallen far short of those goals. As of the end of June, South Africa had received only about 1.5 million of the doses from its order. The small number of doses that have been delivered to the African Union were on schedule.
The difficulties in procuring doses have revealed the limits of fill-and-finish sites, which leave countries dependent on vaccines from places like the European Union or the United States, said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, who until March was co-chairman of South Africa’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid.
“Ultimately,” he said, “the solution to our problem has to be in making our own vaccines.”
Lynsey Chutel and Choe Sang-Hun contributed reporting.