At many venues, attendees were required to provide their names and phone numbers to be used for tracing in case of an outbreak. Masks and temperature checks were required. Some concert halls barred the selling of food and drinks. Seats at some spaces were staggered to resemble flowers, in an arrangement that came to be known in Taiwan as “plum blossom seating.”
Despite the vigilance, there were occasional scares. More than a hundred people were forced to quarantine in March of last year after coming into contact with the Australian composer Brett Dean, who tested positive for the virus after performing in Taiwan. The incident was front-page news in Taiwan, with some people fuming that Dean — whose “Hamlet” is scheduled at the Metropolitan Opera in New York next season — had been allowed to perform even though he had a cough.
Lydia Kuo, the executive director of the National Symphony Orchestra, which collaborated with Dean, said the scare taught the orchestra the importance of maintaining strict health measures even when infections were near zero.
“We were facing an unknown enemy,” she said. “We were lucky to face this reality very early.”
Taiwan’s still-active cultural scene attracted talent from around the world over the past year when many artists were without stable work and confined at home. There were visits by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the German organist Felix Hell, and Ma, the renowned cellist, who chartered a flight to the island for a tour in November.
Many musicians with roots in Taiwan have also returned, some for an extended visit. Ray Chen, a violinist, came back in August at the urging of his family and has taken part in about 20 live concerts, master classes and music education outreach events since then. He said he was struck by the care people showed toward one another and the widespread adherence to public health rules, even when Taiwan went months without any reported infections.
“Everyone is willing to play a part,” Chen said. “Everyone values life.”
Taiwan’s strict approach has not been popular in all corners of the artistic world. After the outbreak this month, some artists questioned the government’s decision to close performance venues, concerned that it would hurt performers’ income.
Tensions rose even higher when the stagehands learned that the Met had outsourced some of its set construction to nonunion shops elsewhere in this country and overseas. (In a letter to the union last year, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, wrote that the average full-time stagehand cost the Met $260,000 in 2019, including benefits; the union disputes that number, saying that when the steady extra stagehands who work at the Met regularly, and sometimes full-time, are factored in, the average pay is far lower.)
The stagehand lockout has not been absolute. Claffey said that at the Met’s request, he has allowed several Local One members to work at the Met under the terms of the previous contract, particularly to help the union wardrobe staff who are on duty.
But although the Met has now reached a deal with the American Guild of Musical Artists, which represents its chorus, it has yet to reach one with Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, which represents the orchestra. Both groups were furloughed without pay for nearly a year after the opera house closed before they were brought back to the bargaining table with the promise of partial pay of up to $1,543 per week.
Adam Krauthamer, the president of Local 802, pointed out that because of the Met’s labor divisions, other performing arts institutions were ahead of the Met in reopening.
“Broadway is selling tickets; the Philharmonic is doing performances; they’re building stages right before our eyes,” Krauthamer said in a speech at the rally. “The Met is the only place that continues to try to destroy its workers’ contracts.”
The rally had the backing of several local politicians who spoke, including Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, and the New York State Senators Jessica Ramos and Brad Hoylman, who had a message for the Met’s general manager: “Mr. Gelb, could you leave the drama on the stage, please?”
Japan has contained Covid-19 far better than most other large countries. But it now faces the challenge of holding the Olympics this summer — and welcoming athletes from around the world — without causing new outbreaks.
The status of the Games has become a political issue in Japan, with polls showing most residents favoring either postponement or cancellation. Many people are frustrated with how Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, in his first year in office, is handling the situation.
Yet for all of the criticism, it seems possible that Japan will hold a successful Olympics while keeping the virus under control. This morning, I want to walk you through the issue, with help from a couple of charts and from my colleague Motoko Rich, The Times’s Tokyo bureau chief.
An amazing statistic
Japan’s Covid response has been so successful that it achieved a remarkable feat: Overall deaths declined in 2020, even as they were surging in the U.S. and much of the rest of the world. Japan kept its Covid toll low, and its pandemic measures caused a decline in some other fatalities, like those from the flu and vehicle accidents.
This article by Motoko, from almost a year ago, compares mask habits in Japan and the U.S.) The government also virtually closed its borders. And it was quick to focus on the settings where the coronavirus was most likely to spread, warning people to avoid the “three C’s” — closed spaces, crowded places and close contact.
only 2 percent of residents having received a shot. There is less urgency to do so in a country where fewer than 11,000 people have died of Covid.
Japanese regulators have so far approved only Pfizer’s vaccine and are still evaluating Moderna’s and AstraZeneca’s, despite their obvious success elsewhere. Even if those vaccines are approved soon, the government’s contracts with the vaccine makers do not require the delivery of many doses until late this year, Motoko notes. The country appears to be months away from reaching the vaccination levels of the U.S., Britain, Israel and other world leaders.
risen over the past two months, and the government declared a state of emergency in several major cities, urging new restrictions on activity. “Japan has recently lost a little control of the caseloads,” Motoko says. “Of course, it’s nothing like New Delhi, but it’s not like Sydney or Taipei, either.”
insist that the Games will go on, and there are billions of dollars at stake, not only for Japan but also for the Olympic organizers, major sponsors and television networks, including NBC. For athletes who have trained for years, the cancellation of the Games — after their postponement last year — would be deeply disappointing.
More tests than fans
The biggest safety measure is the barring of fans from outside Japan. At a typical Olympics, fans make up the great majority of visitors to the host country. By barring them, Japan has restricted entry to athletes, coaches, journalists and Olympics officials, many of whom will probably have been vaccinated. They will all need to take several Covid tests before coming, and athletes will be tested every day during the Olympics, with others being tested less frequently.
The dangers will also decrease if Japan can meet its goal of vaccinating most residents 65 and older — the people most vulnerable to serious Covid symptoms — by July 23, when the Games begin.
Even if that happens, though, Japan will not be free of risk. After months of allowing few international visitors, the country will be letting in tens of thousands of people. They will then interact with nearly 80,000 local Olympic volunteers, who will drive athletes and officials around Tokyo, serve as interpreters and do other tasks. A Covid-free Olympics seems unlikely. The question will be whether Japan can quickly identify, isolate and treat people who get the virus.
In this way, the Games may present a particularly intense version of the balance that many countries will be trying to achieve in 2021 — moving back to normal life while avoiding a new wave of a deadly virus.
“Inside Japan, historical currents are also important drivers,” Motoko and Hikari Hida have written. “The wartime cancellation of one Tokyo Olympics, in 1940, and the triumphant staging of another a quarter-century later are potent symbols of first regret and then rebirth.”
Dr. Megan Ranney, for CNN: “I wish we would either limit the Games to just the athletes, or insist on vaccination for all — including spectators and host communities …. Yes, these events deserve to go on, for the sake of the athletes — but we cannot pretend that the current recommended precautions are adequate.”
Rebecca Solnit makes the case for climate optimism, citing technological innovation and growing political will: “Each shift makes more shifts possible.”
Biden’s quiet steps to strengthen U.S. support for Taiwan are increasing the risk of war, Peter Beinart argues in The New York Times.
Get Hip: If you follow Barstool Sports or own a mug that says “Girlboss,” you may be cheugy.
A Times Classic: Go backstage at the (prepandemic) Metropolitan Opera.
Lives Lived: Patrick O’Connell helped shatter the stigma surrounding AIDS by developing awareness-raising campaigns, one of which included a red ribbon that became ubiquitous. He died at 67.
ARTS AND IDEAS
flourishing to describe a person’s overall well-being — physical, mental and emotional, which all feed on each other. “It’s living the good life,” Tyler J. VanderWeele, an epidemiologist, told The Times.
In the pandemic, many people have understandably been doing the opposite of flourishing: languishing, or feeling stagnant with dulled emotions and motivation. A Times story on languishing was one of our most read articles in recent weeks.
But there are simple habits backed by science that can help you flourish. They include celebrating small moments in life, like a warm bath or hanging out with a friend; setting aside time once a week to reflect on the things you’re grateful for; and volunteering, even a couple of hours a week. (Are you flourishing? Take this quiz.)
“People think that in order to flourish, they need to do whatever their version of winning the Olympics is, or climbing a mountain, or having some epic experience,” Adam Grant, a psychologist, said. The reality is the opposite. — Sanam Yar, Morning writer
Americans on the right half of the political spectrum have tended to underplay the risk of Covid-19. They have been less willing to wear masks or avoid indoor gatherings and have been more hesitant to get vaccinated.
These attitudes are part of a larger pattern in which American conservatives are often skeptical of public-health warnings from scientists — on climate change, air pollution, gun violence, school lunches and more. In the case of Covid, Republican politicians and media figures have encouraged risky behavior by making false statements about the virus.
To many liberals, Covid has become another example of the modern Republican Party’s hostility to facts and evidence. And that charge certainly has some truth to it. Yet the particular story with Covid is also more complicated — because conservatives aren’t the only ones misinterpreting scientific evidence in systematic ways. Americans on the left half of the political spectrum are doing it, too.
That’s a central finding from a survey of 35,000 Americans by Gallup and Franklin Templeton. It finds that both liberals and conservatives suffer from misperceptions about the pandemic — in opposite directions. “Republicans consistently underestimate risks, while Democrats consistently overestimate them,” Jonathan Rothwell, Gallup’s principal economist, and Sonal Desai, a Franklin Templeton executive, write.
a major source of transmission, and Covid has killed about 15 times more Americans than either the flu or vehicle crashes do in a typical year.
Democrats, on the other hand, are more likely to exaggerate the severity of Covid. When asked how often Covid patients had to be hospitalized, a very large share of Democratic voters said that at least 20 percent did. The actual hospitalization rate is about 1 percent.
only 0.04 percent of Covid deaths.
It’s true that some of these misperceptions reflect the fact that most people are not epidemiologists and that estimating medical statistics is difficult. Still, the errors do have a connection to real-world behavior, Rothwell told me.
the damage being done to children, in lost learning, lost social connections and, in the case of poorer children, missed meals.
The states with the highest share of closed schools are all blue states: California, Oregon, Maryland, New Mexico, Hawaii, Nevada, Massachusetts and New Jersey. “I think in many ways it’s based on the fact that these voters are misinformed about the risks to young people and they’re misinformed about the risks generally,” Rothwell said.
Information can help
The reasons for these ideological biases aren’t completely clear, but they are not shocking. Conservatives tend to be more hostile to behavior restrictions and to scientific research. And liberals sometimes overreact to social problems. (A classic example was the overpopulation scare of the 1960s and ’70s, when people on the left wrongly predicted that the world would run out of food.)
Covid, of course, represents a real crisis, one that has already killed more than a half-million Americans and continues to kill more than 1,000 per day. As in the case of many crises, underreaction has been the bigger problem with Covid — but it has not been the only problem.
Perhaps the best news from the Gallup survey was that some people were willing to revisit their beliefs when given new information. Republicans took the pandemic more seriously after being told that the number of new cases was rising, and Democrats were more favorable to in-person schooling after hearing that the American Academy of Pediatrics supports it.
“That’s very encouraging,” Rothwell told me. “It’s discouraging that people didn’t already know it.”
THE LATEST NEWS
She returned it last month.
He died at 77.
ARTS AND IDEAS
Their article visualizes these changes, charting the structure of pop hits from Billie Holiday to Billie Eilish.
Part of the reason for the move toward less predictability: With the rise of social media platforms and music streaming services like Spotify, songs now have more competition for people’s attention. Many artists want to get to “the hook” of a song faster, delivering a variety of catchy sections — rather than one repeating chorus — to keep people listening.
become shorter, in part because people can easily skip around. The average No. 1 hit now clocks in at just over three minutes, down nearly a full minute from the early 2000s. The new brevity is something of a return to the early days of rock ’n’ roll.
PLAY, WATCH, EAT
What to Cook
Make saag paneer, an Indian dish with spinach (or other dark greens) and spices. And check out the most popular recipes on NYT Cooking’s Instagram account.
What to Read
In Brontez Purnell’s new book, “100 Boyfriends,” a rotating cast of narrators shares stories of desire and heartbreak. The critic Parul Sehgal calls it a “hurricane.”
They’re huggable, they’re collectible and they’re taking over: Meet Squishmallows.
The hosts got serious about the shootings in Atlanta.
The musicians of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra have voted to accept a deal that will provide them with paychecks for the first time in nearly a year in exchange for returning to the bargaining table, where the company is seeking lasting pay cuts that it says are needed to survive the pandemic.
The musicians, and most of the Met’s workers, were furloughed in April, shortly after the pandemic forced the opera house to close. Months later, the Met offered the musicians partial pay in exchange for significant long-term cuts, but their union objected. Then the Met softened its position: Since the end of December, it has been offering to pay the musicians up to $1,543 a week on a temporary basis if they agreed to start negotiations. While the union representing the chorus agreed to the deal more than a month ago, the orchestra’s union took longer to accept the deal.
On Tuesday, the musicians in the orchestra, which became the last major ensemble in the United States without a deal to receive pandemic pay, agreed to take the offer, according to an email sent by the Met orchestra committee to its members.
“We’re very pleased that our agreement with the orchestra has been ratified and that they will begin receiving bridge pay this week,” the Met said in a statement, “along with the start of meaningful discussions towards reaching a new agreement.”
which it says has cost the company $150 million in earned revenues. For its highest-paid unions, the company is seeking 30 percent cuts — the change in take-home pay would be approximately 20 percent, it said — with a promise to restore half when ticket revenues and core donations return to prepandemic levels.
Under the deal, musicians will receive up to $1,543 for eight weeks; money they get from unemployment or stimulus payments is deducted from that total. If, after eight weeks, the musicians and the Met have not reached an agreement but the negotiations are productive, the partial paychecks will be extended, according to an email from the Met to the orchestra explaining the offer. The musicians’ labor contract expires at the end of July.
The Met offered the same deal to its choristers, dancers, stage managers and other employees who are represented by a different union, the American Guild of Musical Artists. That union accepted the deal at the end of January, and its members have been receiving paychecks for roughly five weeks.
The opera company is hopeful that it can start performing for the public in the fall, but opening night will be determined by where the virus and vaccination rates stand, as well as the outcome of the Met’s labor disputes. The company locked out its stagehands in December after their union rejected a proposal for substantial pay cuts.
In a note to Met employees sent on Friday, one year after the Met shut its doors, the company’s general manger, Peter Gelb, wrote that there was a “light at the end of the tunnel” because of the accelerated pace of vaccinations that President Biden had announced. Still, Mr. Gelb wrote, the Met needed to “come to terms with the economic necessities” that the pandemic has demanded.
“Even before the pandemic, the economics of the Met were extremely challenging and in need of a reset,” Mr. Gelb wrote. “With the pandemic, we have had to fight for our economic survival.”