business is booming for interior decorators: “We work for the one-half of the one-half of the 1 percent.”

Lives Lived: After a failed documentary project, Sharon Matola found herself in Belize looking after a jaguar, two macaws and 18 other half-tamed animals. The zoo she established there became a popular attraction, and Matola an outspoken advocate for animals. She died at 66.

Tokyo Olympics are set to begin in July, with the Paralympics scheduled to start in August. Years of planning — and billions in television dollars — mean Olympic organizers are keen to hold the event without postponing again.

But polling in Japan has trended strongly against the Games, as Motoko Rich and Hikari Hida report in The Times. Thousands of athletes and other participants will be heading to Tokyo, and less than 1 percent of Japan’s population has been vaccinated, CNBC reports. The country’s experience of the pandemic has been comparatively mild, with the level of infections and deaths far below that of the United States or Europe. But that’s not guaranteed to continue.

Though organizers have said that vaccinations will not be mandatory, the International Olympic Committee will supply vaccines for any competitors who need them. Some countries, like India and Hungary, are prioritizing Olympic athletes for vaccinations at home. Organizers are also barring spectators from overseas, and cheering is forbidden at the Olympic torch relay, which kicked off in Fukushima Prefecture last month.

One thing that is staying the same: The Games will still be called Tokyo 2020, reflected in heaps of T-shirts, mugs, signage and other branded merchandise.

slice of Florida lime pie.

People in their 20s and 30s are turning to Botox. Why?

“Shiva Baby,” a tense comedy about a young woman at the shiva of a family friend, mixes “big laughs with gut-wrenching discomfort,” Jason Bailey writes in a review.

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Slovakia Claims a Bait-and-Switch With the Russian Vaccines it Ordered

The European Union’s regulator, the European Medicines Agency, has so far declined to approve the Russian vaccine for use and only two members of the bloc, Hungary and Slovakia, have placed orders for Sputnik V. Serbia, which is not a member of the bloc, has also ordered Sputnik V and begun using it in a mass inoculation program that has been far more successful than the stumbling efforts of most European Union states.

Even Germany, a stickler for procedure, has expressed growing interest in Sputnik V. Health Minister Jens Spahn told the public broadcaster WDR on Thursday that he would like to start bilateral talks with Russia over a potential purchase of the vaccine, which would go through only if it is approved by the European Medicines Agency.

The previous day, Markus Söder, the governor of Bavaria, said his government had signed a preliminary agreement to buy 2.5 million doses of the vaccine, which are to be produced at a Russian-owned plant in the southern state. That deal, too, is contingent on E.M.A. approval.

Sputnik V is manufactured at seven locations in Russia, and also at plants in India and South Korea. A number of other countries have signed manufacturing contracts, including Brazil, Turkey and Serbia. Russia has consistently delivered fewer doses of the vaccine than initially promised, suggesting glitches in manufacturing. Producing vaccines at scale is a difficult process and ramping up production has presented problems for Western vaccines, too.

Noting that about 40 countries are using or scheduled to use the Russian vaccine, the Slovak regulatory agency asserted that “these vaccines are only associated by the name.” That raised questions about deviations from the formula reviewed in The Lancet.

“The comparability and consistency of different batches produced at different locations has not been demonstrated,” the Slovak regulator said. “In several cases, they appear to be vaccines with different properties (lyophilisate versus solution, single-dose ampoules versus multi-dose vials, different storage conditions, composition and method of manufacture).”

The Slovak statement could damage Russia’s efforts to establish Sputnik V as a reliable brand. It could also exacerbate lingering doubts left by the vaccine’s highly politicized rollout in Russia, where President Vladimir V. Putin announced that the drug was ready for use in August, before clinical trials had finished.

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Kati Kariko Helped Shield the World From the Coronavirus

She grew up in Hungary, daughter of a butcher. She decided she wanted to be a scientist, although she had never met one. She moved to the United States in her 20s, but for decades never found a permanent position, instead clinging to the fringes of academia.

Now Katalin Kariko, 66, known to colleagues as Kati, has emerged as one of the heroes of Covid-19 vaccine development. Her work, with her close collaborator, Dr. Drew Weissman of the University of Pennsylvania, laid the foundation for the stunningly successful vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

For her entire career, Dr. Kariko has focused on messenger RNA, or mRNA — the genetic script that carries DNA instructions to each cell’s protein-making machinery. She was convinced mRNA could be used to instruct cells to make their own medicines, including vaccines.

But for many years her career at the University of Pennsylvania was fragile. She migrated from lab to lab, relying on one senior scientist after another to take her in. She never made more than $60,000 a year.

was published, in Immunity, it got little attention.

Dr. Weissman and Dr. Kariko then showed they could induce an animal — a monkey — to make a protein they had selected. In this case, they injected monkeys with mRNA for erythropoietin, a protein that stimulates the body to make red blood cells. The animals’ red blood cell counts soared.

25 years of work by multiple scientists, including Pieter Cullis of the University of British Columbia.

Scientists also needed to isolate the virus’s spike protein from the bounty of genetic data provided by Chinese researchers. Dr. Barney Graham, of the National Institutes of Health, and Jason McClellan, of the University of Texas at Austin, solved that problem in short order.

Testing the quickly designed vaccines required a monumental effort by companies and the National Institutes of Health. But Dr. Kariko had no doubts.

On Nov. 8, the first results of the Pfizer-BioNTech study came in, showing that the mRNA vaccine offered powerful immunity to the new virus. Dr. Kariko turned to her husband. “Oh, it works,” she said. “I thought so.”

To celebrate, she ate an entire box of Goobers chocolate-covered peanuts. By herself.

Dr. Weissman celebrated with his family, ordering takeout dinner from an Italian restaurant, “with wine,” he said. Deep down, he was awed.

“My dream was always that we develop something in the lab that helps people,” Dr. Weissman said. “I’ve satisfied my life’s dream.”

Dr. Kariko and Dr. Weissman were vaccinated on Dec. 18 at the University of Pennsylvania. Their inoculations turned into a press event, and as the cameras flashed, she began to feel uncharacteristically overwhelmed.

A senior administrator told the doctors and nurses rolling up their sleeves for shots that the scientists whose research made the vaccine possible were present, and they all clapped. Dr. Kariko wept.

Things could have gone so differently, for the scientists and for the world, Dr. Langer said. “There are probably many people like her who failed,” he said.

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Nemam Ghafouri, Doctor Who Aided Yazidis in Iraq, Dies at 52

Nemam Ghafouri was born on Dec. 25, 1968, in the Chnarok region of Iraq (now the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region), one of 11 children of Mahmoud Agha Kaka Ziad Ghafouri, a Kurdish resistance commander, and Gulzar Hassan Jalal, who relayed food and ammunition to the fighters while raising her children.

Dr. Ghafouri grew up near Tehran and in Naghadeh, in the West Azerbaijan province in Iran. Her family moved to Stockholm as refugees in the 1980s. She studied medicine at the University of Pecs in Hungary and at Umea University in northern Sweden.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, she designed and conducted one of the first epidemiological surveys on risk factors faced by conflict-zone survivors.

Dr. Ghafouri engaged in wide-ranging relief efforts in recent years, including missions to Iran to help earthquake survivors. But her primary focus since 2014 had been dealing with the humanitarian crisis created by the ISIS takeover. Even after escaping ISIS, Yazidis were left for months with no shelter and no coordinated relief operations. Seven years later, more than 150,000 remain in displacement camps.

“She didn’t think it would last for so many years, but the more involved she got, she couldn’t leave them alone without any help,” Nazdar Ghafouri said of her sister. “She saw the disaster beyond the first emergency — food, water, medicine. Then she saw the catastrophe — all the life stories behind every tragedy.”

In addition to her sister, Dr. Ghafouri is survived by her mother; five more sisters, Nergiz, Neshmil, Shilan, Chinar and Bijar Ghafouri; and three brothers, Diari, Ari and Karwan.

Dr. Ghafouri was evacuated to Sweden after contracting Covid-19 during the mission to reunite the mothers and children. On a ventilator, as her oxygen dropped to dangerously low levels, she continued to post political messages on Twitter before she was transported.

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In Orban’s Hungary, Some ‘Migrants’ Are Treated With Reverence

BUDAPEST — Ever since migrants from the Middle East, the Balkans and Africa began trickling over Hungary’s borders in early 2015, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has made a name for himself as a firebrand populist by demonizing them.

But there are limits to disparaging migrants in Mr. Orban’s Hungary.

A prominent journalist discovered that last week when Hungary’s Supreme Court ruled that he had offended the dignity of the nation by describing nomadic Magyar tribesmen known for their raids across Europe a millennium ago as “stinking” migrants. The Magyars settled in the region that has become modern Hungary, and have long been a touchstone of Hungarian nationalism.

The reference to the Magyars was in a 2018 opinion piece by Arpad W. Tota published by HVG, a current affairs weekly that is one of the few remaining independent online and print news sources in Hungary. In the article, Mr. Tota lambasted Hungarian prosecutors for not pursuing an alleged case of corruption involving European Union-funded projects and a member of Mr. Orban’s family. Hungarian law enforcement officials said they found no evidence of wrongdoing.

The court ordered the removal of the text and a public apology from HVG and awarded damages of around $1,000 to two private citizens who initiated the lawsuit.

Hungarians Don’t Steal, They Go on Adventures,” playing on the word in Hungarian for “adventures,” which can also imply the act of raiding.

Mr. Tota said he wanted to make the point that Hungary no longer had the rule of law under Mr. Orban, who has an iron grip on the country’s politics and has steadily eroded the independence of the justice system. That meant, he said, that liberal Europe needed to be firm in addressing corruption in Hungary.

To make his point, he used the allegory of what he referred to as the “stinking Magyar migrants,” or “bandits,” who were eventually confronted and defeated by German forces at the Battle of Lechfeld in A.D. 955. It was there, Mr. Tota said in the article, that European “knights with broadswords” dismissed the Magyars’ “rules of the game and illiberal worldview.”

Upholding a lower court’s decision that the article had caused injury to the dignity of the Hungarian nation, the high court took issue with the words “stinking” and “Magyar bandits,” also making note of the pejorative connotation carried by the word “migrants.”

Tamas Gaudi-Nagy, a former far-right politician, and the attorney representing the two plaintiffs in the case, Zoltan Degi and Laszlo Racz Szabo, said in a TV interview on Friday that such “hurtful, insulting, and unacceptable” language had injured the dignity of his clients as members of the Hungarian nation, because national consciousness was so closely tied to the legacy of the Magyar tribes.

Mr. Tota disagreed, saying that the court either “became very lost in the labyrinth of literary comprehension,” or “they had the ruling before they came up with the reasoning.”

The lawsuit against Mr. Tota was a landmark case that built on two legal provisions adopted during Mr. Orban’s tenure that give legal recourse to Hungarians who feel their national identity has come under assault.

Petra Bard, a professor and researcher of E.U. law at Central European University in Budapest and Vienna, said that the law set a dangerous precedent that could be broadly applied to journalists whose writings on politics were deemed provocative.

“There is certainly a danger of it having a chilling effect,” Professor Bard said.

Kata Nehez-Posony, HVG’s lawyer, said the publisher was still deciding whether to appeal the decision.

Mr. Tota also said that a recent initiative by the European Union, of which Hungary is a member, to tie funding from the bloc to the rule of law was a welcome one.

“It’s not knights with broadswords, but here we definitely see some pressure,” he said. Asked if he knew the two plaintiffs who initiated the lawsuit, Mr. Tota said he didn’t. “They’re probably adventurous Magyars,” he added.

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Russia Trumpets Coronavirus Vaccine Exports, While Quietly Importing Doses

MOSCOW — Russia has lauded with much fanfare the arrival of its homegrown vaccine, Sputnik V, in Latin America and Africa, and even in some countries in Europe, calling it a solution to shortages around the world.

It has been less vocal, though, about one country that is also importing the vaccine: Russia.

The Russian government has contracted out the manufacture of Sputnik V to a South Korean company that has already sent the vaccine to Russia, and plans to do the same with a company from India.

While the scale of the imports are impossible to gauge because of nondisclosure agreements, they undermine some of the narrative Russia has proudly presented about its role in the pandemic as an exporter of vaccines to needy countries.

The imports, which are expected to ramp up in coming weeks and months, could help Russia overcome a dismally slow vaccination rollout at home. They also illustrate that even countries whose scientists designed successful shots rely on cross border trade for vaccine supplies.

said last fall that overseas manufacturing could partly meet demand at home, but have since gone quiet about importing a product that has been held up as a triumph of the country’s scientists. Manufacturing the vaccine in Russia, however, has been a different story.

Russia received two cargo planes loaded with Sputnik V from the South Korean manufacturer, GL Rapha, in December and the company expects to send another shipment in coming days. Indian vaccine makers are also expected to export the Russian-designed vaccine to Russia, according to Indian diplomats.

“We face the prospect of increasing this cooperation in the field of vaccines,” India’s ambassador to Russia, Shri Varma, said at a news conference in January. “We envisage a major rolling out of Sputnik vaccine in India, using the Indian production capacities for India, for Russia and for the entire world.”

Russia has four production deals in India. One Indian company, Virchow Biotech in Hyderabad, India, last week signed a manufacturing deal with Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, to make 200 million doses a year of Sputnik V.

struggled for months last fall to obtain biotechnology equipment that is made in China, and was in short supply.

said that enough Sputnik V to fully inoculate 8.9 million people had been distributed in Russia since regulators approved the drug last August. Russia’s minister of industry said Monday he expected a quick ramp-up by April to twice that amount every month.

Russia’s vaccination campaign has fallen far behind that of most European nations and the United States. Russia has vaccinated 4.4 percent of its population, compared to 10 percent in the European Union and 26 percent in the United States.

The Kremlin this past week for the first time acknowledged that scarcity of the vaccine played a role in Mr. Putin’s decision to delay his own inoculation to avoid stimulating demand for shots before they became widely available outside the capital.

In January, when Mr. Putin became eligible for a shot under Russian rules based on his age, “production was not yet sufficient to fully meet demand in the regions,” said his spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov.

It’s not clear how large a role the imports will play in alleviating scarcity, accelerating vaccinations and saving lives in Russia. But it positions Russia lower in the pecking order of vaccine geopolitics, as an importer rather than just an exporter.

Russian officials have chosen to highlight exports, however. “A vaccine for all humankind,” the Sputnik V website declares. State media has lavished attention on even relatively small shipments of tens or hundreds of thousands of doses to foreign countries.

held back from export nearly all of the 2.4 million doses manufactured by a private company, the Serum Institute of India, as the number of infections from the coronavirus shot up across the country. The European Union also moved on emergency legislation to curb vaccine exports, a change that could limit British imports of the AstraZeneca vaccine designed at Oxford University from producers in the bloc.

President Emmanuel Macron of France said it was the “the end of naïveté” for the European Union, which has significant production capacity but had been exporting doses despite rapidly rising cases within the bloc.

The United States and Britain have both imported domestically designed vaccines made in foreign countries. The United States has done so while prohibiting some exports of U.S.-made doses abroad.

Russia imported the South Korean-produced Sputnik V in December as it expanded the categories of people eligible for vaccination. The doses arrived in two Asiana Airlines cargo planes, according to an announcement by the airline, which was touting its cold shipment service.

In written answers to questions, GL Rapha, the Korean manufacturer, said it could not discuss shipments because of the nondisclosure agreement.

The company said it expects to produce 150 million doses of Sputnik V this year. The Russian Direct Investment Fund did not respond to questions about imports to Russia.

Oleg Matsnev contributed research.

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Russia Trumpets Vaccine Exports, While Quietly Importing Doses

MOSCOW — Russia has lauded with much fanfare the arrival of its homegrown vaccine, Sputnik V, in Latin America and Africa, and even in some countries in Europe, calling it a solution to shortages around the world.

It has been less vocal, though, about one country that is also importing the vaccine: Russia.

The Russian government has contracted out the manufacture of Sputnik V from a South Korean company that has already sent the vaccine to Russia, and plans to do the same with a company from India.

While the scale of the imports are impossible to gauge because of nondisclosure agreements, they undermine some of the narrative Russia has proudly presented about its role in the pandemic as an exporter of vaccines to needy countries.

The imports, which are expected to ramp up in coming weeks and months, could help Russia overcome a dismally slow vaccination rollout at home. They also illustrate that even countries whose scientists designed successful shots rely on cross border trade for vaccine supplies.

said last fall that overseas manufacturing could partly meet demand at home, but have since gone quiet about importing a product that has been held up as a triumph of the country’s scientists. Manufacturing the vaccine in Russia, however, has been a different story.

Russia received two cargo planes loaded with Sputnik V from the South Korean manufacturer, GL Rapha, in December and the company expects to send another shipment in coming days. Indian vaccine makers are also expected to export the Russian-designed vaccine to Russia, according to Indian diplomats.

“We face the prospect of increasing this cooperation in the field of vaccines,” India’s ambassador to Russia, Shri Varma, said at a news conference in January. “We envisage a major rolling out of Sputnik vaccine in India, using the Indian production capacities for India, for Russia and for the entire world.”

Russia has four production deals in India. One Indian company, Virchow Biotech in Hyderabad, India, last week signed a manufacturing deal with Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, to make 200 million doses a year of Sputnik V.

struggled for months last fall to obtain biotechnology equipment that is made in China, and was in short supply.

said that enough Sputnik V to fully inoculate 8.9 million people had been distributed in Russia since regulators approved the drug last August. Russia’s minister of industry said Monday he expected a quick ramp-up by April to twice that amount every month.

Russia’s vaccination campaign has fallen far behind that of most European nations and the United States. Russia has vaccinated 4.4 percent of its population, compared to 10 percent in the European Union and 26 percent in the United States.

The Kremlin this past week for the first time acknowledged that scarcity of the vaccine played a role in Mr. Putin’s decision to delay his own inoculation to avoid stimulating demand for shots before they became widely available outside the capital.

In January, when Mr. Putin became eligible for a shot under Russian rules based on his age, “production was not yet sufficient to fully meet demand in the regions,” said his spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov.

It’s not clear how large a role the imports will play in alleviating scarcity, accelerating vaccinations and saving lives in Russia. But it positions Russia lower in the pecking order of vaccine geopolitics, as an importer rather than just an exporter.

Russian officials have chosen to highlight exports, however. “A vaccine for all humankind,” the Sputnik V website declares. State media has lavished attention on even relatively small shipments of tens or hundreds of thousands of doses to foreign countries.

held back from export nearly all of the 2.4 million doses manufactured by a private company, the Serum Institute of India, as the number of infections from the coronavirus shot up across the country. The European Union also moved on emergency legislation to curb vaccine exports, a change that could limit British imports of the AstraZeneca vaccine designed at Oxford University from producers in the bloc.

President Emmanuel Macron of France said it was the “the end of naïveté” for the European Union, which has significant production capacity but had been exporting doses despite rapidly rising cases within the bloc.

The United States and Britain have both imported domestically designed vaccines made in foreign countries. The United States has done so while prohibiting some exports of U.S.-made doses abroad.

Russia imported the South Korean-produced Sputnik V in December as it expanded the categories of people eligible for vaccination. The doses arrived in two Asiana Airlines cargo planes, according to an announcement by the airline, which was touting its cold shipment service.

In written answers to questions, GL Rapha, the Korean manufacturer, said it could not discuss shipments because of the nondisclosure agreement.

The company said it expects to produce 150 million doses of Sputnik V this year. The Russian Direct Investment Fund did not respond to questions about imports to Russia.

Oleg Matsnev contributed research.

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Blinken’s Welcome by NATO Doesn’t Hide Differences on Key Issues

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken sought to smooth alliance feathers ruffled by the previous U.S. administration on a trip to NATO and the European Union this week, but his diplomatic calm did not completely mask deep-seated issues.

Mr. Blinken appeared to hit all the right soothing notes, talking of the American desire to “revitalize the alliance” and consult and coordinate with America’s Western allies “wherever and whenever we can.” He met with the E3 — the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany — and those of the Visegrad Four — Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. He met with his Baltic colleagues.

He praised NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who has faced internal criticism for his sometimes awkward efforts to flatter former President Donald J. Trump and keep him from blowing up the alliance with bombastic threats. Mr. Blinken also offered nice words for embattled European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the bloc’s foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell Fontelles.

And he scheduled meetings with his Belgian counterpart and a virtual thank-you to the staff of the three American embassies in Brussels.

the troop withdrawal agreement it struck with the Taliban last year is coming due. A decision is coming soon, and “in together, adjust together and, when the time is right, leave together” remains the NATO position, even if it is becoming clearer that the original withdrawal deadline of May 1 is likely to slip by several months.

Mr. Blinken said that he had provided NATO colleagues “the president’s thinking.” But just as important, he insisted, were their views, which he had shared with the White House Tuesday night, he said.

“We will consult with our friends, early and often,’’ he said, describing it as “a change from the past that our allies are already seeing.’’

He gave no indication of when a decision on how many troops to withdraw, and when, might be coming. But it seemed clear that Washington and NATO will want to give time, perhaps as much as six months, for a new effort at getting the Afghan government and the Taliban to reach a power-sharing government. The risk is that after May 1, the originally agreed date for American troops to leave, the Taliban will renew attacks on NATO forces.

China is also an undercurrent of strain. European allies are reluctant to be pushed into an American-led confrontation with China. Those countries, and especially large export-driven economies like Germany, are more dependent on China for trade.

But Mr. Blinken promised that “the United States won’t force our allies into an ‘us-or-them’ choice with China,” despite Beijing’s “coercive behavior,” he said, that “threatens our collective security and prosperity” and its efforts “to undercut the rules of the international system and the values we and our allies share.”

At the same time, Mr. Blinken said, Washington would seek to work with China on issues like climate change and health security, and do the same with Russia, despite its own aggressive actions, on nuclear arms control, “strategic stability” and climate.

And then there is the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline, a Russia-owned project that will take Russian gas to Germany, bypassing Ukraine and Poland. Mr. Biden has made no secret of his opposition to the pipeline and his intention to follow legal requirements to impose sanctions on any company or institution that aids in its construction.

Mr. Blinken repeated that position to Foreign Minister Heiko Maas of Germany at the start of their bilateral meeting. At the same time, he emphasized that Germany is among America’s most important allies, that the pipeline is “an irritant in an rock-solid alliance,’’ and that Germany has some choices to make.

On Iran, Mr. Blinken insisted that the E3, participants in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, were aligned with Washington in demanding that Iran make the first move to restore compliance with it. Mr. Blinken said that Washington remained open to restart diplomatic talks with the Iranians on nuclear issues, but that “the ball is in their court.’’ Iran has rejected that stance, arguing that the United States abandoned the deal under Mr. Trump, reimposing harsh sanctions, and should remove them first.

Mr. Blinken also encouraged NATO allies to continue to spend more on defense as they have promised, saying that a more modern and adaptable NATO needs more resources. “When our allies shoulder their fair share of the burden, they will have a fair say in the decisions,’’ he said.

But he also had a veiled warning for NATO allies who are regressing in democratic practices, like Hungary, Poland and Turkey. Without naming them, he said, “some of our allies are moving in the wrong direction.” NATO allies must “all speak up when countries take steps that undermine democracy and human rights,’’ he said.

He further warned that to maintain and sustain American support, the alliance must also serve American interests.

“We can’t build a foreign policy that delivers for the American people without maintaining effective alliances,’’ he said. “And we can’t sustain effective alliances without showing how they deliver for the American people.’’

Of course the other 29 countries in the alliance have voters, too. But this week’s visit was about restoration and revival, not open criticism.

As Mr. Stoltenberg said: “We have now a unique opportunity to start a new chapter in the trans-Atlantic relationship,” adding: “Secretary Blinken, Tony, once again welcome to NATO. You are here not just among allies, but also among friends.’’

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Election Day in Israel: Live Updates

reneged on a main election promise and joined forces with Mr. Netanyahu to form an uneasy unity government after last year’s election.

After a highly successful career as a journalist and popular television host, Mr. Lapid was the surprise of the 2013 election when his party surpassed expectations and placed second, turning him into the chief power broker in the formation of the coalition.

His father, Yosef Lapid, a Holocaust survivor and an abrasive, antireligious politician, also headed a centrist party and served as justice minister. His mother, Shulamit Lapid, is a well-known novelist.

An amateur boxer known for his casual chic black clothing, Mr. Lapid rode to power on the back of the social justice protests of 2011 by giving voice to Israel’s struggling middle class.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has stuck to the middle ground, presenting safe positions within the Israeli Jewish consensus.

Likud party election campaign banners of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on election day.
Credit…Tsafrir Abayov/Associated Press

As Israeli voters filed to the polls on Tuesday, there was little of the usual festival-of-democracy talk.

Instead a pall of fatigue, cynicism and déjà vu seemed to hang over an election after three contests failed to bring some semblance of political stability.

“The only one excited about going out to vote today is our dog, who is getting an extra walk this morning,” said Gideon Zehavi, 54, a psychologist from Rehovot in central Israel.

Amid concerns of low voter turnout, the Central Elections Committee reported that 42.3 percent of the electorate had cast ballots by 4 p.m., compared with 47 percent by the same time in last year’s election. But the 4 p.m. turnout rate was only slightly behind that of the previous two elections in 2019.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a traditional visit to the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites, on Monday night and put a handwritten note in a crack between the huge stones. “I pray for an election victory for the sake of the state of Israel and the economy of Israel,” he wrote.

His main opponent, Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the opposition, said after voting on Tuesday, “This is the moment of truth for the state of Israel.”

Elad Shnezik, 24, a foreign-exchange trader from Tzur Hadassah, a suburb of Jerusalem, said he had voted for Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, as he has always done. “There is no other leader here who can replace him at his high level, with his qualities and abilities,” Mr. Shnezik said.

He said he was not bothered that Mr. Netanyahu is standing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. “No person is completely pure,” he said.

Shai Komarov, 30, a yoga teacher in Jerusalem, said he was voting for the predominantly Arab Joint List. “There needs to be a major change in the agenda,” he said. He had switched between parties on the left “one or two elections ago,” he said. “It’s getting hard to keep track.”

But he added: “Anyone who has been indicted should not be prime minister. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Negina Abrahamov, 45, from Ramle, another city in central Israel, said she did not plan to vote this time. “I struggled with myself over voting the last three times,” she said, “and every government that was formed after the elections failed me and failed the purpose for which it was formed.”

With opinion polls indicating a possible continuation of the gridlock that has led to the recurring elections, Albert Sombrero, 33, another voter from Rehovot, said, “I feel like we will be meeting again six months from now.”

Isabel Kershner, Gabby SobelmanIrit Pazner Garshowitz and

Rahamim Havura casting his vote inside an intensive care ward for coronavirus patients at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
Credit…Oded Balilty/Associated Press

A third more ballot boxes than usual. Fifty extra mobile voting stations that can be deployed to avoid overcrowding. Separate polling stations in health clinics and drive-in tent compounds for infected or quarantined voters. Ballot boxes placed inside nursing homes.

These are some of the precautions taken by Israel’s Central Elections Committee as the country holds its fourth election in two years, and its first amid the pandemic.

The goal, the committee said, was “to give every citizen the right to vote while taking all possible measures to protect public health.”

Israel does not allow voting by mail, and only diplomats or service members abroad can cast absentee ballots, so the pandemic has complicated the electoral process — and could affect the outcome.

Israelis do not have to declare their vaccination status to go out and vote. But with the majority of Israel’s over-18s already fully vaccinated in a rapid inoculation campaign that has outpaced the rest of the world and with infection rates dropping dramatically, for many in the country the risk of contracting the virus has faded as an issue.

The pandemic has featured strongly in the political campaigning. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken personal credit for procuring millions of vaccine doses and has claimed victory over the virus. His government opened up the economy, including restaurants, cultural events and nightlife, in the days and weeks before the election.

Mr. Netanyahu’s detractors have focused on the more than 6,000 Israeli lives lost to the virus and blame him for putting his political and personal interests ahead of the public’s in his earlier handling of the crisis.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled this month that daily quotas for incoming flights must be lifted, in part to allow Israeli citizens stranded abroad to come back in time to vote. A ballot box was even placed at the airport. But more Israelis were registered to fly out of the country on Tuesday than to return to vote.

A demonstration against an Israeli settlement near Nablus in the occupied West Bank this month. The prospect of a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians remains dim, regardless of the Israeli election outcome.
Credit…Alaa Badarneh/EPA, via Shutterstock

Whether it ends in a victory or loss for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or yet another muddle, analysts believe the election will have few major consequences for Israeli foreign policy or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israelis across the political spectrum share broad agreement about what they see as the threat posed by Iran. They share widespread resistance to an attempt by the Biden administration to return to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which many saw as ineffective. And efforts to normalize relations with once-hostile Arab states, a process started by Mr. Netanyahu, are likely to continue under any successor.

All potential Israeli administrations would also oppose efforts by the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israeli leaders for alleged war crimes in the occupied territories. And even with a change of government, the prospect of a final status agreement with the Palestinians remains dim. Two of Mr. Netanyahu’s potential successors oppose the creation of a Palestinian state and have expressed support for annexing some or all of the West Bank.

There would be little change “in terms of policy,” said Dahlia Scheindlin, a political analyst and pollster based in Tel Aviv. “It’s maybe a difference of tone.”

Mr. Netanyahu picked fights with President Barack Obama and sought alliances with right-wing nationalists like Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and President Donald J. Trump.

But Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the opposition who is Mr. Netanyahu’s closest challenger, would see himself in the same light as other moderate world leaders, like President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, said Dr. Scheindlin.

“He sees himself as a centrist, pragmatic, cooperative believer in the international system,” she added. “As long as it doesn’t come for Israel.”

Keen to cultivate a statesmanlike aura, Gideon Saar, one of the prime minister’s main right-wing rivals, has promised to be more constructive in dealing with the United States than Mr. Netanyahu was during the Obama administration.

And while he opposes a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal, Mr. Saar would likely disagree with Mr. Netanyahu about “the feasibility of catalyzing a regime change in Tehran,” said Ofer Zalzberg, the director of the Middle East Program at the Herbert C. Kelman Institute, a Jerusalem-based research group.

Likud supporters campaigned for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem last week. Mr. Netanyahu will remain caretaker prime minister during negotiations.
Credit…Ammar Awad/Reuters

The final results from Tuesday’s election will likely take several days to tally, and it may be weeks or even months more before coalition negotiations allow for the formation of a new government.

Israel’s Central Elections Committee hopes near-final results will be released by Friday afternoon, when much of the country shuts down to observe the Sabbath.

But legally the committee has until March 31 to submit the complete results to President Reuven Rivlin, and the process may be delayed by the Passover holiday, which begins on Saturday evening.

After the election results become clear, Mr. Rivlin will give a lawmaker four weeks to try to establish a coalition. He usually gives that mandate to the leader of the party that won the highest number of seats, which is likely to be Mr. Netanyahu. But he could grant it to another lawmaker, like Mr. Lapid, if he believes that person has a better chance at assembling a viable coalition.

Under the Israeli system, any party that wins more than 3.25 percent of the vote can enter Parliament. That allows for a wider range of voices in Parliament, but makes it harder to form coalitions and gives smaller parties outsized influence in the formation of government.

At any point, a majority of lawmakers could vote to dissolve Parliament again, forcing yet another election.

If the first nominated lawmaker’s efforts break down, the president can give a second candidate another four weeks to form a government. If that process also stalls, Parliament itself can nominate a third candidate to give it a go. If that person fails, Parliament dissolves and another election is called.

In the meantime, Mr. Netanyahu will remain caretaker prime minister. If somehow no government is formed by November, Defense Minister Benny Gantz might still succeed him. Last April, Mr. Gantz and Mr. Netanyahu agreed to a power-sharing deal that was enshrined into Israeli law. It stipulated that Mr. Gantz would become prime minister in November 2021.

But if Mr. Gantz loses his seat in Parliament before November, it is unclear whether he would be permitted to assume the premiership.

Naftali Bennett has had a long and fraught relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Naftali Bennett, the leader of the boutique right-wing Yamina party and an energetic political mover and shaker, has emerged as the potential kingmaker in the formation of Israel’s next governing coalition.

Mr. Bennett, 48, has had a long and fraught relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since a stint as his chief of staff ended in acrimony more than a decade ago. A sharp critic of some of Mr. Netanyahu’s policies, Mr. Bennett has sat in several Netanyahu-led governments as a minister as well as serving in the opposition.

Throughout this election campaign, Mr. Bennett presented himself as a challenger for the premiership, despite the modest size of his party.

He called for change but said he would not sit in an alternative government led by Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the opposition. Mr. Bennett says his goal is to form an alternative right-wing government. But he has also not ruled out sitting with Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, who is standing trial on corruption charges.

Mr. Bennett could help tip the balance for Mr. Netanyahu after two years of political gridlock by handing him the support he needs for a majority of at least 61 in the 120-seat Parliament.

In return Mr. Bennett and his partner in Yamina, Ayelet Shaked, would likely demand senior ministerial posts.

Mr. Bennett could also end up supporting an alternative coalition including Yair Lapid, the centrist leader of the opposition, and Gideon Saar, another right-wing rival and former minister who recently quit Mr. Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party. But that would likely involve complicated coalition agreements for a rotating premiership and support from smaller parties with clashing agendas.

Maintaining opacity this weekend, Mr. Bennett wrote on Twitter: “Netanyahu claims that I will go with Gideon and Lapid; Gideon and Lapid claim that I will sit with Netanyahu. The truth is that Yamina will do what is best for Israel: We will prevent them from dragging us to fifth elections.”

He then signed a pledge, live on a right-wing television channel, vowing not to sit in a Lapid-led government. Analysts said the move had severely reduced his leverage and essentially meant that he had thrown in his lot with Mr. Netanyahu.

The final results of the election may not be in for days, and any number of permutations could change the outcome.

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20,000 White Crosses: Marking Covid’s Toll in Central and Eastern Europe

PRAGUE — More than 20,000 white crosses have appeared painted on the cobblestones of a medieval square in central Prague, each representing a victim of Covid-19 — an effort highlighting the ravages of a pandemic that has in recent weeks battered Eastern and Central Europe.

Like many countries in the region, the Czech Republic weathered the first wave of the coronavirus early last year far better than Italy and many other nations in Western Europe. But it has since suffered one of the world’s highest Covid death rates and has struggled over the past month to contain a new wave of infections.

Hungary — whose far-right populist leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, last year boasted of his government’s response to the pandemic — is also experiencing record death rates, with over 4,000 fatalities this past month.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and other countries in the region lifted pandemic restrictions last summer after successful initial efforts to the contain the virus. But with cases and deaths climbing in recent weeks, they are now scrambling to reverse the damage.

Serbia, Europe’s best vaccinator after Britain, has seen infection rates spike sharply in recent weeks, prompting the authorities to impose new partial lockdowns.

the European Union’s stumbling efforts to order and distribute vaccines, the Czech government has sought to get its infection and death rate down by imposing some of Europe’s toughest restrictions.

After a three-week lockdown with shops and schools closed, obligatory testing of employees by companies and restrictions on movement, the number of Covid-10 patients entering hospital has started to drop. That has slowly eased the burden on hospitals that were last month at the limit of their capacity, and Czech hospitals now report that 12 percent of beds in their intensive care unit are unoccupied.

Petr Smejkal, the chief epidemiologist at Prague’s Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, blamed what he described as a series of misjudgments by the authorities for his country’s bleak record.

“Firstly, we missed the beginning of the second wave and failed to contain the surge of infections at the end of the summer,” he said. “Secondly, we relaxed restrictions before Christmas, and thirdly, we insufficiently tracked the British mutation at the beginning of January.”

“Sadly, the government did not listen to its experts,” he added.

The Hungarian government had been particularly resistant to the advice of experts who called for greater vigilance in response to the crisis. It has instead sought public opinion on the issue of reopening via an online questionnaire.

A report by Politico this month found that Hungary, despite having Russian, Chinese and Western vaccines, had one of the lowest coronavirus inoculation rates in the European Union.

vaccines and medical equipment.

“Obviously, it would be much more effective to involve the municipalities” in the vaccine rollout, Mr. Karacsony said. “But they won’t do it, because they don’t want the opposition to capitalize on it.”

Hana de Goeij reported from Prague, and Benjamin Novak from Budapest. Andrew Higgins contributed reporting from Warsaw.

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