RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels said they attacked a major Saudi Arabian oil port on the Persian Gulf with drones and missiles on Sunday. Saudi authorities said the strike caused no casualties or damage.
The Saudi Energy Ministry said an assault “coming from the sea” had targeted petroleum tanks at the Ras Tanura port. It condemned what it called “repeated acts of sabotage and hostility” targeting energy supplies to the world.
“All indications point to Iran,” said an adviser to the Saudi royal court who said he was briefed on the matter. He said it wasn’t clear whether the origin was Iran or Iraq but that it hadn’t come from the direction of Yemen.
Iranian officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. An Iraqi official said he was unaware of any connection between his country and the attack.
Oil prices rose after the market opened Sunday evening in New York following the attack. Brent crude, the global gauge of oil prices, added more than 2.5% and rose above $71 a barrel. Prices have surged to their highest level since May 2019, lifted by rising demand as the global economy reopens from shutdowns designed to stop the coronavirus and supply curtailments around the world.
In 2019, a drone and missile attack on the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry temporarily shut down half the kingdom’s crude production. At the time, the Houthis claimed responsibility, but the U.S. said the attack was launched from Iraq or Iran, which denied the accusations.
Yahya Saree, spokesman for Houthi forces fighting the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen, said the group on Sunday used 10 drones and a ballistic missile in an attack on Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, as well as four drones and six missiles aimed at the southern Saudi regions of Asir and Jazan.
The Houthis have stepped up aerial attacks on Saudi Arabia following the inauguration in January of President Biden, who has pledged to end the six-year-old civil war in Yemen and recalibrate Washington’s relationship with Riyadh.
The Biden administration has said it wants to re-enter the 2015 nuclear deal and then negotiate a deeper, broader agreement with Tehran that also addresses Iran’s military posture and activities in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition that intervened in the conflict in Yemen, which now faces one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The coalition launched a new round of airstrikes on the capital Sanaa earlier Sunday, warning that targeting civilians in Saudi Arabia was “a red line.”
Hussein Nasser, a father of two living in Sanaa, said the coalition bombardment of a nearby military base shattered the windows in dozens of homes in his neighborhood, injuring several people. “Five airstrikes at the same time while people and their kids were having lunch,” he said.
Following the incident at Ras Tanura, the port was operating as normal, according to several shipping sources. “Loadings are continuing normally,” said a manager at a shipping agency there who declined to be named. He wasn’t aware of any distribution center being hit.
Ras Tanura is the site of Saudi Aramco’s oldest and largest oil refinery and the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility. The 550,000 barrel-a-day refinery supplies over a quarter of the kingdom’s fuel supply.
Shrapnel from a ballistic missile, which the Houthis said they had fired at military targets in nearby Dammam, fell near Aramco’s residential area in neighboring Dhahran, the Saudi statement said.
An Aramco employee living in the area said he saw two projectiles intercepted overhead by Saudi air defenses, which rely heavily on U.S. Patriot antimissile systems. Nearby residents reported the windows of their homes had trembled or even shattered from the blasts.
Images shared on social media showed bright blasts of light in the sky above Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province and later a plume of white smoke.
—Benoit Faucon, Saleh al-Batati and Amrith Ramkumar contributed to this article.
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Pope Francis’s three-day visit to Iraq was a boon to the diminishing Christian community, a boost for the beleaguered Iraqi government — and a possible health hazard, as many participants found social distancing impossible and disregarded masks.
The trip, the first papal visit to the country,came at a vulnerable time. Iraq reported record daily highs of more than 5,000 infections this week, and its leaders have implemented curfews. The country’s vaccination campaign began only last week, and many Iraqis are wary of government health programs, so few in the population of nearly 40 million have received even a single shot.
The pope and his entourage were vaccinated, and the Vatican had dismissed fears that large events during the trip might spread the virus, saying that precautions would be taken to minimize risk.
But Iraqis are generally unaccustomed to wearing masks and many live and work in crowded conditions, so they are also unused to social distancing. When they gathered in large numbers to see the pope,mask-wearing was far from universal.
The virus is far more easily transmitted indoors than outdoors, but most Iraqis wrongly believe that there is no outdoor transmission at all. In some cities where the pope appeared, thousands of people jammed together in the streets to await his arrival. At services, choirs were generally unmasked.
At a Mass in the town of Qaraqosh, about half the congregation was unmasked. Another service, on Sunday, was held in a stadium in Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdistan regional capital. Church officials had said that about 5,000 tickets would be distributed, but Kurdish television reported that about 10,000 people attended.
In the streets of Ankawa, the Christian enclave of Erbil, thousands of people holding flowers and olive branches stood behind plastic tape strung between barriers, hoping to catch a glimpse of the pope as he drove to the stadium. Musicians played drums and flutes as children danced on the sidewalk.
The pope himself was sometimes masked, sometimes not. He did not wear one when first arriving in Baghdad.Photos and a brief video of a meeting with one of Iraq’s most revered and vulnerable residents, 90-year-old Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, showed neither the pope nor the Shiite cleric masked.
Ayatollah Sistani has not been vaccinated, with his office saying he wants to make sure others have access first. He has declared the vaccine religiously permissible.
In an extraordinary moment on the last full day of the first papal trip to Iraq, Francis went to Mosul, which was seized by the Islamic State seven years ago and declared the capital of its caliphate. The pope directly addressed the suffering, persecution and sectarian conflict that have torn the nation apart.
“The real identity of this city is that of harmonious coexistence between people of different backgrounds and cultures,” Francis said in a public square surrounded by the ruins of four Christian churches. Posters that read “Mosul Welcomes You” covered walls pockmarked with bullet holes.
The pope spoke of “our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than death, that peace more powerful than war.” “This conviction speaks with greater eloquence than the passing voices of hatred and violence,” he continued, “and it can never be silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction.”
The visit, which began on Friday, is Francis’s first trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The pope has sought to protect an ancient but battered Christian community and build relations with the Muslim world. On Saturday, he met with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the revered Shiite cleric. We captured key moments of the trip in these images.
a stadium in the northern city of Erbil. The 84-year-old pope and his entourage have been vaccinated against Covid-19, but Iraq’s vaccination campaign began only last week.
the broadest reopening of Israel’s economy since the first coronavirus lockdown began a year ago.
Under Israel’s “Back to Life” program, restaurants still have restrictions on occupancy and social distancing, and indoor seating is available only to Green Pass holders — people over 16 who are fully vaccinated.
latest updates and maps of the pandemic.
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As countries jostle to secure enough vaccine doses to end the Covid-19 pandemic, a second scramble is unfolding for syringes. A manufacturer in India sees a big opportunity.
The U.S. Senate passed its version of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill on Saturday. The measure now goes back to the House of Representatives, which must approve the Senate’s changes before it can go to President Biden’s desk.
one of the most anticipated, and most heavily spun, television interviews in recent memory.
Was Meghan the victim of a cold, unwelcoming family that isolated her after she married Harry and is now defaming her? Or was she a Hollywood diva who mistreated her staff?
The two-hour interview will be broadcast by CBS in the U.S. on Sunday evening and on ITV in Britain on Monday. Here’s what you need to know about Meghan, Harry and Oprah. We will have live coverage of the interview, so check back on our home page.
six places dependent on tourism, like Apollo Bay, have adapted.
Here’s what else is happening
Microsoft hack: The company said businesses and government agencies in the U.S. that use a Microsoft email service had been compromised in an aggressive hacking campaign probably sponsored by the Chinese government. The number of victims is estimated to be in the tens of thousands and could rise.
Philippines rights: Karapatan, a left-leaning human rights organization, accused the country’s security forces of killing nine activists in coordinated raids on their homes and offices in four provinces.
“Nomadland” director: Days after Chloé Zhao won a Golden Globe for the acclaimed film, she faced a backlash in China over her past remarks about the country, where she was born. References to the film’s scheduled April 23 release in China were removed from prominent movie websites.
Tehran detention: House arrest orders have been lifted forNazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman detained in Tehran since 2016, but she faces new charges and her return to London remains uncertain.
receiving his first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine on Saturday in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala. The 85-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader used the moment to encourage people to take the vaccine, saying it would prevent “some serious problem.”
What we’re reading: This National Geographic article about people who play music with instruments made of ice. Scroll down for the video, so you can hear ice music’s crisp sound.
Now, a break from the news
breakfast bars with oats and coconut are perfect for a breakfast on the run or an afternoon nibble.
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Start off your week on the right foot with our At Home collection of ideas on what to read, cook, watch and do while staying safe at home.
the renewed love affair of New Yorkers with Central Park. Here’s an excerpt.
Central Park has long provided a refuge from the anxieties and stresses of daily life, perhaps never more so than during the coronavirus siege and four long years of increasingly toxic politics. New Yorkers who visited the park every day, as well as those who had long taken it for granted, felt a renewed love for this amazing rectangle of green in the heart of the big city.
P.S. • We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is the first of a two-part series on President Biden’s approach to Saudi Arabia. • Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Z as in ___(five letters). You can find all our puzzles here. • The Times has a new team that is going to expand our live coverage, including Andrea Kannapell, who has been the editor of the Global Briefings, including this one, since their inception.
MOSUL, Iraq — After the Islamic State took control of Mosul seven years ago and declared it the capital of its caliphate, the terrorist group sought to strike fear deep into the West by vowing to conquer Rome.
But with the Islamic State pushed from the city, it was Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, who on Sunday came to Mosul. In an extraordinary moment on the last full day of the first papal trip to Iraq, Francis went to the wounded heart of the country, directly addressing the suffering, persecution and sectarian conflict that have torn the nation apart.
“Now Rome has come here,” Ghazwan Yousif Baho, a local priest who invited Francis to Mosul, said as he awaited the pope’s arrival. “He will bring his blessing to spread peace and brotherhood. It’s the beginning of a new era.”
Francis is the first to make the trip. In doing so, he has sought to protect an ancient but battered and shrunken Christian community, build relations with the Muslim world and reassert himself on the global stage after being grounded for more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
ISIS expelled those who remained. Only about 350 Christians have returned since ISIS was driven out in 2017 — almost all of them to the more prosperous east side, which suffered far less damage.
“I especially welcome, then, your invitation to the Christian community to return to Mosul,” said Francis, who has praised young volunteers, Muslim and Christian, working to rebuild churches and mosques.
“I am sure it will be a first step for them to come back,” said Anas Zeyad, a Muslim engineer who is part of an international project to rebuild the churches. He said that Christians who had fled the city “have memories, they have Muslim friends, they have homes here.”
After praying for the dead, and for the repentance of their killers, Francis, who suffers from sciatica and limps heavily, took a golf cart to the Syriac Catholic church that ISIS had used as a courthouse. On the way, he passed a cartoon mural of three girls at play, their faces blacked out. ISIS forbid depictions of people and animals.
“We were living here in Mosul, all together, Christians, Muslims,” said Rana Bazzoiee, 37, a pediatric surgeon, who fled Mosul in ahead of the ISIS takeover in 2014. She said that, while a semblance of normalcy had returned to the city, the pope’s visit could improve things further. “Why not?” she said. “We lived together for a long time in Mosul.”
In his whirlwind trip, Francis has sought to make significant progress in tightening bonds between his church and the Muslim world. On Saturday, the country’s most powerful and reclusive Shiite, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, met with the pope and released a statement stressing that Christian citizens deserved to “live like all Iraqis in security and peace and with full constitutional rights.”
Francis called for brotherhood at a meeting of minorities on the desert plains of Ur, what tradition holds is the homeland of Abraham, revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.
Two earlier popes had tried and failed to visit Christians in Iraq, but it was Francis, who as pontiff has prioritized reaching out to the marginalized and forgotten, who succeeded.
On Sunday afternoon, the faithful in Qaraqosh, the largest town of the Ninevah Plains that are Iraq’s Christian heartland, thanked him for it. They lined the streets outside the al-Tahira Syriac Catholic Church, clapping and ululating as his vehicle approached.
Residents of Qaraqosh have spent the past three months preparing the town for the pope’s arrival and the past four years repairing the damage done by ISIS. For many, Francis’ visit was a chance to celebrate the community’s survival.
A young priest holding a scarf danced in the street near the church while a group of white-robed nuns on a rooftop held brightly colored balloons. Women and girls wearing traditional Christian dress, with brightly colored wraps embroidered with scenes of church and home life, waved olive branches.
Hundreds crowded into the church, prompting one Vatican official to complain to Iraqi organizers that there was not sufficient space between people in the pews. Masks were often disregarded. But the coronavirus seemed the least of attendants’ worries.
Qaraqosh, just 20 miles from Mosul, was overtaken by the Islamic State in 2014 and held for three years before being liberated by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces. Its 50,000 residents fled when ISIS arrived, and those who returned found burned and looted houses and badly damaged churches. About half the pre-2014 population never came back.
ISIS had turned many homes into car bomb factories — including that of Edison Stefo, a school principal who was among the parishioners waiting in the church.
He said he hoped the pope’s visit would encourage Christians to return.
“This is like a dream,” Mr. Stefo said. “We feel like he is one of us — that he is from our area and knows what we went through.”
The pope ended the day by celebrating Mass at a stadium in Erbil. In the days leading up to the visit, as coronavirus infections spiked in Iraq and concerns grew about potential crowds, the Vatican insisted that all events would be socially distanced and safe.
But priests organized trips to the Mass, packing buses with parishioners. More than 10,000 people, many in white hats emblazoned with the pope’s face, entered the stadium. They hummed along with chants and expressed joy and relief that a pope had finally come to find them.
Calling himself “a pilgrim in your midst,” Francis concluded the last public event of his trip, which ends on Monday when he returns to Rome. “Today,” he said. “I can see at first hand that the church in Iraq is alive.”
Sangar Khaleel contributed reporting from Erbil, Iraq.
The US will do what it sees as necessary to defend its interests after a rocket attack this week against the Ain al-Sada airbase in Iraq, which hosts American, coalition and Iraqi forces, the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, said on Sunday.
Iraq to quickly investigate the incident at the base in the western Anbar province and determine who was responsible. US officials have said the incident fit the profile of a strike by Iran-backed militia.
“We’ll strike, if that’s what we think we need to do, at a time and place of our own choosing. We demand the right to protect our troops,” Austin said.
Asked if Iran had been given a message that US retaliation would not constitute an escalation, Austin said Iran was fully capable of assessing the strike and US activities.
“What they should draw from this, again, is that we’re going to defend our troops and our response will be thoughtful. It will be appropriate,” Austin said. “We would hope that they would choose to do the right things.“
There were no reports of injuries among US personnel after the attack but an American civilian contractor died after suffering a “cardiac episode” while sheltering from the rockets, the Pentagon said.
Iraqi officials said 10 rockets landed at the base but the Pentagon was more guarded, saying there were 10 “impacts”. It said the rockets appeared to have been fired from multiple sites east of the base, which was targeted last year by a ballistic missile attack directly from Iran.
In February, US forces carried out air strikes against facilities at a border control point in Syria used by Iranian-backed militias including Kata’ib Hezbollah and Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
QARAQOSH, Iraq— Pope Francis’s extraordinary visit to Iraq culminated on Sunday with dramatic gestures of support for the country’s besieged Christian minority, including visits to churches destroyed by Islamic State militants, and was due to end with Mass in a soccer stadium with 10,000 of the faithful.
The pope’s visit to Mosul came with deep emotional and political significance for Iraq and for the broader Middle East, highlighting the struggles of a city still rebuilding after years of brutality under Islamic State and destruction during the battle to liberate it.
In Mosul, the pope spoke against a backdrop of ruins in a section of the city where Islamic State seized one church and used it as a prison. The area’s churches were also destroyed during the battles to reclaim the city in 2016 and 2017.
“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people—Muslims, Christians, the Yazidis, who were cruelly annihilated by terrorism, and others—forcibly displaced or killed,” the pope said. “If God is the God of peace—for so he is—then it is wrong for us to wage war in his name.”
Islamic State conquered Mosul in 2014 as the extremist group swept across Iraq and Syria and launched a global campaign of terrorist attacks. It was in Mosul that the group’s former leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared the establishment of a caliphate, claiming the mantle of Islamic empires from history.
Once a city of more than a million people, Mosul was the largest population center captured by Islamic State, and was the heart of its experiment in harsh religious government. The organization blew up historic landmarks, drove out Christians, and committed genocide against the Yazidi religious minority, according to the United Nations.
An estimated 500,000 of Mosul’s residents, including more than 120,000 Christians, fled the Islamic State regime, whose record of destruction there includes the tomb of the Old Testament Prophet Jonah, thousands of books and rare manuscripts from the city’s library and part of the walls of ancient Nineveh.
Backed by U.S. and coalition air power, Iraqi forces reclaimed Mosul in 2017 after a nine-month battle that resulted in some of the most intense urban warfare since World War II. The battle left the city in ruins.
By visiting Mosul, Pope Francis called attention to the plight of a city that is still struggling to rebuild and where many residents feel neglected by the central government in Baghdad. Years after the liberation of the city, the reconstruction effort has been hampered by disorganization and a lack of resources.
The pope acknowledged Muslims who have helped their Christian neighbors resettle in Mosul, which he said showed that “the real identity of this city is that of harmonious coexistence between people of different backgrounds and cultures.”
After the ceremony, the pope inspected ruined churches and stopped to pray in silence in front of one of them.
The pope also visited a Catholic cathedral in Qaraqosh on the Nineveh Plain, the traditional heartland of Christianity in Iraq. The cathedral, which Islamic State forces used as a shooting range, is still being rebuilt. Since the 2017 defeat of Islamic State, Iran-backed militias and Kurdish security forces have hindered Christians and other minorities from resettling in the area. According to the Vatican, less than half of Qaraqosh’s pre-2014 population has returned to the city.
Iraq’s Christian population has dwindled from an estimated 1.4 million before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to 250,000 or fewer today. Many have emigrated to the U.S. or other Western countries. At Qaraqosh’s cathedral, Pope Francis appealed to them not to abandon their ancestral land.
“Now is the time to rebuild and to start afresh, relying on the grace of God, who guides the destinies of all individuals and peoples,” the pope said.
Later on Sunday, a Mass was due to take place in Erbil in the country’s northern autonomous region of Kurdistan, where more than one million Iraqis displaced from other parts of Iraq still reside years after the defeat of Islamic State. Tens of thousands of them are Christians, most of them living in Erbil.
—Nasir Sadiq in Erbil contributed to this article.
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UR, Iraq — First Pope Francis showed up at the modest residence of Iraq’s most reclusive, and powerful, Shiite religious cleric for a delicate and painstakingly negotiated summit. Hours later, he presided over a stage crowded with religious leaders on the windswept Plain of Ur, a vast and, now arid, expanse where the faithful believe God revealed himself to the Prophet Abraham, the patriarch of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.
In settings both intimate and theatrical, in gestures both concrete and symbolic, Pope Francis on Saturday sought to protect his persecuted flock by forging closer bonds between the Roman Catholic Church and the Muslim world, a mission that is a central theme of his papacy and of his historic trip to Iraq.
By meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf, Francis threaded a political needle, seeking an alliance with an extraordinarily influential Shiite cleric who, unlike his Iranian counterparts, believes that religion should not govern the state.
There is a fear among many Iraqi Christians, who as recently as the mid-20th century made up about 10 percent of the population, that they may face the same fate. Between 2003, the year of the U.S.-led invasion, and 2010, more than half of Iraq’s Christians left the country, leaving about 500,000 from a high of as possibly many as 1.4 million.
In 2014, the expansion of the Islamic State, or ISIS, led to more persecution and migration, and Christians today constitute little more than one percent of the population.
As strong winds across the Ur Plains lifted the red carpets in the air and blew sand over a small crowd and several empty seats, Francis made an unadulterated cry for peace and brotherly love. In doing so, he realized a dream harbored by John Paul II, who had tried to come here 20 years ago and “wept,” Francis has said, when political tensions forced him to cancel.
Francis argued that “the greatest blasphemy is to profane” God’s name “by hating our brothers and sisters.”
“Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion,” he added. “We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion; indeed, we are called unambiguously to dispel all misunderstandings.”
He referred to himself and the others as “descendants of Abraham and the representatives of different religions,” and said that, like “the great Patriarch, we need to take concretesteps” toward peace.
Later Saturday, Francis delivered a sermon at the Chaldean Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, invoking similar themes of common good. “Love is our strength,” he told the crowded congregation, and as he walked out of the cathedral people chanted, “Viva, viva Papa!”
Cardinal Louis Raphael I Sako called the pope’s visit “a turning point in Christian-Muslim relations.”
In 2019 in Abu Dhabi, Francis signed a joint declaration on human fraternity with Sunni leaders from Al-Azhar University and Mosque in Cairo, one of the major centers of Sunni Islamic learning. His efforts this time to add Shiites to the equation by meeting with Ayatollah Sistani in Shia-majority Iraq upset some Sunni officials.
A senior Iraqi official said the Pope agreed to a brief meeting Friday that had not been previously scheduled with Mohammed al-Halbousi, the speaker of Iraq’s Parliament and a Sunni Muslim Arab, to assuage the concerns of many in the sect that their concerns were being ignored. t. Vatican officials on Saturday evening confirmed the meeting took place.
But it was the Shiites who were Francis’ focus Saturday and the thrust of his trip, officially themed “You Are All Brothers.”
“It is a way to find again a deep sense of unity that must exist between these three religions and of the collaboration that must be created between members of these religions,” Cardinal Parolin said.
Najaf is the site of the tomb of Imam Ali, considered by Shiite Muslims the rightful successor to the Prophet Muhammad. The shrine was closed to pilgrims for the first time in years because of the pope’s visit.
The pope walked down an alley barely wide enough for his entourage near the ayatollah’s home. Makeshift electricity lines dangled from the houses, some with windows covered by bent metal bars. There was no cheering or singing. But in many ways the meeting between Francis and Iraq’s most revered Shiite cleric was one of the most critical aspects of the pontiff’s whirlwind tour of Iraq.
The two elders, Ayatollah Sistani, 90 and clad in black robes, and Francis, 84, in his white cassock, each the highest religious authority among their followers and both in stockinged feet — sat across from one another on a small table adorned with a tissue box. Neither was pictured wearing a mask. Francis is vaccinated. Ayatollah Sistani is not. His office said he believes vaccination is religiously permitted but he did not want to jump in front of others.
The Vatican, in its statement about the meeting, said the pope had thanked the cleric “for speaking up — together with the Shiite community — in defense of those most vulnerable and persecuted amid the violence and great hardships.”
The visit signaled to Shiite Muslim leaders that Christians are to be respected.
Although Ayatollah Sistani is Iranian-born, his pronouncements on Iraq carry great weight. He has been able to set elections in motion, and his withdrawal of support for Iraq’s previous prime minister, whom he felt was failing the people, left the prime minister little choice but to resign.
Ayatollah Sistani’s 2014 religious edict urging able-bodied men to join the security forces to combat the Islamic State group resulted in a recruiting boom for Shiite militias, many closely tied to Iran. But unlike his rival, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ayatollah Sistani believes in a separation between politics and religion — as long as politics does not break Islamic tenets. He is in some ways an ideal interlocutor for Francis: holy, credible and powerful. His decisions carry weight.
The meeting between the two religious leaders ran longer than expected. A statement released by Ayatollah Sistani’s office said the cleric had stressed that Christian citizens deserve to “live like all Iraqis in security and peace and with full constitutional rights.”
Jason Horowitz reported from Ur, Jane Arraf from Erbil.
UR, Iraq— Pope Francis met with Iraq’s most influential Shiite Muslim leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in a historic encounter aimed at building bridges between Christians and Muslims.
The two leaders invoked religion for the cause of peace and protection of the vulnerable, including Iraq’s beleaguered Christian minority. Saturday’s summit at Mr. Sistani’s residence in the city of Najaf was the first-ever meeting between a Catholic pope and a Shiite grand ayatollah in Iraq.
Building relations between Christianity and Islam is a major theme of Pope Francis’s trip, as well as of his pontificate. Iraq is the 10th majority-Muslim country he has visited as pope. Previously, Pope Francis’ most prominent Muslim interlocutors have been leaders of Islam’s Sunni majority.
“It’s historic,” said Sajad Jiyad, a Baghdad-based analyst with the Century Foundation, a think tank. “For Shiite Muslims it’s important to see one of their leaders recognized on a global stage.”
Mr. Sistani is one of the world’s most prominent Islamic religious leaders and a giant in Iraqi society, commanding almost universal respect across sects and political factions. He is regarded as a force for stability and has played the role of arbiter in a series of crises since the 2003 U.S. invasion, urging an end to internecine violence. In 2014 he urged Iraqis to enlist in the fight against Islamic State as it overran vast areas of Iraq.
The meeting comes during a period of violence between the U.S. and predominantly Shiite militant groups in Iraq that are backed by Iran. The papal trip, which began Friday in Baghdad, is taking place days after a rocket attack on a U.S. military base in Iraq that led to the death of a U.S. civilian contractor who suffered a cardiac episode while sheltering during the assault. In February the U.S. carried out airstrikes on Iran-backed militant groups in Syria in response to another attack on an American air base in northern Iraq.
The two religious leaders didn’t explicitly address the recent flare-up in violence but the pope stressed the importance of “collaboration and friendship between religious communities” for the good of Iraq and the region, according to the Vatican.
Even some of Iraq’s Iranian-allied militant factions said they would cease fire during the pope’s visit, citing in part their respect for Mr. Sistani. “We in the Guardians of the Blood Brigade, stop all kinds of military action during the pope’s visit out of respect for Imam Sistani,” said one of the militias, which only weeks earlier claimed responsibility for the deadly rocket attack on the U.S. air base in Erbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region.
A statement from the grand ayatollah’s office said he told the pope that religious leaders should work against poverty, oppression and war. “He also stressed mobilizing efforts to consolidate values of peaceful coexistence and human solidarity in all societies based on mutual respect among followers of all religions and intellectual trends,” the statement said.
The Shiite cleric also emphasized that “Christian people should live like other Iraqis in peace and safety with their full constitutional rights,” and he recalled the role of religious leaders in protecting Christians and other minorities from Islamic State during its partial occupation of Iraq from 2014-2017.
Pope Francis, who on Friday called on Iraq’s political leaders to guarantee the equal rights of the country’s Christians, thanked Mr. Sistani “for speaking up—together with the Shiite community—in defense of those most vulnerable and persecuted amid the violence and great hardships of recent years,” the Vatican said.
After the meeting in Najaf, the pope spoke at an interfaith event at the archaeological site of ancient Ur, traditionally believed to be the home of Abraham, forefather of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
“Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion,” the pope said, and specifically recalled the suffering of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, and particularly of Yazidi women forced to be sex slaves, under Islamic State.
—Ghassan Adnan in Baghdad contributed to this article.
officials in Texas and Mississippi lifted statewide mask mandates, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered fresh evidence of the importance of mask use in a new study on Friday. Wearing masks, the study reported, was linked to fewer infections with the coronavirus and Covid-19 deaths in counties across the United States.
The researchers also found that counties opening restaurants for on-premises dining — indoors or outdoors — saw a rise in daily infections about six weeks later, and an increase in Covid-19 death rates about two months later.
The study does not prove cause and effect, but the findings square with other research showing that masks prevent infection and that indoor spaces foster the spread of the virus through aerosols, tiny respiratory particles that linger in the air.
“You have decreases in cases and deaths when you wear masks, and you have increases in cases and deaths when you have in-person restaurant dining,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said on Friday. “And so we would advocate for policies, certainly while we’re at this plateau of a high number of cases, that would listen to that public health science.”
The findings come as city and state officials nationwide grapple with growing pressure to reopen schools and businesses amid falling rates of new cases and deaths. Officials have recently allowed for limited indoor dining in New York City. And on Thursday, Connecticut’s governor said would be ending capacity limits later this month on restaurants, gyms and offices. Masks remain required in both places.
Coronavirus cases and deaths are down significantly across the country compared to the devastating peaks around the holidays. But as more cases of worrisome virus variants have been detected and the U.S. vaccination campaign continues, President Biden and his team have stressed in recent days that now is not the time for Americans to relax, particularly on wearing masks.
According to a New York Times database, the seven-day average of new cases is 62,924 a day, as of Thursday. While that average is down 14 percent from two weeks earlier, the figure remains near the level of new cases reported during last summer’s highest peak. Though fatalities have started falling, in part because of the vaccination campaign at nursing homes, it remains routine for 2,000 deaths to be reported in a single day.
Mr. Biden on Wednesday criticized the decisions by the governors of Texas and Mississippi to lift statewide mask mandates and reopen businesses without restrictions, calling the plans “a big mistake” that reflected “Neanderthal thinking.”
The president, who has asked the American people to wear a mask for his first 100 days in office, said it was critical for public officials to follow the guidance of doctors and public health leaders as the coronavirus vaccination campaign gains momentum.
According to the C.D.C., about 54 million people have already received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as of Thursday. Mr. Biden’s power to enforce mask-wearing is limited to the federal sphere; he has ordered a mask requirement for anyone on federal property, and his administration is asking people to wear masks regardless of local mandates.
“It may seem tempting, in the face of all of this progress, to try to rush back to normalcy as if the virus is in the rear view mirror. It’s not,” Andy Slavitt, a White House pandemic adviser, said on Friday. “Why somebody wouldn’t take advantage of a small intervention to save people’s lives, that would be surprising.”
In the latest study, C.D.C. researchers examined the association between mask mandates and indoor or outdoor restaurant dining and the number of coronavirus infections and deaths last year between March 1 and Dec. 31. The agency relied on county-level data from state government websites and measured daily percentage growth in coronavirus cases and deaths.
Infections and deaths declined after counties mandated mask use, the agency found. Daily infections rose about six weeks after counties allowed restaurants to open for dining on the premises, and death rates followed two months later.
Mask mandates were linked to statistically significant decreases in coronavirus cases and death rates within 20 days of implementation, the report’s authors concluded. On-premises dining, whether indoors or outdoors, at restaurants was associated with increases in case and death rates within 41 to 80 days after reopenings.
“State mask mandates and prohibiting on-premises dining at restaurants help limit potential exposure to SARS-Cov-2, reducing community transmission of Covid-19,” the authors wrote.
Shortly after publishing the report, the C.D.C. amended it to urge restaurants that resume on-premises dining to follow the C.D.C.’s guidelines for reducing transmission in restaurant settings.
That includes “everything from having staff stay home when they show signs of Covid or have tested positive or been in contact with someone who has Covid, and requiring masks among employees as well as customers who are not actively eating or drinking,” said Gery P. Guy, a health scientist with the C.D.C. Covid response team and the study’s corresponding author.
Other steps that can be taken are ensuring adequate ventilation, providing options to eat outdoors, spacing customers six feet apart, encouraging frequent hand washing and carrying out frequenting sanitizing of surfaces that are touched a lot, such as cash registers or pay terminals, door handles and tables.
“The message is, if restaurants are going to open for on-premise dining, it’s important to follow C.D.C. guidelines to do so safely and effectively,” Dr. Guy said.
Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.
As countries jostle to secure enough vaccine doses to help put an end to the pandemic, a new competition is unfolding: for syringes to administer them with.
There is simply not enough of them.
Officials in the United States and the European Union have said they need more. And in January, Brazil restricted exports of syringes and needles when its vaccination efforts fell short.
Further complicating the challenge, not just any syringe will do the trick.
Japan revealed last month that it might have to discard millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine if it couldn’t secure enough syringes able to draw out a sixth dose from vials. In January, the Food and Drug Administration advised health care providers in the United States that they could extract more doses from the Pfizer vials after hospitals there discovered that some contained enough for a sixth — or even a seventh — shot.
“A lot of countries were caught flat-footed,” said Ingrid Katz, the associate director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.
The world needs between eight billion and 10 billion syringes for Covid-19 vaccinations alone, experts say.
In previous years, only 5 percent to 10 percent of the estimated 16 billion syringes used worldwide were meant for vaccination and immunization, said Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, and an expert on health care supply chains.
Wealthier nations like the United States, Britain, France and Germany pumped billions into developing the vaccines, but little public investment has gone into expanding manufacturing for syringes, Mr. Yadav said.
The industry has ramped up to meet demand.
Becton, Dickinson and Company, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of syringes and is based in New Jersey, said it was producing 2,000 each minute to meet orders of more than a billion.
The United States is the world’s largest syringe maker by sales, according to Fitch Solutions, a research firm. The United States and China are neck and neck in exports, with combined annual shipments worth $1.7 billion.
While India is a small player globally, Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices in Ballabgarh, one of the world’s largest syringe makers, sunk millions of dollars into preparing its syringe factories for the vaccination onslaught.
Rajiv Nath, the company’s managing director, added 500 workers to his production lines, which crank out more than 5,900 syringes per minute at factories spread over 11 acres in a dusty industrial district outside New Delhi. With Sundays and public holidays off, the company churns out nearly 2.5 billion a year, and plans to scale up to three billion by July.
Mr. Nath has sold 50 million to the Japanese government, he said, and over 400 million to India for its Covid-19 vaccination drive, one of the largest in the world.
More are waiting in line, including UNICEF. In November, the United Nations agency for children reached out to say that it was desperately seeking syringes. And not just any would do. They had to be smaller than usual, and break if used a second time, to prevent spreading disease through accidental reuse.
Most important: UNICEF needed them in vast quantities. Now.
“I thought, ‘No issues,’” said Mr. Nath. “We could deliver it possibly faster than anybody else.”
The company is set to begin shipping 3.2 million of those syringes soon, UNICEF said, provided they clear another quality check. And Mr. Nath has offered to produce about 240 million more.
The images above tell a story of disparity of the starkest sort.
“People of color are getting vaccinated at rates below their representation of the general population,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of President Biden’s coronavirus equity task force, said at a recent forum on the vaccine. “This narrative can be changed. It must be changed.”
In recent days, The New York Times’s graphics team set out to measure how equitably Covid-19 vaccines were being distributed across the United States.
The data is imperfect. As of March 3, only 38 states publicly shared race and ethnicity data for vaccinated people.
Further complicating the task, different jurisdictions define race and ethnicity categories in slightly different ways — and with different levels of completeness. In some states, as much as a third of vaccinations were missing race and ethnicity data.
But a disturbing portrait nevertheless emerged.
Communities of color, which have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, have also received a smaller share of available vaccines. The vaccination rate for Black Americans is half that of white people, and the gap for Hispanic people is even larger, The Times analysis found.
Scientists in Oregon have identified a homegrown version of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that first surfaced in Britain — but this one has a mutation that may make the variant less susceptible to vaccines.
The researchers have so far found just a single case of this formidable combination, but genetic analysis suggested that the variant had been acquired in the community and did not arise in the patient.
“We didn’t import this from elsewhere in the world — it occurred spontaneously,” said Brian O’Roak, a geneticist at Oregon Health and Science University who led the work. He and his colleagues participate in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s effort to track variants, and they have deposited their results in databases shared by scientists.
The variant originally identified in Britain, called B.1.1.7, has been spreading rapidly across the United States, and accounts for at least 2,500 cases in 46 states. This form of the virus is both more contagious and more deadly than the original version, and is expected to account for most infections in America in a few weeks.
The new version that surfaced in Portland has the same backbone as B.1.1.7, and the mutation it carries — E484K, or “Eek” — is one seen in variants of the virus circulating in South Africa, Brazil and New York City.
Lab studies and clinical trials in South Africa indicate that the Eek mutation renders the current vaccines less effective by blunting the body’s immune response. (The vaccines still work, but the findings are worrying enough that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have begun testing new versions of their vaccines designed to defeat the variant found in South Africa.)
The B.1.1.7 variant with Eek also has emerged in Britain, but the virus identified in Oregon seems to have evolved independently, Dr. O’Roak said.
Dr. O’Roak and his colleagues found the B.1.1.7 variant with Eek among coronavirus samples collected by the Oregon State Public Health Lab from an outbreak in a health care setting. Of the 13 test results they analyzed, 10 turned out to be B.1.1.7 alone, and one the combination.
Experts said the discovery was not surprising, because the Eek mutation has arisen in forms of the virus all over the world. But the mutation’s occurrence in B.1.1.7 is worth watching, they said.
Vaccine hesitancy has been a concern among U.S. public health experts for months now. But evidence increasingly suggests that as vaccination rates increase, many unvaccinated Americans are becoming more comfortable with the idea of receiving the shot themselves.
The proportion of adults in the country who intend to get vaccinated has increased significantly over the last several months, according to a survey released Friday by the Pew Research Center. Sixty-nine percent of the public now plans to get vaccinated — or already has — up from 60 percent who said in November that they intended to pursue it.
The issue has become more partisan over time, however. The new survey finds a 27-percentage point political gap, with 83 percent of Democrats saying they plan to get the vaccine or have already received it, compared to just 56 percent of Republicans.
Despite the divides, the new survey bolsters optimism that overall, Americans are increasingly open to receiving the vaccine. About 54 million people — 16 percent of the population — had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as of Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The survey also notes that 47 percent of Black Americans plan to get vaccinated and 15 percent say they already have been. Taken together, that is a sharp increase from the 42 percent who said in November they intended to be vaccinated.
Black and Latino people in the United States are being vaccinated at lower rates in part because they face obstacles like language barriers and inadequate access to digital technology, medical facilities and transportation. Mistrust in government officials and doctors also plays a role, experts say, and is fed by misinformation that is spread on social media. President Biden has made equity a major focus of his pandemic response, saying he wants pharmacies, mobile vaccination units and community clinics that help underserved communities to help increase the pace of vaccinations.
Overall, those surveyed by Pew who say they do not plan to get the vaccine cite reasons including concerns about side effects and a feeling that the vaccines were developed too quickly. Others say they are waiting for more information about how well they work.
The Pew results echo a survey released last week from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found vaccine hesitancy declining among most demographic groups. That survey also found a significant political gap, but noted that both Democrats and Republicans were significantly more likely to say they intended to get the vaccine now than in December.
Since Johnson & Johnson revealed data showing that its vaccine, while highly protective, had a slightly lower efficacy rate than the ones produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, health officials have feared that the new shot might be viewed by some Americans as the inferior choice.
But the early days of its rollout suggest something different: Some people are eager to get it because they want the convenience of a single shot.
And public health officials are enthusiastic about how much faster they can get the single-shot doses distributed, particularly in vulnerable communities that might not otherwise have access to vaccine.
“This is a potential breakthrough,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, the top health official in Louisiana.
With its first allotted doses, that state is holding a dozen large Johnson & Johnson vaccination events at civic centers and other public places, modeled after what has worked for flu vaccines.
Only four million doses were shipped this week, and the company’s manufacturing lags mean that it will be at least a month before states start receiving significant supplies. But as Johnson & Johnson ramps up production over the next few months, Dr. Kanter said, the vaccine will allow his state to slash costs for staffing and operations related to second doses.
“The J. & J. vaccine brings a lot to the table,” he said.
Judged by how well it prevents severe disease, hospitalization and death, the Johnson & Johnson shot is comparable to those made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. And although it has a lower overall efficacy rate in the United States — 72 percent, compared with roughly 95 percent for the others — experts say that comparing those numbers is problematic because the companies’ trials were conducted in different places and at different times.
Besides being a single-dose shot, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine offers another benefit: It can be kept at normal refrigeration temperatures for three months. That makes it ideal for distribution at nonmedical sites such as stadiums and convention centers. The vaccine has caused a surge of excitement at small, independent pharmacies, too.
Many state health officials said they were focused on getting the vaccine to people who might be harder to reach for a second dose, such as those who are homeless or on the verge of release from prison.
Patricia Cooper, a teacher in Washington, D.C., said that President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to claim credit for a vaccine last year and the label “emergency use authorization” had suggested to her that the federal government may have rushed its reviews of vaccines. That left her feeling jittery about their safety.
But Ms. Cooper said she was eager to get a shot, especially the Johnson & Johnson one.
“This one is more appealing to me,” she said. “Who likes to get stuck more than once?”
Pope Francis made an audacious return to the world stage in the midst of the pandemic on Friday when he became the first leader of the Roman Catholic church to visit Iraq, seeking to help heal a nation uniquely wounded by violent sectarianism, foreign adventurism and the persecution of minority populations, including his own Christian flock.
“I’m happy to travel again,” Francis, who has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, said after taking off his blue surgical mask to address reporters on the papal plane.
The pope’s trip sent a message that, after a year of being cooped up in Rome and fading from public consciousness, Francis wanted to elevate his profile and spend his time with those who have suffered the most.
The pope’s visit coincided with a recent return of suicide bombings, increased rocket attacks and renewed geopolitical tensions, and some of Francis’ admirers worry that his whirlwind four-day visit will exacerbate a recent spike in the country’s coronavirus cases by drawing crowds.
But his advisers and Iraq’s top prelates insisted social distancing measures would be followed and argued the trip was necessary to show Francis’ closeness to a flock that had suffered terribly. The pope’s predecessors dreamed of visiting, but those aspirations were dashed by tensions and conflict.
The pope called for an equitable distribution of vaccines to countries already scarred by “fragility and instability.” A vaccination program began just this week in Iraq, where social distancing restrictions are largely ignored.
Top aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were alarmed: A report written by state health officials had just landed, and it included a count of how many nursing home residents in New York had died in the pandemic.
The number — more than 9,000 by that point in June — was not public, and the governor’s most senior aides wanted to keep it that way. They rewrote the report to take it out, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The New York Times.
The extraordinary intervention, which came as Mr. Cuomo was starting to write a book on his pandemic achievements, was the earliest act yet known in what critics have called a monthslong effort by the governor and his aides to obscure the full scope of nursing home deaths in the state. The episode reflects the lengths to which Mr. Cuomo has gone to control data, brush aside public health expertise and bolster his position as a national leader in the fight against the coronavirus.
The details contradict the timeline and motivation Mr. Cuomo offered in recent weeks, when he released the complete data after the state attorney general, Leticia James, revealed that thousands of deaths of nursing home residents had been undercounted, Mr. Cuomo said he had withheld the information out of concern that the Trump administration might pursue a politically motivated inquiry into the state’s handling of the outbreak in nursing homes.
But the rewriting of the report came well before requests for data arrived from federal authorities, and was accompanied by Cuomo aides’ battles with top state health officials, according to documents and interviews with six people with direct knowledge of the discussions, who requested anonymity to describe the closed-door debates.
The aides involved in changing the report included Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top aide; Linda Lacewell, the head of the state’s Department of Financial Services; and Jim Malatras, a former top adviser to Mr. Cuomo brought back to work on the pandemic. None had public health expertise.
In response to a detailed list of questions from The Times sent on Tuesday, the governor’s office responded with a statement Thursday night from Beth Garvey, a special counsel, who said “the out-of-facility data was omitted after D.O.H. could not confirm it had been adequately verified.” She added that the additional data did not change the conclusion of the report.
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package ground to a standstill in the Senate on Friday, as Democrats haggled among themselves over the size and duration of federal unemployment payments that are a crucial piece of the plan.
Top Democrats, working to preserve moderate support for the package, had planned to drop their effort to increase a federal unemployment payment from $300 a week to $400 but extend it for an additional month, through Oct. 4, hoping that the concession would keep the pandemic aid plan on track.
But it appeared that Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist whose support they need to maneuver the plan through the 50-50 Senate where all Republicans are opposed, remained unsatisfied.
The impasse halted the measure in its tracks just as the Senate had begun voting on proposed changes. What was supposed to have been a 15-minute vote on a minimum-wage increase stretched for longer than six hours as Democrats stalled for time, huddling on the Senate floor in search of a solution to break the impasse.
The White House declined to say whether Mr. Biden had reached out to Mr. Manchin to try to secure his support. A White House official said that Mr. Biden and his team were “staying in close contact with senators to find a resolution that will deliver for Americans who need help the most.”
Another wrinkle arose late Friday as Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, left the Capitol in order to catch a flight to Fairbanks and attend a funeral for his father-in-law on Saturday.
A spokesman, Nate Adams, confirmed the senator’s departure on a Friday afternoon flight and said Mr. Sullivan “intended to vote against final passage of the bill and made his opposition clear” after voting against advancing the measure.
In an evenly divided Senate, Mr. Sullivan’s absence will give Democrats an extra vote of leeway as they haggle over a series of last-minute changes to the $1.9 trillion package. But it is unlikely to resolve the current impasse, given that Mr. Manchin appeared to be contemplating supporting a Republican amendment that would curtail unemployment insurance benefits.
With the existing $300-a-week payments set to lapse on March 14, Mr. Biden’s stimulus proposal and the House bill that passed last weekend to implement it would increase the jobless aid to $400 a week and extend it through the end of August.
Some moderate Senate Democrats are opposed to raising the amount, while others are concerned about the possibility that the benefits could lapse when the chamber is typically on recess and out of Washington. The revision Democrats had devised would address both issues, as well as adding a provision to make a large portion of 2020 jobless benefits tax-free.
In a brief interview, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and the chairman of the Finance Committee, said the change “avoids the August cliff, secures tax forgiveness — preventing what I call the unexpected unemployment tax surprise — and keeps the caucus together.”
It was aimed at appeasing centrist Democrats who might otherwise have been tempted to vote for a Republican amendment by Senator Rob Portman of Ohio to keep the unemployment benefit at $300 per week — extending it until July but omitting any tax sweeteners — thus sapping support for the bill among other Democrats. But on Friday, Mr. Manchin did not appear ready to accept the alternative.
The White House had signaled support, with Ron Klain, the chief of staff, tweeting, “This compromise is a great result.”
The proposal, introduced by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, was one of dozens of amendments the Senate was set to consider on Friday as it made its way through a marathon session of rapid-fire votes. The vote-a-rama, as it is known, could stretch long past midnight as Republicans battle against the bill, paving the way for a Senate vote to pass the stimulus plan as early as Saturday.
The unemployment provision would forgive up to $10,200 in taxes on benefits received in 2020. Mr. Wyden, who was among those pushing to increase the unemployment payment to $400, said on the Senate floor that he was “really hoping this brings all sides of the Senate together.”
Democrats are racing against the clock, as some Americans have already begun to file their taxes and unemployment benefits are set to begin lapsing next weekend. The agreement would also extend tax rules regarding excess business loss limitations for one additional year, through 2026.
Canada’s health regulator on Friday authorized the use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine. The move now gives the country, which has experienced a slow start to vaccinations, four inoculations to choose from.
“This is great news,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference. He offered no projected date for the first deliveries.
Health Canada officials said that the vaccine has an overall effectiveness of 66.9 percent, much lower than the efficacy rates reached by Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. But it is similar to those vaccines in having a powerful ability to prevent severe disease, hospitalizations and death.
The United States and Bahrain have also authorized the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Production delays with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, combined with relatively modest initial shipments, have led to frustration among many Canadians — and put political pressure on Mr. Trudeau as Canada’s vaccination rate fell far behind that of the United States, Britain and other countries. As of Friday, 2.86 percent of all Canadians have received at least one dose.
Canada has ordered 10 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and has options for another 28 million, a combined number that is slightly higher than the country’s population.
Depending on its arrival and combined with the need to only administer a single shot, the new vaccine may help significantly boost the country’s vaccination rate. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine also does not require extremely low storage temperatures, as the Pfizer vaccine does, making it easier to distribute to remote communities in Canada’s north.
Mr. Trudeau said that Pfizer would send 1.5 million doses, originally scheduled for delivery in the summer, over the next two months. Canada also received its first shipment this week of a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by the Serum Institute of India.
The Canadian government had initially promised to obtain six million doses of vaccines by the end of March. The new Pfizer schedule combined with AstraZeneca shipments, officials said, will raise that figure to eight million.
President Biden is enjoying a level of popularity his poll-obsessed predecessor never came close to achieving — a 60 percent approval rating — with 70 percent of Americans expressing support for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll.
Despite enduring and stark partisan divisions, 44 percent of Republicans approve of Mr. Biden’s actions prioritizing the fight against the virus, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released early Friday.
As a temperature check of the current national mood, the poll suggests that Republican lawmakers in Washington, who have united to oppose Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, are not swaying public opinion, despite their efforts to alter or delay its passage.
In all, 22 percent of Republicans approve of Mr. Biden’s performance, suggesting small but substantial gains among his most hard-core opponents that could give him added political leverage, paving the way for the possibility of a big bipartisan deal on infrastructure.
Mr. Biden’s overall approval among Democrats is a solid 94 percent, despite recent criticism from progressives.
Mr. Trump sustained a similar level of support from his base, but is the only president in the history of modern polling to never post an aggregate approval rating above 50 percent. His level of support has sunk, to an average of about 38 percent, after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Friday’s poll is a bit sunnier than other recent national surveys that show a slight decrease in support for Mr. Biden as the fight over his relief package heats up on Capitol Hill. A RealClearPolitics aggregation of polls put his approval rating at 53.4 percent, not factoring in the A.P. poll.
Mr. Biden’s grades on the economy were lower than his ratings on other issues, the poll found. His approval on pocketbook issues was 55 percent. Only 17 percent of Republicans, a group that gave former President Donald J. Trump high marks for his handling of the economy even during the pandemic-related downturn, approved of Mr. Biden’s approach to the economy.
The A.P. poll, unsurprisingly, found that the atmosphere of hyper partisanship exacerbated by Mr. Trump’s four years of provocation is not subsiding under Mr. Biden, and that people in both parties tend to interpret fact through the filter of ideology.
Americans’ views on the economy have shifted dramatically even though many basic economic statistics have budged little, if at all.
In December, 67 percent of Republicans and just 15 percent of Democrats described the economy as “good,” according to an A.P. poll taken at the time. Now, 35 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats describe the economy in positive terms.
The poll, which surveyed 1,434 adults between Feb. 23 and March 1, has an overall sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Cyprus has announced a plan to allow vaccinated residents of Britain to visit the island beginning in May, a further signal that countries, particular those dependent on tourism, could resort to inoculation certificates to reopen their borders.
Savvas Perdios, the deputy tourism minister for Cyprus, told the Cyprus News Agency that, as of May 1, British citizens who had received two doses of a vaccine approved by the European Union’s drug regulator would be allowed to travel to the Mediterranean island without having to be tested for the coronavirus or to isolate on arrival.
Some European nations with economies that are heavily reliant on tourism, such as Spain, have advocated for a vaccine certificate program to be created at the European Union level but have also said that they could adopt bilateral systems if no broader agreement is reached. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, this week announced plans to create a “digital green pass” to facilitate safe travel among member nations, though that system is expected to take at least three months.
The British authorities have said that talks on opening up travel are underway with a number of countries, including some in the European Union.
Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, said this week, “If another country wants to say that you need to have been vaccinated with a recognized vaccine to travel there, we want to enable Brits to be able to take that journey.”
More than a million travelers from Britain visited Cyprus in 2019, representing by far the highest number of international tourists to the island, according to official statistics.
Despite the green light from Cyprus, international travel from Britain is forbidden for leisure purposes until at least May 17 under the current lockdown rules, and it is unclear how many British residents will have received two vaccine doses by then. Fewer than a million people in Britain have so far been fully vaccinated.
In other news around the world:
South Korea’s drug safety agency approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Friday and doses for about 23 million people are expected to begin arriving this month, the news agency Yonhap reported. The country, which has a population of about 51 million, began its vaccination program last week as part of a plan to achieve herd immunity by November. South Korea approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in February and expects to receive more than two million doses through Covax, an international group that has negotiated for coronavirus shots.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand has said that a snap lockdown imposed last week on the country’s largest city, Auckland, will end on Sunday morning. Social gatherings will be capped at 100 people and other restrictions will remain in place. The lockdown was imposed after the authorities discovered an untraceable case. They have since conducted more than 50,000 tests and tracked more than 6,000 contacts.
Japan has extended its state of emergency for the greater Tokyo metropolitan area until March 21, the government announced on Friday, according to the national broadcaster NHK. Emergency orders were lifted in six other prefectures. The restrictions, which include an order for restaurants and bars to close by 8 p.m., had been scheduled to end on Sunday.
The San Diego Zoo has given nine apes an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Zoetis, a major veterinary pharmaceuticals company.
In January, a troop of gorillas at the zoo’s Safari Park tested positive for the virus. All are recovering, but even so, the zoo requested help from Zoetis in vaccinating other apes. The company provided an experimental vaccine that was initially developed for pets and is now being tested in mink.
Nadine Lamberski, a conservation and wildlife health officer at San Diego Zoo Global, said the zoo vaccinated four orangutans and five bonobos with the experimental vaccine, which is not designed for use in humans. Among the vaccinated orangutans was an ape named Karen, who made history in 1994 when she became the first orangutan to have open-heart surgery.
Dr. Lamberski said one gorilla at the zoo was also scheduled to be vaccinated, but the gorillas at the wildlife park were a lower priority because they had already tested positive for infection and had recovered. She said she would vaccinate the gorillas at the wildlife park if the zoo received more doses of the vaccine.
Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president of global biologics for Zoetis, said the company is increasing production, primarily for its pursuit of a license for a mink vaccine, and will provide more doses to the San Diego and other zoos when possible. “We have already received a number of requests,” he said.
Infection of apes is a major concern for zoos and conservationists. They easily fall prey to human respiratory infections, and common cold viruses have caused deadly outbreaks in chimpanzees in Africa. Genome research has suggested that chimpanzees, gorillas and other apes will be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that has caused the pandemic. Lab researchers are using some monkeys, like macaques, to test drugs and vaccines and develop new treatments for the virus.
Scientists are worrying not just about the danger the virus poses to great apes and other animals, but also about the potential for the virus to gain a foothold in a wild animal population that could become a permanent reservoir and emerge at a later date to reinfect humans.
Infections in farmed mink have produced the biggest scare so far. When Danish mink farms were devastated by the virus, which can kill mink just as it kills people, a mutated form of the virus emerged from the mink and reinfected humans. That variant showed resistance to some antibodies in laboratory studies, raising suspicion that vaccines might be less effective against it.
That virus variant has not been found in humans since November, according to the World Health Organization. But other variants have emerged in people in several countries, proving that the virus can become more contagious and in some cases can diminish the effectiveness of some vaccines.
Denmark ended up killing as many as 17 million mink — effectively wiping out its mink farming industry. In the United States, thousands of mink have died, and one wild mink has tested positive for the virus.
Although many animals, including dogs, domestic cats, and big cats in zoos, have become infected by the virus through natural spread, and others have been infected in laboratory experiments, scientists say that widespread testing has yet to find the virus in any animal in the wild other than the one mink.
National Geographic first reported the vaccination of the apes at the San Diego Zoo.
For much of the winter, Meryl Gordon worried about the people caring for her 95-year-old mother, who was rehabbing in a Manhattan nursing home after surgery for a broken hip.
“Every week they sent out a note to families about how many staff members had positive Covid tests,” said Ms. Gordon, a biographer and professor at New York University. “It was a source of tremendous anxiety.”
Ms. Gordon feels reassured now that her mother is fully vaccinated and has returned to her assisted living facility. But what about the two home care aides who help her 98-year-old father, David, in his Upper West Side apartment?
Neither has agreed to be vaccinated. David Gordon’s doctor has advised him to delay vaccination himself because of his past allergic reactions.
Ms. Gordon has not insisted that the caregivers receive vaccinations. “You’re reluctant to do something that could cause you to lose the people you rely on,” she said. But she remains uneasy.
It’s a question that many long-term care employers, from individual families to big national companies, are confronting as vaccines become more available, although not available enough: In a pandemic, can they require vaccination for those who care for very vulnerable older adults? Should they?
Some employers aren’t waiting. Atria Senior Living, one of the nation’s largest assisted living chains, has announced that by May 1 all staff members must be fully vaccinated.
Silverado, a small chain of dementia care homes, most on the West Coast, mandated vaccination by March 1. Juniper Communities, which operates 22 facilities in four states, has also adopted a mandate.
“We felt it was the best way to protect people, not just our residents but our team members and their families,” said Lynne Katzmann, Juniper’s chief executive. Of the company’s nearly 1,300 employees, “about 30 individuals have self-terminated” because of the vaccination requirement, she reported.
Juniper’s experience supports what public health experts have said for years: Vaccine mandates, like those that many health care organizations have established for the flu vaccine, remain contentious — but they do increase vaccination rates. As of Feb. 25, 97.7 percent of Juniper residents had received two vaccine doses, and so had 96 percent of its staff members.
That stands in stark contrast to staff vaccinations in many facilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that during the first month of vaccine clinics in nursing homes, only 37.5 percent of staff members received the first shot, along with 77.8 percent of residents.
WASHINGTON—The top U.S. envoy to Afghanistan proposed the idea of a grand conference of Afghan and Taliban leaders to create an interim government, U.S. and Afghan officials said, reflecting a growing consensus in the Biden administration that peace talks between representatives of the two sides in Doha are moving too slowly.
The idea, suggested during a visit to the region this week by Zalmay Khalilzad, the top U.S. envoy for Afghan peace, would replicate the format of the 2001 conference held in Bonn, Germany, which selected a leader for Afghanistan after the Taliban were ousted following the Sept. 11 attacks.
A key difference: The Taliban weren’t invited to join the first talks. If they were to agree to participate now, they would take a seat at the table with more influence than at any time in the past 20 years of war.
The new effort would likely set aside a deal negotiated between the Trump administration and the Taliban. It would also likely delay a U.S. troop withdrawal by May that was part of the deal.
Former President Donald Trump agreed last year to withdraw all troops within a period of 14 months in return for a Taliban promise to ensure that terrorist groups never again use Afghanistan as a haven to plot attacks against the U.S. and its allies. The 14-month period expires on May 1.
In the year since the U.S. signed the deal, the United Nations has documented rising violence at the hands of the Taliban and found that the insurgents continue to maintain close ties to al Qaeda.
The insurgents now control much of the countryside and are encroaching on major Afghan towns. Residents and security forces in Afghan cities have observed with consternation the Taliban forces building up in the surrounding areas, poised to attack if peace talks fall through.
The Afghan government is “reviewing any possible way to get to a dignified peace for our people,” according to a senior Afghan government negotiator, Nader Nadery. “This republic is built on sacrifices of a large number of our people and our international partners. A dignified peace must protect these.”
A Taliban spokesman said, when asked about Mr. Khalilzad’s offer: “The Afghan people have tried temporary, transitional and participatory systems for 40 years. Unfortunately, they have not solved the problems of the country and the people.”
“It is necessary to focus on solving problems, not on formalities,” the spokesman said.
Another option floated by Mr. Khalilzad during his trip to Kabul this week, U.S. and Afghan officials said, was bringing in a mediator to help accelerate the peace process between Afghan and Taliban officials in Qatar. But the larger conference has been presented as the most “desirable” outcome, one of these officials said.
U.S. officials hope that a second “Bonn conference,” with international observers present, would force both parties to work together more rapidly and potentially open up the prospect of negotiations with the interim government to keep a residual force of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the May deadline.
Top North Atlantic Treaty Organization and U.S. military leaders have signaled that they don’t believe the Taliban have done enough to meet their part of the agreement and allow forces to leave. But the conditions imposed on the Taliban are hazy; the deal doesn’t explicitly require the Taliban to commit to reducing violence against Afghan forces, or even formally break ties with al Qaeda.
The Biden administration hasn’t decided to renege on U.S. commitments to withdraw U.S. forces. NATO allies have told the U.S. their military footprint in Afghanistan hinges on U.S. plans, defense officials said. Of the 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, roughly 2,500 are U.S. forces, marking the first time NATO partners have the largest presence.
Top U.S. military commanders have presented several options to the Biden administration that spell out the consequences either of a full withdrawal, trying to negotiate a new deal with the Taliban, or staying indefinitely, defense officials said. Military commanders have said they believe a full withdrawal could lead to the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul, a resurgence of violence and a Taliban that can’t adequately stop the rise of other extremist groups, like Islamic State.
Military officials haven’t spelled out a timeline for ending the war should the coalition choose to stay past May 1, or how they would persuade the Taliban to enter another deal should this one collapse.
Some defense officials have said they fear that if the U.S. keeps troops in Afghanistan past May 1, the Taliban will retaliate by attacking U.S. and coalition forces, as it already has threatened to do, and attempt to seize major Afghan cities. Other defense officials have proposed that U.S. and coalition forces stay, in part, to serve as leverage during slow-moving talks.
The Taliban in a statement earlier this month said that if the deal “is abrogated, it would lead to a major war, the responsibility of which shall fall squarely on the shoulders of America.”
The State Department declined to comment on the specifics of the latest proposal, while saying there is agreement on “the need to move more quickly.” Mr. Khalilzad, who was born and raised in Afghanistan, previously worked for the Trump, Obama and George W. Bush administrations, and has served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Laurel Miller, who served as acting top envoy to Afghanistan under the Obama and Trump administrations, said it was difficult to envision how power could be parceled out among the various parties in a way that would be acceptable to all under the U.S. proposal.
“An interim power-sharing arrangement that satisfied the Taliban’s demand for an Islamic government would come at a high price, so high it would mean handing them the key,” said Ms. Miller, now the director of the International Crisis Group’s Asia Program. “It was difficult at Bonn 1, and that’s when the participants were all on the same side.”
She added that the Doha process had some prospect of delivering stability if it succeeded, while an interim government cobbled together before differences were hashed out would be prone to collapse.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at his first Pentagon briefing last month the U.S. wouldn’t undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal that puts forces or NATO’s reputation at risk.
“Clearly, the violence is too high right now, and more progress needs to be made in the Afghan-led negotiations, and so I urge all parties to choose the path towards peace. The violence must decrease now,” he said.
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