Eurostar moves to double its London-Paris service to two trains a day.

Consider it a small victory.

Eurostar, the sleek and speedy high-speed train service that ties London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and other cities, will increase its timetable on May 27 to two trains per day on its once heavily traveled Paris-London route, up from just one round-trip train per day imposed during the pandemic.

The service is increasing slightly as governments in Europe plan to slowly lift longstanding national restrictions on travel designed to combat the spread of the coronavirus. From a peak of running more than 60 trains a day, Eurostar cut service during the pandemic to one daily round trip between London and Paris, and one on its London-Brussels and Amsterdam routes.

The Brussels-Amsterdam route will remain the same with one train in each direction per day, a spokesman said, adding that Eurostar will adapt its timetable should demand increase, which still depends on travel restrictions across its routes.

Eurostar’s future has been thrown into turmoil as pandemic measures led last year to a 95 percent slump in ridership, creating a cash crunch and pushing the iconic company to the brink of bankruptcy.

sold its stake in the rail company, last month declined to back a broader financial rescue package.

A spokesman for Eurostar said that it had no new details on a financial rescue, but that “conversations are still progressing.” The spokesman added that it was “too early to predict a recovery to prepandemic levels — this would be very much dependent on the easing of international travel restrictions which are yet to be confirmed.”

Eurostar trains will maintain some vacant seats onboard to allow for social distancing. The company said it was advising riders to check with their embassies before traveling, and to consult the company’s website for the latest information.

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Lucinda Franks Dies at 74; Prize-Winning Journalist Broke Molds

In 2017, when the media was flooded with women’s stories of sexual harassment, Ms. Franks wrote an opinion essay for The Times in which she recalled her male colleagues’ snub over her Pulitzer.

“Grateful to win a place in the hierarchy of power,” she wrote, “we didn’t understand the ways that gender degradation still shaped our work lives.”

Lucinda Laura Franks was born on July 16, 1946, in Chicago. Her family soon moved to Wellesley, Mass. Her mother, Lorraine Lois (Leavitt) Franks, was involved in civic activities, including as president of the Wellesley Junior Service League. Her father, Thomas E. Franks, was vice president of a metals company.

While growing up, Ms. Franks wrote, she found her parents’ marriage grim, and she left home as soon as possible. She went to Vassar, where she majored in English and steeped herself in the counterculture. After graduating in 1968, she left for London.

Her mother died in 1976, and Ms. Franks had little contact with her father. She later learned that he had been unfaithful to her mother, was a heavy drinker and over time had become nearly penniless. And only toward the end of his life (he died in 2002), while moving him out of his clut­tered house in Milford, Mass., did she discover, to her shock, boxes of Nazi paraphernalia and cryp­tic doc­u­ments. He had been a secret agent during World War II, she found — an experience, she would learn, that had tormented him.

As a former spy, he had been sworn to secrecy. But Alzheimer’s was eating away at his memory, and under his daughter’s relentless questioning, he revealed his secrets.

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Jobless Claims Continue to Fall: Live Updates

filed first-time applications for state jobless benefits, the Labor Department said Thursday, down more than 100,000 from a week earlier. In addition, 101,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program covering freelancers, self-employed workers and others who don’t qualify for regular benefits. Neither figure is seasonally adjusted.

Applications for unemployment benefits remain high by historical standards, but they have fallen significantly in recent weeks after progress stalled in the fall and winter. Weekly filings for state benefits, which peaked at more than six million last spring, fell below 700,000 for the first time in late March and has now been below that level for four straight weeks.

“In the last few weeks we’ve seen a pretty dramatic improvement in the claims data, and I think that does signal that there’s been an acceleration in the labor market recovery in April,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the employment site ZipRecruiter.

Economists should get a clearer picture of the labor market’s progress on Friday when the Labor Department will release data on hiring and unemployment in April. The report is expected to show that employers added about one million jobs last month, up from 916,000 in March. The leisure and hospitality industry, which was hardest hit by the initial phase of the pandemic last spring, has led the way in the recovery in recent months, a trend that forecasters believe continued in April.

Many employers have said in recent weeks that they would like to hire even faster but have struggled to find enough workers. Some have blamed enhanced unemployment benefits for discouraging people from returning to work. On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte of Montana said his state would pull out of a federal program offering enhanced benefits to unemployed workers and would instead pay a $1,200 bonus to recipients when they find new jobs.

Economic research has found that unemployment benefits can reduce the intensity with which workers search for jobs. But most studies find that the impact on the overall labor market is small, especially when unemployment is high. And Mr. Zhao and other economists say there are other reasons that labor supply might be rebounding more slowly than labor demand. Many potential workers are juggling child care or other responsibilities at home; others remain cautious about the health risks of returning to in-person work.

“I think we will see labor supply improve pretty dramatically in the coming months as the pandemic abates,” Mr. Zhao said.

The Bank of England in London. Policymakers forecast unemployment in Britain to peak at 5.5 percent later this year, thanks to the extension of the government’s furlough program.
Credit…Matt Dunham/Associated Press

The Bank of England unveiled a much brighter outlook for the British economy on Thursday, saying it would return to its prepandemic levels at the end of this year as lockdowns ended, consumers spent billions of pounds in extra savings and the vaccine rollout reduced public health worries.

The central bank, in its quarterly monetary report, raised its growth forecasts and slashed its predictions for unemployment. The British economy is now projected to grow 7.25 percent this year, compared to a forecast of 5 percent growth three months ago. This would be the fastest pace of expansion for the economy since official records began in 1949, pulling Britain out of its worst recession in three centuries.

The higher forecast comes after the government has announced tens of billions of pounds in additional spending to see workers and businesses through the summer, and outlined its plan to end lockdown restrictions by late June.

Britain’s economic output “recovers strongly over the course of 2021, albeit only back to pre-Covid levels,” Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, said in a news conference on Thursday.

“Of course, there remains uncertainty around how the pandemic might evolve and so there are risks around this projection, including from renewed waves of infections in the U.K. and other countries,” he said.

He added that there was also an “enormous amount of uncertainty” about how the pandemic might permanently change people’s working and living patterns, and the effect that will have on the shape of the economy.

Even though inflation is expected to rise above the central bank’s 2 percent target, policymakers voted unanimously to keep the benchmark interest rate at 0.1 percent. It cut rates to that level in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The central bank also said it would slow the pace of its £875 billion government bond-buying program, which was projected to run through 2021, so that it does not finish the program before the end of the year. If the central bank had continued at its current pace, the buying program would have ended several months early. Instead of buying £4.4 billion government bonds a week, the central bank will buy £3.4 billion. The program helps keep government borrowing costs low and supports the economy by encouraging investors to buy other assets.

The minutes of the central bank’s policy meeting showed that officials don’t intent to tighten monetary policy until “there is clear evidence that significant progress” is made on the economic recovery and inflation is sustainably at the bank’s target.

The Bank of England now forecasts unemployment to peak at 5.5 percent later this year, because of the extension of the government’s furlough program. In February, the central bank predicted the unemployment rate would rise as high as 7.75 percent.

The easing of pandemic restrictions will also increase consumer spending. The central bank added that it now expected people to spend about 10 percent of the excess savings they built up in lockdown based on new survey evidence. The previous estimate was just 5 percent.

But these extra savings are “not evenly distributed,” Mr. Bailey said. And they are concentrated among people who are older and already wealthier.

Gary Gensler, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Credit…Kayana Szymczak for The New York Times

Gary Gensler, the newly installed chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, is testifying on Thursday, at noon Eastern time, before the House Financial Services Committee. He will address the meme-stock volatility in January that led to trading restrictions and prompted an outcry about Wall Street’s relationship with retail investors.

“I think these events are part of a larger story about the intersection of finance and technology,” Mr. Gensler will say in his prepared remarks, highlighting seven factors at play that also hint at his regulatory priorities in the months ahead:

  • Gamification. Fun features combined with predictive analytics on trading apps increase engagement. Watching a movie based on a streaming app recommendation, “we might lose a couple of hours,” Mr. Gensler said. “Following the wrong prompt on a trading app, however, could have a substantial effect on a saver’s financial position.” He suggested it may be time for new rules to address the practice.

  • Payment for order flow. Many retail brokers don’t charge fees for trades, earning money instead by directing customer orders to wholesalers to execute. More trades generate more payments, which raises questions about conflicts of interest, consumer protection and data aggregation, Mr. Gensler said.

  • Market structure. A few wholesalers account for a growing share of retail stock trading volume, with Citadel Securities particularly dominant. This concentration can “lead to fragility, deter healthy competition and limit innovation,” Mr. Gensler said.

  • Short-selling transparency. He wants to increase “transparency in the stock loan market.”

  • Social media. Investors exchanging views online is fine, but Mr. Gensler worries bad actors take advantage of legitimate debates. In particular, this risks sending false signals to algorithms that some investors use to gauge the “relationships between words and prices.”

  • Plumbing. When brokers restricted customer trading in meme stocks, they blamed clearinghouses and two-day settlement times. Mr. Gensler said same-day settlement is technologically possible and has asked for a draft proposal on speeding up settlement.

  • Systemic risks. The S.E.C. will issue a report over the summer, the chair said, examining what happened in detail during the meme-stock frenzy and considering “whether expanded enforcement mechanisms are necessary.”

Volkswagen’s display at the Shanghai auto show in China last month. China is the German carmaker’s largest market.
Credit…Aly Song/Reuters

A spike in sales to Chinese customers helped Volkswagen rebound strongly from the disruption caused by the pandemic, the carmaker said Thursday, underlining China’s importance to the German economy.

Sales in the first three months of 2021 rose 13 percent compared to a year earlier, to 62.4 billion euros, or $75 billion, while profit rose nearly sevenfold to 3.4 billion euros, the company said. Vehicle sales in China, which is Volkswagen’s largest market, rose more than 60 percent.

The recovery in sales bodes well for the German economy. Vehicles are the country’s biggest export product. But Volkswagen also illustrates Germany’s dependence on China when tensions between Beijing and the European Union are rising because of the Chinese government’s treatment of minority groups and its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.

As is typical for Volkswagen, the company’s Audi and Porsche divisions generated most of the profit. The luxury vehicles have a higher profit margin than the more affordable cars that account for most of Volkswagen’s volume.

Volkswagen said it was able to manage the shortage of semiconductors that has afflicted all carmakers in recent months, but warned that the chip famine could become more acute in months to come.

Volkswagen sold 60,000 battery-powered vehicles out of a total of 2.4 million during the quarter. That may be a disappointment to the company, which has staked its future on a new line of electric cars, the first of which went on sale late in 2020.

A coronavirus testing center in Soweto, South Africa. The World Trade Organization is considering a proposal to provide drugmakers around the world access to the patents behind coronavirus vaccines.
Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times
  • Stocks on Wall Street were flat on Thursday, while European shares were mixed, as investors digested an assortment of corporate earnings reports.

  • The S&P 500 was little changed in early trading. The benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 index was 0.3 percent lower and the FTSE 100 in Britain was 0.2 percent higher.

  • In the United States, the Labor Department revealed its weekly tally for new state claims for unemployment insurance on Thursday, which showed the number is continuing to decline. About 505,000 people filed first-time applications, down more than 100,000 from a week earlier.

  • Oil futures fell after recent gains, with West Texas Intermediate, the American benchmark, down 0.6 percent to $65.25 a barrel. Yields on 10-year Treasury notes were unchanged.

  • The Biden administration’s surprise announcement that it would support efforts to waive intellectual property protections for coronavirus vaccines caused share prices for some pharmaceutical companies to tumble.

  • Pfizer fell 3.6 percent in early trading Thursday. BioNTech, the German firm that developed a vaccine with Pfizer, was also lower.

  • Shares of Moderna fell nearly 10 percent, while Novavax, the Maryland-based drug maker which is expected to seek U.S. approval for its vaccine soon, dropped more than 6 percent on Thursday.

  • The British pound rose 0.2 percent against the U.S. dollar as the Bank of England announced it would hold interest rates at 0.1 percent but would slow down the pace of its bond-buying program for the rest of the year. Policymakers also increased their forecasts for the British economy.

A Eurostar train in London’s St. Pancras International station in December. As an independent train operator, Eurostar isn’t eligible for direct state aid.
Credit…Suzie Howell for The New York Times

Consider it a small victory.

Eurostar, the sleek and speedy high-speed train service that ties London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and other cities, will increase as of May 27 its timetable to two trains per day on its once heavily-traveled Paris-London route, up from just one round-trip train per day imposed during the pandemic.

The slightly increased service comes as governments in Europe plan to slowly lift longstanding national restrictions on travel designed to combat the spread of the virus. From a peak of running more than 60 trains a day, Eurostar cut service during the pandemic to one daily round-trip between London and Paris, and one on its London-Brussels and Amsterdam routes.

The Brussels/Amsterdam route will remain the same with one train in each direction per day, a spokesman said, adding that Eurostar will adapt its timetable should demand increase, which still depends on travel restrictions across its routes.

Eurostar’s future has been thrown into turmoil as pandemic measures led last year to a 95 percent slump in ridership, creating a cash crunch and pushing the iconic company to the brink of bankruptcy.

While some airlines and other tourist-related businesses in Europe have been able to rely on government support during the crisis, Eurostar, an independent train operator, isn’t eligible for direct state aid.

Last month, the company, which is now owned by a consortium that includes the French and Belgium national railways, reportedly secured a deal with its lenders to refinance a debt pile worth £400 million ($553 million). The British government, which in 2015 sold its stake in the rail company, last month declined to back a broader financial rescue package.

A spokesman for Eurostar said it had no new details on a financial rescue, but said that “conversations are still progressing.” The spokesman added that it is “too early to predict a recovery to prepandemic levels, this would be very much dependent on the easing of international travel restrictions which are yet to be confirmed.”

Eurostar trains will continue to maintain some vacant seats onboard to allow for social distancing. The company said it is advising riders to check with their embassies before traveling, and to consult the company’s website for the latest information.

Tim Lorentz with the LaBoata in Spokane, Wash.
Credit…Allie Lorentz

Tim Lorentz, a special-education teacher in Spokane, Wash., loves both cars and boats. He has raced cars and has owned a variety of muscle and exotic vehicles.

“Car guys always want to own or drive a unique car that no one else owns,” Mr. Lorentz said. “I created an eight-passenger convertible. Why not a boat mounted over a convertible? I have never seen another one like it.”

And so the LaBoata was born. Mr. Lorentz, now 65, built it in 2009 using a white 1993 LeBaron a used 17-foot boat he got for $100, Mercedes Lilienthal reports for The New York Times.

The LaBoata was “instant fun,” he said, until he received a letter from the Washington Department of Motor Vehicles canceling his registration and title. The authorities had noticed his converted convertible, and they weren’t amused. He removed the boat shell, drove the car to the D.M.V. and had it reinspected, reinstated and relicensed. He went home and popped the boat back on, and he has had no issues since.

Mr. Lorentz is part of a community that builds cars out of scrap. Kelvin Odartei Cruickshank, who is 19 and lives in Accra, Ghana’s capital city, built, from scratch, a two-person car that looks like a ramshackle DeLorean. It took three years to complete. Mr. Cruickshank used about $200 of scrap metal and parts not normally used in cars because of financial constraints.

  • Fox News, the cable news giant controlled by Rupert Murdoch, kept its parent company flush in the first three months of the year, notching a slight gain in profit and sales despite a drop in viewers. Altogether, Fox Corporation beat Wall Street expectations with a sevenfold increase in profit to $567 million and a 6.5 percent drop in revenue to $3.2 billion compared with the same period a year prior. But revenue at most of its businesses dropped as fewer viewers tuned into the company’s cable channels and the Fox broadcast network, in part because Fox did not host the Super Bowl this year. Total advertising sales fell 24 percent to $1.2 billion.

  • Uber said its business was recovering from the slowdown caused by the pandemic, although it continued to lose money. The company said on Wednesday that revenue was $2.9 billion in the first three months of the year, down 11 percent from the same period a year ago. Excluding money earmarked for a settlement with drivers in Britain, Uber’s revenue was $3.5 billion, an 8 percent increase from the previous year that outpaced Wall Street expectations of $3.28 billion.

  • The New York Times Company recorded its smallest gain in new subscribers in a year and a half. The Times reported a total of 7.8 million subscribers across both print and digital platforms, with 6.9 million coming for online news or its Cooking and Games apps. The company added 301,000 digital customers for the first three months of the year, the lowest increase since the third quarter of 2019. The company reported adjusted operating profit of $68 million, a 54 percent jump from last year, as it generated more dollars from each subscriber, partly because of the expiration of promotional rates as the new year rolled over. Total revenue rose modestly, about 6.6 percent, to $473 million.

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Bank of England predicts a faster recovery and slows down its bond-buying program.

The Bank of England unveiled a much brighter outlook for the British economy on Thursday, saying it would return to its prepandemic levels at the end of this year as lockdowns ended, consumers spent billions of pounds in extra savings and the vaccine rollout reduced public health worries.

The central bank, in its quarterly monetary report, raised its growth forecasts and slashed its predictions for unemployment. The British economy is now projected to grow 7.25 percent this year, compared to a forecast of 5 percent growth three months ago. This would be the fastest pace of expansion for the economy since official records began in 1949, pulling Britain out of its worst recession in three centuries.

The higher forecast comes after the government has announced tens of billions of pounds in additional spending to see workers and businesses through the summer, and outlined its plan to end lockdown restrictions by late June.

Britain’s economic output “recovers strongly over the course of 2021, albeit only back to pre-Covid levels,” Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, said in a news conference on Thursday.

“Of course, there remains uncertainty around how the pandemic might evolve and so there are risks around this projection, including from renewed waves of infections in the U.K. and other countries,” he said.

He added that there was also an “enormous amount of uncertainty” about how the pandemic might permanently change people’s working and living patterns, and the effect that will have on the shape of the economy.

Even though inflation is expected to rise above the central bank’s 2 percent target, policymakers voted unanimously to keep the benchmark interest rate at 0.1 percent. It cut rates to that level in March 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The central bank also said it would slow the pace of its £875 billion government bond-buying program, which was projected to run through 2021, so that it does not finish the program before the end of the year. If the central bank had continued at its current pace, the buying program would have ended several months early. Instead of buying £4.4 billion government bonds a week, the central bank will buy £3.4 billion. The program helps keep government borrowing costs low and supports the economy by encouraging investors to buy other assets.

The minutes of the central bank’s policy meeting showed that officials don’t intent to tighten monetary policy until “there is clear evidence that significant progress” is made on the economic recovery and inflation is sustainably at the bank’s target.

The Bank of England now forecasts unemployment to peak at 5.5 percent later this year, because of the extension of the government’s furlough program. In February, the central bank predicted the unemployment rate would rise as high as 7.75 percent.

The easing of pandemic restrictions will also increase consumer spending. The central bank added that it now expected people to spend about 10 percent of the excess savings they built up in lockdown based on new survey evidence. The previous estimate was just 5 percent.

But these extra savings are “not evenly distributed,” Mr. Bailey said. And they are concentrated among people who are older and already wealthier.

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Covid-19 Live Updates: Vaccines Protect Against Some Variants, Studies Show

vaccine was extraordinarily effective against severe disease caused by two variants, including the dominant one in the United States. And the results of an early-stage trial of the Moderna vaccine — though not published or vetted by scientists — suggested that a single dose given as a booster was effective against variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil, the company said.

The emergence of new variants, and whether vaccines are effective against them, is a subject of continued concern as a variant first detected in India, called B.1.617, spreads across the country. There is also a risk that further variants will arise there as the country’s outbreak grows, experts say. Another worrisome variant, P.1, is wreaking havoc across South America.

In the Pfizer studies, which were based on real-world use of the vaccine in Qatar and Israel, the two variants of focus were B.1.1.7, first identified in Britain and now detected in over 100 countries, and B.1.351, first identified in South Africa. The studies showed that the vaccine can prevent some of the most severe outcomes from Covid-19, such as pneumonia and death, caused by those variants.

“At this point in time, we can confidently say that we can use this vaccine, even in the presence of circulating variants of concern,” said Dr. Annelies Wilder-Smith, a researcher in infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

One of the Pfizer studies showed that the vaccine was 87 to 89.5 percent effective at preventing infection with B.1.1.7 among people who were at least two weeks past their second shot. It was 72.1 percent to 75 percent effective at preventing infection with B.1.351. The study was based on information about more than 200,000 people that was pulled from Qatar’s national Covid-19 databases from Feb. 1 to March 31.

Another study, conducted by researchers at Pfizer and at Israel’s Health Ministry, found that the vaccine was more than 95 percent effective at protecting against a coronavirus infection, hospitalization and death among fully vaccinated people 16 and older.

In the United States, experts now believe that attaining herd immunity is unlikely because of the spread of variants and hesitancy among some people in the country to be vaccinated. The variant that has caused the most alarm is B.1.1.7, which is about 60 percent more transmissible than original versions of the virus.

Moderna’s announcement was greeted cautiously, because the results of an early-stage trial have not been published or peer-reviewed. But the company said it was encouraged by results that suggested that a single booster shot of its vaccine would rapidly increase antibodies in vaccinated people, and that those antibodies were effective against the original form of the virus as well as the variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil.

A second booster specifically designed to counter the variant identified in South Africa produced an even stronger immune response, the company said.

A vaccination center at a school in New Delhi on Wednesday. 
Credit…Tauseef Mustafa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As India recorded a single-day high in new coronavirus cases on Thursday, its vaccination campaign has been marred by shortages and states are competing against one another to get doses, limiting the government’s hope that the country can soon emerge from a devastating outbreak.

The Indian health ministry recorded about 410,000 cases in 24 hours, a new global high, and 3,980 deaths, the highest daily death toll in any country outside the United States. Experts believe the number of actual infections and deaths is much higher.

A second wave of infections exploded last month, and some Indian states reintroduced partial lockdowns, but daily vaccination numbers have fallen. The government said it had administered nearly two million vaccine doses on Thursday, far lower than the 3.5 million doses a day it reached in March. Over the past week, 1.6 million people on average were vaccinated daily in the country of 1.4 billion.

India’s pace of vaccinations has become a source of global concern as its outbreak devastates the nation and spreads into neighboring countries, and as a variant first identified there begins to be found around the world. The outbreak has prompted India to keep vaccine doses produced by its large drug manufacturing industry at home instead of exporting them, slowing down vaccination campaigns elsewhere.

In an effort to make doses more widely available within India, the authorities have allowed states and private health care providers to buy vaccines directly from manufacturers. But that has left state governments competing with one another for doses, and experts say it has added more troubles to a sluggish rollout. The authorities in Delhi, the capital, and several states have said they had to delay the expansion of vaccine access to younger age groups because of shortages.

India also lacks enough doses to meet the growing demand. Two domestic drug companies — the Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, and Bharat Biotech, which is making its own vaccine — are producing fewer than 100 million doses per month.

About 3 percent of India’s population has been fully vaccinated, and 9.2 percent of people have received at least one dose. Experts say that at the current rate the country is unlikely to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s target of inoculating 300 million people by August.

India has recorded 20.6 million coronavirus cases and more than 226,000 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

India’s government has said it will fast-track approvals of foreign-made vaccines, and on Wednesday the Biden administration said it would support waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines to increase supplies for lower-income countries.

But a waiver would need to win unanimous support at the World Trade Organization — and even then, experts say, India’s drug companies would need extensive technological and other support to produced doses.

“The drop in I.P. protections is only one element,” Anant Bhan, a health researcher at Melaka Manipal Medical College in southern India, said of intellectual property. Because of the additional steps required to begin making a vaccine on a huge scale, he said, “it is not going to mean increased access to vaccines in the near future.”

As Mr. Modi has declined to impose a nationwide lockdown like the one he brought in last year, states have adopted their own measures. On Thursday, the southern state of Kerala, which has one of the highest caseloads, announced a near-total lockdown until May 16.

Experts also worry that a crisis may be unfolding in India’s rural areas, where testing capacities are even more limited.

“My main concern is nonavailability of testing and the logistics of not getting people tested in rural areas,” said Gautam Menon, a professor of physics and biology at Ashoka University in northern India. “So we will never get the real numbers for either infection rates or deaths from many such quarters of India.”

The U.S. State Department has approved the departure of family members of U.S. government employees in India and is urging American citizens to take advantage of commercial flights out of the country. It said on Wednesday that it would approve the voluntary departure of nonemergency U.S. government employees.

On Thursday, Sri Lanka became the latest country to bar travelers from India, joining the United States, Britain, Australia and others.

The European Union is one of the world’s largest producers, exporters and consumers of vaccines.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

The European Union is considering whether to follow the Biden administration’s decision to support a waiver of patent rights for Covid-19 vaccines as many poor and middle-income nations struggle to secure lifesaving doses.

The European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, stopped short of outright supporting President Biden in a speech on Thursday morning, but said the European Union was “also ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner.”

“That is why we are ready to discuss how the U.S. proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective,” she said, speaking at the Florence European University Institute.

The United States had been a major holdout at the World Trade Organization over a proposal to suspend some intellectual property protections, a move that could allow drugmakers access to the trade secrets of how the viable vaccines have been made. But President Biden had come under increasing pressure to support the proposal, which was drafted by India and South Africa.

President Emmanuel Macron of France said on Thursday that he welcomed the Biden administration’s support for waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, but that the short-term priority was to donate existing doses to poorer countries rather than helping them produce the vaccines themselves.

“You can transfer the intellectual property to pharmaceutical manufacturers in Africa,” he said while visiting a vaccination center in southern Paris, but “they don’t have the platforms to produce mRNA vaccines.”

The European Union is one of the world’s largest producers, exporters and consumers of vaccines and has so far opposed activism at the W.T.O. level to recognize the pandemic as a huge emergency and remove protections on the vaccines. Doing so would allow them to ultimately be produced in larger volumes by manufacturers around the world.

Shares of some pharmaceutical companies fell on Wednesday after Mr. Biden’s announcement and continued dropping on Thursday. BioNTech shares in Germany were down about 15 percent since news of the administration’s decision. Novavax, which fell 5 percent Wednesday, fell another 3 percent in premarket trading on Wall Street.

The International Olympic Committee is moving to help athletes and officials get vaccinated before traveling to the Summer Games in Tokyo.
Credit…Hiro Komae/Associated Press

Athletes and officials traveling to the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer will be offered doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine before arriving in Japan, the International Olympic Committee said on Thursday, in an effort to reassure the Japanese public about the safety of hosting the event.

The committee said it had struck a deal with the drug makers to send the doses to Olympic and Paralympic Games participants’ home countries, where they will be administered through domestic inoculation programs.

The effort is the latest attempt by Olympic officials and Japanese organizers to assuage the concerns of Japanese people who do not want their country to host the Games during the pandemic. Less than 1 percent of people in Japan have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, according to a New York Times database, and restaurants, bars and nonessential businesses are closed in several areas, including Tokyo.

The initiative was developed “not only to contribute to the safe environment of the Games, but also out of respect for the residents of Japan,” the committee said in a statement.

Despite the move and an earlier announcement that the committee would buy doses of a Chinese-made vaccine, there is no requirement for athletes, coaches, officials and others attending the Games to be vaccinated.

In March, China said it would provide vaccines for Olympic participants. But China’s vaccines have not been approved in many countries, and several — including Japan — said they would decline the offer.

The I.O.C. president, Thomas Bach, acknowledged that accepting the vaccine was voluntary, even as he urged competitors to be inoculated. “We are inviting the athletes and participating delegations of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games to lead by example and accept the vaccine where and when possible,” he said.

Dining at a restaurant in San Diego last week.
Credit…Ariana Drehsler for The New York Times

After weeks of coronavirus patients flooding emergency rooms in Michigan, hospitalizations are falling. On some recent days, entire states have reported zero new coronavirus deaths. And in New York and Chicago, officials have vowed to fully reopen in the coming weeks, conjuring images of a vibrant summer of concerts, sporting events and packed restaurants.

Americans have entered a new, hopeful phase of the pandemic as the outlook has improved across the nation. The country is recording about 49,000 new cases a day, the lowest number since early October, and hospitalizations have plateaued at about 40,000, a similar level as the early fall.

“We’re in a really good spell and we can act accordingly,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Irvine, who said it made sense to loosen restrictions now, when the risk is lower than it might be this winter.

Yet even as a sense of hope spreads, there remain strong reasons for caution. Deaths are hovering around 700 a day — down from a peak of more than 3,000 in January. The pace of vaccinations in the country is slowing, and experts now believe that herd immunity in the United States may not be attainable. More transmissible variants of the virus are also spreading.

That could leave the coronavirus infecting tens of thousands of Americans and killing hundreds more each day for some time.

Although more than half of adults in the country have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, a new national poll suggests that the American public’s willingness to get a Covid-19 vaccine is reaching a saturation point.

Nine percent of unvaccinated respondents said they intended to get a shot, according to the survey, published in the April edition of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Vaccine Monitor. And with federal authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for people age 12 to 15 expected imminently, parents’ eagerness to have their children vaccinated is also limited, the poll found.

Among the parents surveyed, three in 10 said they would have their children vaccinated immediately, and 26 percent said they wanted to wait and see how the vaccines were working. Eighteen percent said they would have their children vaccinated only if a child’s school required it, and 23 percent said they would not have their children vaccinated.

“We’re in a new stage of talking about vaccine demand,” said Mollyann Brodie, the executive vice president of Kaiser’s Public Opinion and Survey Research Program. “There’s not going to be a single strategy to increase demand across everyone who is left.”

Even so, public health experts say that while they still expect significant local and regional surges in the coming weeks, they do not think they will be as widespread or reach past peaks.

Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, the health officer in Seattle and King County, said there was no playbook for an endgame to this pandemic, but he urged people to get vaccinated.

“I’m sure all of us want to avoid a long game of Whac-a-Mole with imposing and easing restrictions,” he said. “Vaccination is the cure.”

Global Roundup

A checkpoint in Suva, Fiji, last week, after the Fijian capital entered a 14-day lockdown.
Credit…Leon Lord/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The police and the military in Fiji locked down a major hospital on the island of Viti Levu on Wednesday night, aiming to contain the country’s second coronavirus outbreak.

More than 400 patients and employees are inside the hospital, said Dr. James Fong, the health ministry’s permanent secretary. The lockdown was precipitated by the death of a patient in the intensive-care unit, the third known person to have died from the virus in Fiji. The virus is believed to have passed from the patient to at least two doctors.

Health workers hope to use the lockdown to determine which patients and workers might have come into contact with those infected. Officials said that those inside the hospital would be provided with food and other supplies. Sections of the hospital have been converted into intensive-care units in case other severe infections arise.

With a population of around one million, Fiji has about 50 active cases of the virus, out of 125 total cases reported since the start of the pandemic. Many of the active cases are thought to be of a coronavirus variant first discovered in India.

Recent social restrictions have often been ignored in the South Pacific island nation: The Fijian police have arrested more than 100 people for breaches, with many infractions said to be connected to alcohol or kava, a local intoxicant.

Dr. Fong said at a news conference this week that the country’s containment strategy could take months. “Every Fijian must be ready,” he said.

“We are not up against an identical enemy this time around,” Dr. Fong added. “The chains of transmission are more widespread, and the variant is more transmissible.”

In other news around the world:

  • Germany’s health minister said on Thursday that the authorities would drop prioritization and age limits for adults willing to be inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine. The country had briefly paused and then restricted the use of the AstraZeneca shot to people over 60 because of very rare side effects. Supplies had been piling up in some places because many Germans prefer other vaccines.

  • President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines apologized to the public on Wednesday for having received a shot of a Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Chinese firm Sinopharm that has not been approved for use in his country — although his spokesman said on Thursday that Mr. Duterte would still receive a second dose of it. The president also asked that a donation of 1,000 doses be sent back to China. Mr. Duterte had broadcast his vaccination live on social media on Monday.

  • New Zealand said it would pause travel from Australia’s state of New South Wales after health officials there said that they were investigating a case of community transmission in Sydney, the first such case in the city in more than a month. Sydney officials have linked the infection to a traveler who returned from the United States and was isolating in a hotel, but have not established how the infection escaped hotel quarantine. The man’s wife also tested positive on Thursday. The cases have prompted Sydney to limit indoor gatherings to 20 people and require masks indoors from Thursday until Sunday. New Zealand and Australia began a quarantine-free travel bubble last month.

  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia said on Thursday that his government was considering resuming repatriation flights for Australian nationals in India after May 15, after a controversial travel ban last week made it a criminal offense for citizens and residents of Australia to enter the country from India. Critics accused the government of racism, but the authorities framed it as necessary to prevent transmission from a devastating outbreak in India.

A giant squid statue, made at a cost of nearly $230,000, in the town of Noto, Japan.
Credit…Noto Town, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A coastal town in Japan has provoked debate after spending nearly $230,000 in federal Covid-19 relief money on a 43-foot statue of a flying squid.

Noto, a fishing town where the squid is a delicacy, erected the statue in March in a bid to promote tourism after the pandemic subsides. The five-and-a-half-ton pink sea creature sits outside a squid-themed restaurant and tourist center.

Tetsuji Shimoyachi, a town official, said he hoped the statue would be “a driving-force attraction in the post-Covid period.”

But the giant squid’s unveiling provoked questions among some of the 16,000 residents of the town, roughly 180 miles northwest of Tokyo, who wondered whether there weren’t better uses of its emergency relief funds.

One Twitter user asked how the world would view the installation of a giant squid “in a country where vaccines were not provided, P.C.R. testing isn’t increased and the medical system has collapsed.”

Mr. Shimoyachi acknowledged that residents had raised concerns about whether the money should have been spent elsewhere.

He said that of the $6.2 million in coronavirus relief that the town received from the Japanese government last year, it had spent about $2.5 million on infection control measures and $1.3 million to promote local businesses and employment, and still had money left over after purchasing the squid statue. The town has recorded fewer than 30 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.

In all, Japan allocated $41 billion in emergency subsidies to municipalities last year to address the pandemic and its economic impact.

Mr. Shimoyachi said that Noto was historically a center of squid fishing in Japan, but that catches had significantly declined because of competition from Chinese and North Korean boats. Tourism has also fallen, which led the town to build the tourist center in a bid to attract visitors — although Mr. Shimoyachi said that it was too soon to start a marketing campaign.

Japan has controlled the virus better than many countries but has faced a recent spike in cases in Tokyo and other municipalities. The surge has prompted a new round of economic restrictions, criticism of Japan’s slow vaccine rollout and questions over whether the country should proceed with the Tokyo Olympics, which are scheduled to begin in July.

The pandemic has caused some Americans to become more spartan when it comes to bathing.
Credit…Elizabeth Cecil for The New York Times

Robin Harper, an administrative assistant at a preschool in Martha’s Vineyard, grew up showering every day. “It’s what you did,” she said.

But when the pandemic forced her indoors and away from the public, she started showering once a week. The new practice felt environmentally virtuous, practical and freeing — and it has stuck.

“Don’t get me wrong — I like showers,” said Ms. Harper, 43, who has returned to work. “But it’s one thing off my plate. I’m a mom, I work full-time, and it’s one less thing I have to do.”

The pandemic has upended the use of zippered pants and changed many people’s eating and drinking habits. And there are now indications that it has caused some Americans to become more spartan when it comes to ablutions.

Parents say that their teenage children are forgoing daily showers. After the British news media reported on a YouGov survey showing that 17 percent of people in Britain had abandoned daily showers during the pandemic, many on Twitter said they had done the same.

Heather Whaley, 49, a writer in Reading, Conn., said that her shower use had dropped 20 percent in the past year. After the pandemic forced her into lockdown, she said, she began considering why she was showering every day.

“Do I need to? Do I want to?” she said. “The act of taking a shower became less a matter of function and more of a matter of doing something for myself that I enjoyed.”

A Covid-19 patient at a hospital in Moradabad, India, on Wednesday.
Credit…Prakash Singh/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The calls come at all hours, sometimes 15 a day, from some of India’s most oppressed and severely ill people, buzzing a cellphone that belongs to Dolly Arjun, an Indian-American physician assistant in Boston.

A few years ago, Ms. Arjun founded a telehealth program to provide free health care to members of India’s Indigenous tribes and to Dalits, who are at the lowest rungs of India’s entrenched caste system and have long faced discrimination. Dalits are typically the last to receive assistance in humanitarian disasters and often live in impoverished rural villages with no hospitals, medical care or schools.

Now, with a devastating wave of coronavirus infections surging across India, Dalits are facing a new peril, Ms. Arjun said. She said she was desperate to help, even though she is emotionally exhausted after a year of working with Covid-19 patients in Massachusetts.

“Tons of people are dying,” Ms. Arjun said. “This is just a human to human need.”

Her focus is not just Hippocratic. She is Dalit herself, a rarity among Indian medical professionals in the United States, most of whom come from upper-caste urban families. “The only reason they might know a Dalit person is because it’s their servant at home,” Ms. Arjun said.

Her telemedicine program has health workers in India who can translate for patients in local languages, but finding medical professionals in the United States to join the effort has not been easy, she said. Still, Ms. Arjun has recruited two physicians.

Patients contact the group through WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube, and the medical professionals call back on video. Often their first task is to reassure patients who have little understanding of the coronavirus or the appropriate medical treatments, Ms. Arjun said.

“Part of what’s happening now is patients are being told Covid is going to kill you, so they are panicked,” Ms. Arjun said.

She noted that in one Indian state the government has been broadly distributing packets of medications — including 25 days-worth of antibiotics, which cannot treat viruses — to residents, regardless of whether they have tested positive for Covid-19 or show symptoms.

Sometimes, however, the telehealth calls detect life-or-death emergencies. In late April, Ms. Arjun logged onto a WhatsApp video call with a young Dalit man and his 60-year-old father, who was at home with breathing problems in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, where it was around midnight.

“They didn’t know what to do,” she said. “They told us there were no hospitals or oxygen available, and they hadn’t seen a doctor.”

After assessing the man, Ms. Arjun urged the family to check to see whether any hospital beds were available instead of assuming that they were full. “It took a lot of convincing,” she said.

The next day, he was admitted and began to improve, but the hospital was running out of oxygen. Ms. Arjun put out a call on several WhatsApp groups for an oxygen cylinder, though the family did not know the name of the hospital and then fell out of contact.

Days later, she learned that the man had died.

There were road blocks, fires and riots in southern Bogotá on Tuesday after a week of protests and strikes over tax reforms proposed by the Colombian government.
Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — A teenager shot to death after kicking a police officer. A young man bleeding out on the street as protesters shout for help. Police officers firing on unarmed demonstrators. Helicopters swarming overhead, tanks rolling through neighborhoods, explosions echoing in the streets. A mother crying for her son.

“We are destroyed,” said Milena Meneses, 39, whose only son, Santiago, 19, was killed in a protest over the weekend.

Colombians demonstrating over the past week against the poverty and inequality that have worsened the lives of millions since the pandemic began have been met with a powerful crackdown by their government, which has responded to the protests with the same militarized police force it often uses against rebel fighters and organized crime.

The clashes have left at least 24 people dead, most of them demonstrators, and at least 87 missing. They have also exacerbated the anger with officials in the capital, Bogotá. Protesters say the government is increasingly out of touch with people’s lives.

Experts say this explosion of frustration could presage unrest across Latin America, where several countries face the combustible mix of an unrelenting pandemic, growing hardship and plummeting government revenue.

“We are all connected,” said León Valencia, a political analyst, noting that past protests had jumped from country to country. “This could spread across the region.”

The marches began last week after Mr. Duque proposed a tax overhaul meant to close a pandemic-related economic shortfall, and since then the crowds have grown. Demonstrators now include teachers, doctors, students, members of major unions, longtime activists and Colombians who have never before taken to the streets.

Latin America was one of the regions hardest hit by the virus last year, with cemeteries filling past capacity, the sick dying while awaiting care in hospital hallways, and family members spending the night in lines to buy medical oxygen in an attempt to keep loved ones alive.

The region’s economies shrank an average of 7 percent. In many places, unemployment, particularly among the young, spiked. And in the first few months of 2021, the Covid-19 situation has worsened.

Travelers at Chicago O’Hare airport last week. With more people vaccinated against Covid, travel is increasing.
Credit…Spencer Platt/Getty Images

More than 106 million people in the United States are fully vaccinated. Airlines are resuming overseas flights. Come summer, fully vaccinated people traveling from America will once again be welcome across Europe.

But the reality is more sobering.

Globally, more new coronavirus cases were reported in recent weeks than at any point since the onset of the pandemic. The numbers are being driven by an uncontrolled outbreak in India, but also account for troubling trends among European destinations popular with Americans, from France and Germany to Italy and Spain.

“My doomsday scenario is a mixing of vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in a setting where there is high viral load and high viral transmission,” said Dr. Sarah Fortune, the chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Even if international tourists could travel safely, securely and without risking the well-being of their hosts, visitors may face yet another impediment: The destinations may lack many of their usual draws. In Paris, bars and restaurants have been closed since the end of October, as are museums.

Jordyn Coleman, 11, attending math class from his apartment in Clarksdale, Miss., during a virtual learning day.
Credit…Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

Until the pandemic, Jordyn and his mother, Precious Coleman, lived in Battle Creek, Mich., where he was known among his teachers as a bright but easily distracted student, capable of soaring when he was engaged.

On the day of a standardized test, Jordyn sat in front of his computer, humming to himself and spinning around in his chair. His teacher thought he was goofing off — until the results came in.

When his mother came to pick him up, a school administrator was waiting for her, and she worried Jordyn had gotten into trouble. “That’s when they told me that he had gotten not just the best score in his class but the best score in the entire grade,” she said.

After the pandemic hit, Ms. Coleman struggled to make ends meet. She and her two sons ended up moving to Clarksdale, Miss., one of the poorest corners of the United States. Ms. Coleman works an overnight shift at a casino. Jordyn waits for her to return home in the morning so he can log in to school with her cellphone, and she struggles to stay awake to help him.

Now Jordyn is at risk of becoming one of the lost students of the coronavirus pandemic in the most disrupted American school year since World War II.

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E.U. Leader Says Bloc Is Willing to Discuss Patent Waiver for Covid Vaccines

BRUSSELS — Under growing pressure, the European Union is considering whether to follow the Biden administration’s decision to support a waiver of patent rights for Covid-19 vaccines as many poor and middle-income nations struggle to secure lifesaving doses.

The European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, stopped short of outright supporting President Biden’s decision in a speech on Thursday morning, but said the European Union was “also ready to discuss any proposals that address the crisis in an effective and pragmatic manner.”

“That is why we are ready to discuss how the U.S. proposal for a waiver on intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines could help achieve that objective,” she said, speaking at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. “In the short run, however, we call upon all vaccine-producing countries to allow export and to avoid measures that disrupt the supply chains.”

Her comments mark a shift, as she has previously said she did not support patent waivers.

The United States had been a major holdout at the World Trade Organization over a proposal to suspend some intellectual property protections, which could give drugmakers access to the trade secrets of how the vaccines are made. But President Biden had come under increasing pressure to support the proposal, which was drafted by India and South Africa.

India and South America.

“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” she said in a statement. “The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines.”

Any proposal on waiving patents would require unanimous approval by W.T.O. members, so European Union support is necessary. But even if the proposal passes, it could make little difference to vaccine availability in the short run.

Eighty-three percent of shots that have been administered worldwide have been in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Just 0.2 percent of doses have been administered in low-income countries. In North America, 48 out of 100 adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine; the figure is 31 per 100 adults in Europe. In Africa, it is 1.3, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

Ms. von der Leyen on Thursday once again stated the European Union’s belief that “no one is safe until everyone is safe” in the fight against the pandemic.

That notion, she said, was as true for the continent of Europe as it was for the world. She said she could not imagine what it would have meant if some countries in the European Union secured vaccines while others went without.

“Economically it would have made no sense whatsoever with such an integrated single market,” she said. “And politically it would have torn our union apart.”

an interview with The Times in which she previewed the Pfizer-BioNTech deal last month, she came out strongly against vaccine patent sharing.

“I am not at all a friend of releasing patents,” Ms. von der Leyen said, advancing a common argument among pharmaceutical executives that private enterprise was in part responsible for the innovation that spurred the speedy development of Covid-19 vaccines. “Therefore, you need this private-sector ingenuity behind it,” she added.

Marc Santora contributed reporting from London.

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Why an Estimated 100,000 Americans Abroad Face Passport Problems

Yona Shemesh, 24, was born in Los Angeles, but he moved to Israel with his family at age 9. In July 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic was raging, he booked a ticket to Los Angeles to visit his grandparents in June 2021, knowing that he would have nearly an entire year to renew his American passport, which had long since expired.

Eight months later, he was still trying to get an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem to do just that.

About 9 million U.S. citizens currently live abroad, and as the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel finally appears, immigration lawyers estimate more than 100,000 can’t get travel documents to return to the United States.

Despite the State Department making headway on a massive backlog of passport applications in the early months of the pandemic, many consulates and embassies abroad, plagued by Covid-19 restrictions and staffing reductions, remain closed for all but emergency services. Travel is restarting, but for American expats who had a baby abroad in the past year or saw their passport expire during the pandemic, elusive appointments for documents are keeping them grounded.

The Jerusalem Post. American Citizens Abroad, an advocacy organization for U.S. expats, sent an official request to the State Department in October 2020 to prioritize Americans’ access to consular services abroad, “but people are still experiencing delays,” said the organization’s executive director, Marylouise Serrato.

In Mexico, which is believed to have more American expats than any other country, a recent search on the appointment database for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City showed zero available appointments for passport services, even with emergency circumstances (appointments from July onward have not yet been released).

ItsEasy Passport & Visa, a passport-and-visa-expediting service, said that many of them are so small that they’re nearly impossible to track.

“Since there is an online appointment system, anybody can log on, stockpile these appointments and resell them,” he said. “In the United States, they can be sold for $200 or $250, but out of the country they can charge much more.”

Mr. Shemesh got the broker’s phone number and transferred the money, and in one day, he had a confirmed appointment.

“I tried for eight months to get an appointment, and it was really a bummer because my money is something I have to work hard for. I paid more to renew my passport than I did on the ticket to Los Angeles. It felt like blackmail.”

Desperate Americans in other countries have considered paying for other services, as well.

Conner Gorry, 51, an American journalist who lives in Cuba, spent several frantic weeks trying to renew her expiring passport earlier this year. The U.S. Embassy in Havana is closed for all but emergency services. For six weeks, she tried to book an appointment, and received no response. Ms. Gorry grew so stressed that she developed gastritis, and at one point, she contemplated spending more than $13,000 to charter a plane from Havana to Miami, where she knew she would be able to renew her passport by mail.

She eventually found a flight out of Havana, and flew to the U.S. with one week left on her passport. She is unsure of when she will return to Cuba. The situation, she said, made her furious.

“The Covid thing is one thing. But the U.S. has citizens all over the world, and a diplomatic corps all over the world. What are they doing to protect and attend to us?”

Documents for American citizens within the United States are also getting stuck in the backlog. When Dayna and Brian Lee, who are Tony Award-winning producers of “Angels in America,” had twin baby girls in early April, the bureaucratic headaches started before they even brought their newborn daughters from the hospital to their home in New York City, where they have lived for several years.

The couple is originally from Toronto and their daughters, Emmy and Ella, are eligible for dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship but are currently without passports from either country. The infants must have American passports first so their parents can travel with them to Canada, where the girls will be able to also receive their Canadian passports. But for weeks after the girls were born, Mr. and Mrs. Lee were unable to book appointments at any U.S. passport office within a three-hour drive of New York City. They ended up turning to an immigration lawyer for help.

“It’s so inexplicably stressful, mixed up with the overwhelming joy of having these two beautiful lives in front of you,” Mr. Lee said. “But we’ve made the decision that come hell or high water, we will be with our families this summer.”

Elizabeth Goss, an immigration attorney based in Boston, said she expects delays and scheduling headaches for both visas and U.S. passports to last another year.

“It’s like a cruise ship that needs to readjust,” she said. “It’s not a speedboat.”


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Covid and Travel: Why an Estimated 100,000 Americans Abroad Face Passport Problems

Yona Shemesh, 24, was born in Los Angeles, but he moved to Israel with his family at age 9. In July 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic was raging, he booked a ticket to Los Angeles to visit his grandparents in June 2021, knowing that he would have nearly an entire year to renew his American passport, which had long since expired.

Eight months later, he was still trying to get an appointment at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem to do just that.

About 9 million U.S. citizens currently live abroad, and as the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel finally appears, immigration lawyers estimate more than 100,000 can’t get travel documents to return to the United States.

Despite the State Department making headway on a massive backlog of passport applications in the early months of the pandemic, many consulates and embassies abroad, plagued by Covid-19 restrictions and staffing reductions, remain closed for all but emergency services. Travel is restarting, but for American expats who had a baby abroad in the past year or saw their passport expire during the pandemic, elusive appointments for documents are keeping them grounded.

The Jerusalem Post. American Citizens Abroad, an advocacy organization for U.S. expats, sent an official request to the State Department in October 2020 to prioritize Americans’ access to consular services abroad, “but people are still experiencing delays,” said the organization’s executive director, Marylouise Serrato.

In Mexico, which is believed to have more American expats than any other country, a recent search on the appointment database for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City showed zero available appointments for passport services, even with emergency circumstances (appointments from July onward have not yet been released).

ItsEasy Passport & Visa, a passport-and-visa-expediting service, said that many of them are so small that they’re nearly impossible to track.

“Since there is an online appointment system, anybody can log on, stockpile these appointments and resell them,” he said. “In the United States, they can be sold for $200 or $250, but out of the country they can charge much more.”

Mr. Shemesh got the broker’s phone number and transferred the money, and in one day, he had a confirmed appointment.

“I tried for eight months to get an appointment, and it was really a bummer because my money is something I have to work hard for. I paid more to renew my passport than I did on the ticket to Los Angeles. It felt like blackmail.”

Desperate Americans in other countries have considered paying for other services, as well.

Conner Gorry, 51, an American journalist who lives in Cuba, spent several frantic weeks trying to renew her expiring passport earlier this year. The U.S. Embassy in Havana is closed for all but emergency services. For six weeks, she tried to book an appointment, and received no response. Ms. Gorry grew so stressed that she developed gastritis, and at one point, she contemplated spending more than $13,000 to charter a plane from Havana to Miami, where she knew she would be able to renew her passport by mail.

She eventually found a flight out of Havana, and flew to the U.S. with one week left on her passport. She is unsure of when she will return to Cuba. The situation, she said, made her furious.

“The Covid thing is one thing. But the U.S. has citizens all over the world, and a diplomatic corps all over the world. What are they doing to protect and attend to us?”

Documents for American citizens within the United States are also getting stuck in the backlog. When Dayna and Brian Lee, who are Tony Award-winning producers of “Angels in America,” had twin baby girls in early April, the bureaucratic headaches started before they even brought their newborn daughters from the hospital to their home in New York City, where they have lived for several years.

The couple is originally from Toronto and their daughters, Emmy and Ella, are eligible for dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship but are currently without passports from either country. The infants must have American passports first so their parents can travel with them to Canada, where the girls will be able to also receive their Canadian passports. But for weeks after the girls were born, Mr. and Mrs. Lee were unable to book appointments at any U.S. passport office within a three-hour drive of New York City. They ended up turning to an immigration lawyer for help.

“It’s so inexplicably stressful, mixed up with the overwhelming joy of having these two beautiful lives in front of you,” Mr. Lee said. “But we’ve made the decision that come hell or high water, we will be with our families this summer.”

Elizabeth Goss, an immigration attorney based in Boston, said she expects delays and scheduling headaches for both visas and U.S. passports to last another year.

“It’s like a cruise ship that needs to readjust,” she said. “It’s not a speedboat.”


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Scottish Election Could Boost Independence Movement

If the pro-independence vote surges in Thursday’s elections for the Scottish Parliament, momentum for an another referendum on independence may become unstoppable.


It has weathered the conquest and loss of an empire, survived two world wars and witnessed more than one deadly pandemic. But now Scotland’s ancient alliance with England is itself in poor health and on Thursday it could take a serious turn for the worse.

When Scottish voters go to the polls to elect 129 members of Scotland’s Parliament , strictly speaking the question of independence will not be on the ballot.

Yet, as these photos vividly illustrate, Scotland is grappling with an uncertain future. Pressure is growing for a second referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom, breaking up a 314-year-old union. If Scots vote in sufficient numbers for pro-independence parties in Thursday’s election, the momentum for another plebiscite could become unstoppable.

shellfish catches spoiled and boats tied up in harbors.

Both sides of the debate see lessons in that. The pro-independence Scottish National Party, led by the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, points to the economic damage and says she would aim to rejoin the European Union after breaking away from England. In so doing Scotland could make a success of independence like other small nations like Ireland, which took that step a century ago.

Her critics say that this would pile more economic misery on top of Brexit by destroying the common economic market with England, easily Scotland’s biggest trading partner. It would probably also mean a physical trade border between England and Scotland, a frontier that is in some places hard even to spot.

Nonetheless, the 2016 Brexit referendum showed that appeals to emotion can trump those to the wallet. In Scotland identity issues have grown within a proud nation that always maintained a separate, some would say superior, legal and educational system.

Ms. Sturgeon’s S.N.P. is aiming for a rare overall majority in the Scottish Parliament to justify her calls for a second independence referendum. Failing that, she hopes that votes for other pro-independence parties, especially the Greens, will be enough to bolster her case.

Support for independence in opinion polls peaked last year at above 50 percent while Ms. Sturgeon’s handling of the pandemic looked sure-footed at a time when Mr. Johnson’s seemed chaotic.

But the successful rollout the Covid-19 vaccine — for which Mr. Johnson can take credit — has coincided with a slight dip in Ms. Sturgeon’s fortunes. Also campaigning in Thursday election is Alex Salmond, a veteran of the pro-independence cause but now a sworn enemy of Ms. Sturgeon who was once his protégé. The two politicians fell out over Ms. Sturgeon’s role in a bungled investigation into allegations against Mr. Salmond of sexual misconduct.

After months of feuding with her former mentor, Ms. Sturgeon survived a damaging crisis but Mr. Salmond has formed a new pro-independence party, Alba.

There are domestic issues at stake too and, after 14 years in power in Edinburgh, the S.N.P. has many critics in Scotland. In TV debates Ms. Sturgeon has been forced to defend her record on everything ranging from educational achievement to Scotland’s poor record on drug deaths.

In the Shetland Islands some voters feel as remote from Ms. Sturgeon’s government in Edinburgh as from Mr. Johnson’s in London, and there is even talk of the islands opting for independence from Scotland.

On the mainland the mood is uncertainty. For Ms. Sturgeon tough questions lie ahead about whether an independent Scotland could afford the sort of social policies she favors without the support of taxpayers in England or their central bank.

Noticeably absent from these photos is Mr. Johnson, who has stayed away from Scotland, knowing that his presence would probably undercut the Conservative Party’s pitch to preserve the union. Educated at Britain’s most famous high school, Eton College, and then Oxford University, Mr. Johnson’s cultivated English upper-class persona tends to grate on Scottish voters.

Despite his absence the stakes are for high for Mr. Johnson. The loss of Scotland would deprive the United Kingdom of about a third of its landmass and significant international prestige.

It would also likely mean the closure of the Faslane nuclear submarine base that the S.N.P. opposes, believing its location makes the nearby city of Glasgow a military target.

Were Mr. Johnson to lose a Scottish independence referendum, he would probably have to resign, and his strategy so far has simply been to reject calls for one. For a plebiscite to be legally binding an agreement almost certainly would have to first be struck with London, and the prime minister can continue to stonewall for some time.

But whatever the law, it’s hard to say no indefinitely. And a centuries-old union could face its greatest test if a majority in Scotland, which joined voluntarily with England in 1707, thinks now is the time to think again.

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