Climbers Return to Mount Everest With Covid-19 Precautions

After Nepal was forced to close its mountain trails last year, dealing its economy a devastating blow, the tiny Himalayan country has reopened Mount Everest and its seven other 26,200-foot-plus peaks in the hope of a rebound.

For this year’s climbing season, from March to May, Nepal has granted more than 300 climbers the licenses needed to ascend the world’s tallest peak. Many of those climbers hope to reach the summit, 5.5 miles above sea level.

But as the coronavirus resurges in South Asia, the pandemic has made the already deadly climb even more hazardous. Local officials have instituted testing, mask and social-distancing requirements, stationed medical personnel at the Mount Everest Base Camp, and made plans to swoop in and pick up infected climbers. Climbers are typically greeted in Kathmandu with raucous parties thrown by expedition staffers. But not this year.

“No party. No handshake. No hug. Just ‘Namaste,’” said Lakpa Sherpa, whose agency is taking 19 climbers to Everest this spring, referring to the South Asian greeting.

coronavirus vaccination efforts are faltering, is taking a calculated risk. In 2019, tourism brought in $2 billion in revenue and employed about a million people. For tens of thousands of Nepalis, the three-month climbing season is the only opportunity for paid work.

The damage from last year’s closure was immense. At least 1.5 million people in the country of 30 million lost jobs or substantial income during the pandemic, according to Nepal’s National Planning Commission.

Porters who usually cart supplies and gear up the peaks for well-paying foreign climbers were forced to subsist on government handouts of rice and lentils. Expert expedition guides, many of whom are members of Nepal’s Sherpa tribe, returned to their villages in the remote mountains and grew potatoes to survive.

“We have no other options,” said Rudra Singh Tamang, the head of Nepal’s tourism department. “We need to save the mountaineering economy.”

Still, tourism ministry officials and expedition agencies acknowledge that Nepal has no clear plan to test or isolate climbers if one tests positive for the virus.

At the airport in Kathmandu, the capital, incoming travelers must show negative RT-PCR test results or provide vaccination certificates. Climbers initially had to get additional insurance, adding to the average $50,000 price tag to climb Everest, although the government has loosened that requirement.

Despite the challenges, the climbing season has drawn some high-profile mountaineers, including a Bahraini prince with a large entourage, a Qatari who wants to be the first woman from her nation to make the climb, and a former National Football League wide receiver who is aiming to become the oldest N.F.L. player to summit the world’s seven tallest peaks.

“I wanted to be there,” said the former player, Mark Pattison, 59, “in Nepal, this spring, at any cost.”

View Source

Climbers Return to Mt. Everest Despite Covid-19

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Mark Pattison played wide receiver for three National Football League teams in the 1980s. Now he wants to fulfill another dream: to climb all seven of the world’s highest peaks, including Mount Everest.

To prepare, Mr. Pattison, 59, packed weatherproof outerwear, polarized goggles and ice crampons. But he is climbing Mount Everest in the midst of a global pandemic. He has supplemented his usual gear with face masks, gloves and sanitizer. He took out extra insurance to pay for a rescue if Covid-19 strikes.

The coronavirus is resurging in South Asia, but Mr. Pattison is undaunted. “I wanted to be there,” he said, “in Nepal, this spring, at any cost.”

Nepal has reopened Mount Everest and its seven other 26,200-foot-plus peaks in the hope of a mountain-climbing rebound. The tiny Himalayan country was forced to close trails last year, dealing its economy a devastating blow. For this year’s climbing season, from March to May, Nepal has granted more than 300 climbers the licenses needed to ascend Mount Everest. Many of those climbers hope to reach the summit, 5.5 miles above sea level.

11 deaths in 2019 — even more hazardous. Local officials have instituted testing, mask and social-distancing requirements, stationed medical personnel at the Mount Everest Base Camp and made plans to swoop in and pick up infected climbers. Climbers are typically greeted in Kathmandu with raucous parties thrown by expedition staffers. But not this year.

to suspend its vaccination program before a donation of 800,000 doses from China, its other giant neighbor, allowed it to resume. Still, it won’t be able to administer a second regimen to the 1.7 million who already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Despite potential problems, the climbing season kicked off at the end of March, after the first expedition left Kathmandu. From there, climbers travel by plane to Lukla, the town that serves as the starting point for the 10-day trek to base camp. Once at camp, they spend weeks there acclimating to the altitude and waiting for a window of clear weather to attempt the summit.

Sandro Gromen-Hayes, a filmmaker who documented a British Army expedition of Everest in 2017, said Thamel, the area of Kathmandu popular with broke backpackers, was quieter this year.

“It was swarmed with trekkers and climbers and stoners and everything in between,” he said of his previous visit. “Now Thamel is much quieter.”

Mr. Gromen-Hayes, 31, came to Nepal from Pakistan, where he filmed an expedition on K2, the world’s second highest peak, which is known because of its ferocious winds as “the savage mountain.” Usually bereft of climbers in winter, it saw dozens of top mountaineers who had been cooped up for months in virus lockdowns and then flocked to K2 in December to make an attempt.

Among the climbing community, “I don’t think a lot of people are concerned about the corona angle,” he said.

Some climbers, like Mr. Pattison, the former N.F.L. player, said they were drawn to Mount Everest this year because they assumed it would be less crowded. But Nepal expects more climbers to apply for licenses beyond the more than 300 who have already, said Mira Acharya, the director of Nepal’s tourism department.

Mr. Pattison plans to trek in surgical gloves and gown, trading in his face mask for an oxygen mask only when he begins the arduous climb from base camp to the peak.

The record books are motivating Mr. Pattison. He has already climbed the six other peaks on the other continents. Should he climb Mt. Everest, he will be the oldest N.F.L. player to have surmounted the Seven Summits, as the peaks are known, and the first to climb Everest and then clamber up neighboring Lhotse, at 27,940 feet the world’s fourth-highest peak, within 24 hours.

“I’ve been at this for nine years,” Mr. Pattison said. Despite the pandemic, he added, “I’m ready to go.”

Bhadra Sharma reported from Kathmandu, Nepal, and Emily Schmall from New Delhi.

View Source

Prabal Gurung on Anti-Asian Violence, Discrimination and the Duties of Success

Prabal Gurung, the Nepalese-American designer, has been a vocal proponent of inclusion and diversity since his first show in 2009. In the wake of the Atlanta shootings and an upswing in anti-Asian violence, he talked to The New York Times about his own experiences and what his work has to do with it.

How do you grapple with what’s going on?

To watch a video of a 65-year-old woman being brutally attacked is triggering and heart-wrenching, not just for me but for my friends and people from my community. We all are so worried for our loved ones. My mother goes on walks every morning and evening. She’s 75-years-old. A couple of weeks ago, I bought a blond wig for her, and I said, “You know, just wear it when you go outside, wear a hat, wear glasses.” She tried it on. But the next day she came over to my place, and she was like: “I’m not going to wear it. Just buy me a big, strong cane.” That is the reality of this.

Is that why you were an organizer of a Black and Asian solidarity march with other designers and activists in March?

We didn’t know how many people were going to show up, but thousands and thousands of people showed up across races and gender: L.G.B.T.Q. friends, Latin friends, Black friends, Asian friends, white friends. What we recognize is that for this particular moment to turn into a movement, we have to have all the marginalized groups and our white counterparts coming together.

Oh, a wave of Asian designers.” Then there’s a wave of Black designers, a wave of women designers. We never say a wave of white designers. We are never considered designers on our own. So that kind of implicit bias, that kind of microaggression, we face it all the time.

Did you experience it when you were trying to get financial backing for your business?

For my 10-year anniversary I was at a potential investors meeting, and one asked, “What does the brand stand for?” I said: “The America that I see is very colorful. The dinner table that I see is very colorful. It’s diverse. That’s the America that was promised to me. That’s why I came here, because I was a misfit back home.” And he says to me, “Well, you don’t look American.” I looked at him, and I was like, “You mean to say I don’t look white?”

“It’s OK,” I said. “I’ve been in business in America for 20 years. I’m a citizen. I make more than 90 percent of my clothes in New York City. I am actively involved in social causes. I’ve contributed to my taxes.”

torrent of hate and violence against people of Asian descent around the U.S. began last spring, in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Community leaders say the bigotry was spurred by the rhetoric of former President Trump, who referred to the coronavirus as the “China virus.”

  • In New York, a wave of xenophobia and violence has been compounded by the economic fallout of the pandemic, which has dealt a severe blow to New York’s Asian-American communities. Many community leaders say racist assaults are being overlooked by the authorities.
  • In January, an 84-year-old man from Thailand was violently slammed to the ground in San Francisco, resulting in his death at a hospital two days later. The attack, captured on video, has become a rallying cry.
  • Eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed in the Atlanta massage parlor shootings on March 16. The suspect’s motives are under investigation, but Asian communities across the United States are on alert because of a surge in attacks against Asian-Americans over the past year.
  • A man has been arrested and charged with a hate crime in connection with a violent attack on a Filipino woman near Times Square on March 30. The attack sparked further outrage after security footage appeared to show bystanders failing to immediately come to the woman’s aid.
  • Part of what you are trying to do with your work is educate people about the nuances of different Asian cultures, right?

    Asian-Americans are the fastest growing immigrant group in the U.S. electorate, with roots all over the world. We are diverse. I look East Asian, right? But I’m from Southeast Asia. I sit in the center of the brown Asians and the other Asians. The wealth disparity between the richest Asian-Americans and the poorest is insanely high. I think maybe the largest of any ethnic group in this country. In spite of that, there is a myth of the model minority, of crazy rich Asians. That’s why “Parasite” is important, why “Minari” is important. Give us the platform so we can tell our stories.

    This stereotyping doesn’t make you angry?

    I’m OK with people making mistakes because it can start a dialogue that leads to a solution. I refuse to cancel people unless there’s something really harmful.

    Fashion is one of the hardest and most arduous industries, but it’s also an industry that can reward you in the most splendid, incredible way. And it is the only industry where in 10 minutes on a runway we can really change the narrative of what the culture can be. That’s the power of fashion.

    I am a living example of it, coming from a country like Nepal where nobody believed I could be a designer. To be able to live that dream and to have this platform. It’s been really incredible.


    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    View Source

    U.S. to Seize Gloves After Finding ‘Sufficient’ Evidence of Forced Labor: Live Updates

    A worker inspecting disposable gloves at a Top Glove factory near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in August.
    Credit…Mohd Rasfan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    United States Customs and Border Protection has ordered port officials to seize disposable gloves made by the world’s largest rubber glove maker, a Malaysian company that the agency says uses forced labor in its factories.

    Customs and Border Protection said in a statement on Monday that it had “sufficient information to believe” that the company, Top Glove, “uses forced labor in the production of disposable gloves.”

    Last July, the agency issued an import ban on products from two Top Glove subsidiaries because they were suspected of using forced labor. On Monday, it said it had determined that rubber gloves produced by the company with forced, convict or indentured labor “are being, or are likely to be, imported into the United States.”

    Based on that determination, the agency said in a notice, it had authorized U.S. port directors to seize the gloves and start forfeiture proceedings unless importers can produce evidence showing that the gloves were not produced with prohibited labor.

    The notice was the result of a monthslong investigation “aimed at preventing goods made by modern slavery from entering U.S. commerce,” Troy Miller, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said in a statement.

    The agency, he said, “will not tolerate foreign companies’ exploitation of vulnerable workers to sell cheap, unethically made goods to American consumers.” He added that the agency had “taken steps to ensure” that the enforcement action would not significantly affect total imports of disposable gloves into the United States.

    After the import ban on Top Glove subsidiaries last summer, officials at the company said they were upgrading their worker dormitories and paying restitution to affected workers.

    The company said in a statement on Tuesday that it was in touch with the U.S. agency and hoped to “resolve any ongoing areas of concern immediately.”

    Top Glove also said it had engaged a independent labor consultancy from Britain since last July. That consultancy, Impactt Limited, said in a statement this month that its latest investigations had not turned up any “systemic forced labor” among the company’s direct employees.

    But Andy Hall, a labor rights campaigner based in Nepal, said on Tuesday that Top Glove “remains an unethical company whose factories and supply chain continue to utilize forced labor,” and one that prioritizes profits and production efficiency over its workers’ basic rights.

    Mr. Hall said he welcomed the Customs and Border Protection notice, and that the next step would be holding the company’s owners and investors to account.

    Top Glove controls roughly a quarter of the global rubber glove market and has 21,000 employees. Many of them come from some of Asia’s poorest countries — including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Nepal — and live and work in crowded conditions.

    The company has enjoyed record profits during the pandemic, even though thousands of its low-paid workers in Malaysia suffered from a large coronavirus outbreak last year.

    A mobile touch screen doubles as a digital whiteboard while a cellphone on a tripod makes a recording that can be used later in a presentation.
    Credit…John Muggenborg for The New York Times

    As company heads are once again planning for a return to the office, it is not only safety measures but also the new work arrangements that are driving discussions about the post-pandemic workplace. More than 80 percent of companies are embracing a hybrid model whereby employees will be in the office three days a week, according to a new survey by KayoCloud, a real estate technology platform.

    Workplaces are being reimagined for activities benefiting from face-to-face interaction, including collaboration on projects, Jane Margolies reports for The New York Times.

    Common areas will be increased and equipped with furniture that can be moved as needs change. Steelcase and Knoll, suppliers of office furniture, report strong interest in mobile tables, carts and partitions.

    As the amount of space devoted to gathering expands, the fate of one’s own personal turf at the office — a desk decorated with family photos, a couple of file cabinets — hangs in the balance. In some cases, personal desks are being replaced with “hoteling” workstations, also called hot desks, which can be used by whoever needs a place to touch down for a day.

    Conference rooms, too, are getting a reboot. Companies are puzzling over how to give remote workers the same ability to participate as those who are physically present. There are even early discussions about using artificial intelligence to conjure up holographic representations of employees who are off-site but could still take a seat at the table. And digital whiteboards are likely to become more popular, so workers at home can see what’s being written in real time.

    Kroger requires employees and customers to wear masks.
    Credit…Eze Amos for The New York Times

    Retail and fast-food workers feel newly vulnerable in states like Mississippi and Texas, where governments have removed mask mandates before a majority of people have been vaccinated and while troubling new variants of the coronavirus are appearing.

    It feels like a return to the early days of the pandemic, when businesses said customers must wear masks but there was no legal requirement and numerous shoppers simply refused, Sapna Maheshwari reports for The New York Times. Many workers say that their stores do not enforce the requirement, and that if they do approach customers, they risk verbal or physical altercations.

    For many people who work in retail, especially grocery stores and big-box chains, the repeals of the mask mandates are another example of how little protection and appreciation they have received during the pandemic. They were praised as essential workers, but that rarely translated into extra pay on top of their low wages. Grocery employees were not initially given priority for vaccinations in most states, even as health experts cautioned the public to limit time in grocery stores because of the risk posed by new coronavirus variants. (Texas opened availability to everyone 16 and older on Monday.)

    The differing state and business mandates have some workers worried about more confrontations. Refusing service to people without masks, or asking them to leave, has led to incidents in the past year like a cashier’s being punched in the face, a Target employee getting his arm broken and the fatal shooting of a Family Dollar security guard.

    Emily Francois, a sales associate at a Walmart in Port Arthur, Texas, said that customers had been ignoring signs to wear masks and that Walmart had not been enforcing the policy.

    “I see customers coming in without a mask and they’re coughing, sneezing, they’re not covering their mouths,” said Ms. Francois, who has worked at Walmart for 14 years and is a member of United for Respect, an advocacy group. “Customers coming in the store without masks make us feel like we aren’t worthy, we aren’t safe.”

    View Source

    Covid-19 Live Updates: Birx Lashes Trump’s Pandemic Response, Speaking of Many Needless Deaths

    “so attentive to the scientific literature” and for not publicly correcting the president as he made outlandish claims about unproven therapies, whose disclosures may have been the most compelling.

    As of Sunday, more than 548,000 Americans have died from infection with the coronavirus. “I look at it this way,” she said. “The first time, we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge.”

    “All of the rest of them,” she said, referring to almost 450,000 deaths, “in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially” had the administration acted more aggressively.

    In what was in one of her first televised interviews since leaving the White House in January, she also described a “very uncomfortable, very direct and very difficult” phone call with Mr. Trump after she spoke out about the dangers of the virus last summer. “Everybody in the White House was upset with that interview,” she said.

    After that, she decided to travel the country to talk to state and local leaders about masks and social distancing and other public health measures that the president didn’t want her to explain to the American public from the White House podium.

    Dr. Gupta asked if she was being censored. “Clearly someone was blocking me from doing it,” she said. “My understanding was I could not be national because the president might see it.”

    Several of the officials, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci — who unlike the others is a career scientist and is now advising President Biden — blamed China, where the virus was first detected, for not being open enough with the United States. And several, including Dr. Redfield and Admiral Giroir, said early stumbles with testing — and the attitude within the White House that testing made the president look bad by driving up the number of case reports — were a serious problem in the administration’s response.

    And the problems with testing went beyond simply Mr. Trump’s obsession with optics. Admiral Giroir said that the administration simply did not have as many tests as top officials claimed at the time.

    “When we said there were millions of tests — there weren’t, right?” he said. “There were components of the test available but not the full deal.”

    A vaccination site at Cleveland State University in Ohio was expected to administer 6,000 shots a day shortly after it opened earlier this month. The state is among those expanding vaccinations to all adults.
    Credit…Joshua Gunter/The Plain Dealer, via Associated Press

    Chris Adams, 36, has spent the past year of the pandemic living with his grandparents in Wichita, Kan., and being “extremely strict” about social distancing. “I never went out,” he said.

    But starting Monday, when all adults in Kansas become eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, Mr. Adams plans to find a vaccination site where there is an available appointment. “What I’m looking forward to is seeing my friends again,” he said.

    Kansas is one of six states — Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas are the others — that are expanding eligibility for the vaccine to all adults on Monday. Minnesota will follow on Tuesday, and Indiana and South Carolina on Wednesday.

    Gov. Laura Kelly of Kansas urged residents last week to seek out appointments, saying, “With the anticipated increase in supply from the federal government, we must get every dose of vaccine into arms quickly.”

    Even as vaccine eligibility continues to expand across America — nearly all states have pledged to make every adult eligible by May 1 — the United States has also reported an increase in new cases over the past week. About 75,000 new cases were reported on Friday, a significant increase from the 60,000 added the Friday before.

    States in the Northeast have accounted for about 30 percent of the nation’s new cases over the past two weeks, up from 20 percent in the first couple of weeks in February.

    In New York, there has been an average of 8,426 new cases a day, an 18 percent increase from the average two weeks earlier, according to a New York Times database. In New Jersey over the past week, there have been an average of 4,249 new cases reported daily, a 21 percent increase from the average two weeks earlier. And on Friday, Vermont set a single-day case record with 283 new infections; it is the first state to set a case record since Jan. 18.

    For many, the vaccine cannot come soon enough.

    Nicole Drum, 42, a writer in the Kansas City, Kan., metro area, cried on Friday when she found out that she would be eligible to get the vaccine as early as Monday. She started calling pharmacies and looking online for available appointments “within minutes of the news breaking,” she said.

    Ms. Drum called about 10 places without success. She had more luck on a county website, and booked an appointment for Wednesday.

    She said she planned to wear a special T-shirt saying “I believe in science” to her appointment. “I got myself a fun I’m-getting-the-vaccine outfit,” she said, laughing.

    She also plans to take her 4-year-old son with her, because she wants him to see “how research and science and people coming together can really help stem these kinds of things,” she said.

    “I want him to know that there’s no need to be afraid all the time of big scary things, because there are always helpers trying to figure this out,” Ms. Drum said. “While the solution might be something that’s a jab in the arm that hurts a little bit, it’s worth it.”

    Members of the World Health Organization’s team investigating the origins of the coronavirus arrived at the Wuhan Institute of Virology last month.
    Credit…Hector Retamal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    The Biden administration has expressed concern over the Chinese government’s role in drafting a forthcoming World Health Organization report about the source of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken suggested that Beijing had too much influence over the report, which is being compiled for the global health agency by a team of international experts as well as by Chinese scientists. Several of the Chinese scientists hold official positions or work at government-run institutions.

    “We’ve got real concerns about the methodology and the process that went into that report, including the fact that the government in Beijing apparently helped to write it,” Mr. Blinken said in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

    Mr. Blinken’s remarks come as the Chinese government works to take control of the narrative before the release of the report, which will explore several theories for how the virus initially spread to humans.

    China has been criticized for withholding raw data and repeatedly delaying a visit by the team of W.H.O. experts. The government in January finally allowed the W.H.O. team to visit the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first coronavirus cases were detected in late 2019.

    At a briefing with more than 100 foreign diplomats from 50 countries on Friday in Beijing, Chinese officials said the government had been transparent.

    W.H.O. officials have acknowledged difficulties in compiling the report and say it will be released soon.

    “It is, in a way, a painful process to get to the finishing line,” Peter K. Ben Embarek, a food safety scientist with the World Health Organization who is leading the team of experts, said at a news conference on Friday. “But the content is now complete.”

    GLOBAL ROUNDUP

    A vaccination centre at a mosque in London, on Sunday. Britain has given over 30 million vaccine doses.
    Credit…Henry Nicholls/Reuters

    Britain, which has now given a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine to more than 30 million people, began a gradual lifting of coronavirus restrictions for most of its population on Monday.

    People in England are now allowed to gather outdoors in groups of up to six, or two households, after the end of a stay-at-home order in force since early January.

    Outdoor sports facilities, like tennis and basketball courts and swimming pools, are also opening in England. Nonessential retail and outdoor dining are set to return from April 12. Students returned to classes earlier this month. Elsewhere in Britain, Scotland and Wales have also begun easing stay-at-home orders, and Northern Ireland is set to review on coronavirus restrictions next month.

    For many in Britain, the easing was a cautious optimistic note after months lockdown, the nation’s third. The current lockdown began in January, after a new variant of the coronavirus swept the country, with as many as 60,000 daily cases and 1,800 daily deaths at its winter peak. On Sunday, the country reported 3,862 cases and 19 deaths, according to a New York Times database. London has so far reported no deaths from the virus on Sunday, according to Public Health England. If no reports are added later — the figures are not yet finalized — it would be the capital’s first day without a virus death since September. Officials are hoping a slow lifting will largely remove restrictions on socializing in England by June 21.

    Travel abroad for English residents, however, remains banned, with a task force reviewing the rule next month. Officials cautioned that people should still work from home where possible and minimize contact.

    In other news from around the globe:

    Yan Zhuang contributed reporting.

    Passengers heading to Hawaii from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport this month.
    Credit…Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Palakiko Chandler took their little cousins to Nanakuli Beach on Oahu last weekend and noticed something they hadn’t seen in a while: a parking lot full of rental cars. The tourists were back.

    “It was just so packed,” said Mr. Chandler, 27 and a Native Hawaiian. “Me and my cousins were looking at each other like, should we just go home?” The youngest cousins needed several reminders to keep their distance from strangers for virus safety.

    For much of the pandemic, Hawaii had some of the strictest rules for visitors in the United States, requiring a 14-day quarantine for everyone arriving in the islands. The policy took a heavy economic toll on a state that depends heavily on tourism, but it was lauded for its success in limiting the impact of the virus for months.

    Now, though, Hawaii has reopened for travelers: A negative test within 72 hours of arrival lets them skip the quarantine in most places. At least 28,000 people arrived in Hawaii on each of the last two Saturdays, according to state travel data —  the most in a day since the pandemic began, and not far from typical prepandemic levels.

    The influx has residents worried. Some have been posting on social media for months, pleading with mainlanders not to come, or if they do, to be mindful of the islands’ isolation and limited resources. The state has a total of 3,000 hospital beds for its population of 1.4 million, and has among the fewest I.C.U. beds per capita of any state; they were often mostly full even before the pandemic.

    Hawaii’s precautions did not keep the virus out completely: The islands had a holiday surge, like the rest of the country, and parts of the state are struggling with outbreaks now. Daily new case reports have doubled since late February, with some recent clusters focused on tourism workers. Hospitalizations have increased 17 percent in the last two weeks.

    “The looming concerning things are the variants,” said Dr. Damien Kapono Chong-Hanssen of the Kauai Community Health Center. “The California variant has been implicated in what’s happening in Maui right now. Maui is not looking better.”

    Mainlanders are making the trip anyway. “Hawaii is again packed with tourists,” wrote the travel site The Points Guy. Favorite sites are sold out, check-in lines are long, and the lines for outbound flights are getting longer.

    Tourists are crowding popular beaches without wearing masks or paying much attention to social distancing. Some visitors have gotten rowdy. A pair of arriving tourists were sent home after trying to pay a bribe to avoid the testing requirement.

    The situation is worsening the irritation that many state residents feel toward vacationers. Now the tourists aren’t just crowding the island and driving up prices, they say, they are also heedlessly risking everyone’s health.

    “Hawaiians and locals alike have always seen the disrespect that tourists bring to our islands,” Mr. Chandler said. “This is kind of the last straw. You’re coming to our home and you’re endangering us during a pandemic.”

    The tension is especially prevalent among Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, who face greater risk for Covid-19 and higher rates of chronic disease than average.

    “Local people are tired of being treated a certain type of way,” said Charles Kaua Taylor-Fulton, 20, who lives on Oahu. “When tourists come, they can be very rude or entitled. There’s just a sense of entitlement.”

    Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum of the University of Hawaii at Manoa said the state’s case numbers are not exploding, at least not yet. But she said she would like to see travelers exhibit the same commitment to wearing masks that locals have. “It’s a matter of constantly educating the tourists,” she said.

    Still, the high travel season is just getting started, and restrictions are continuing to ease. Bars have reopened in parts of the state and outdoor weddings are now allowed to welcome up to 100 guests.

    “We can already see into the future of summer,” Mr. Chandler said, “and it’s going to be packed.”

    Office buildings in Manhattan have remained quiet as about 90 percent of their workers continue working remotely.
    Credit…Jonah Markowitz for The New York Times

    A year after the coronavirus spurred an extraordinary exodus of workers from New York City office buildings, what had seemed like a short-term inconvenience is now becoming a permanent shift in how and where people work. Employers and employees have both embraced the advantages of remote work, including lower office costs and greater flexibility for employees, especially those with families.

    Beyond New York, some of the country’s largest cities have yet to see a substantial return of employees, even where there have been less stringent lockdowns, and some companies have announced that they are not going to have all workers come back all the time.

    In recent weeks, major corporations, including Ford in Michigan and Target in Minnesota, have said they are giving up significant office space, while Salesforce, whose headquarters occupies the tallest building in San Francisco, said only a small fraction of its employees would be in the office full time.

    But no city in the United States, and perhaps the world, must reckon with this transformation more than New York, and in particular Manhattan, an island whose economy has been sustained, from the corner hot dog vendor to Broadway theaters, by more than 1.6 million daily commuters.

    About 90 percent of Manhattan office workers are working remotely, a rate that has remained unchanged for months, according to a recent survey of major employers by the Partnership for New York City, which estimated that less than half of office workers would return by September.

    Across Midtown and Lower Manhattan, the country’s two largest central business districts, there has never been a greater proportion of office space for lease — 16.4 percent, much higher than in past crises, including after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001 and the Great Recession in 2008.

    As more companies push back dates for returning to offices and make at least some remote work a permanent policy, the consequences for New York could be far-reaching, not just for the city’s restaurants, coffee shops and other small businesses, but for municipal finances, which depend heavily on commercial real estate.

    Some of the largest and most enduring companies, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., which has more than 20,000 office employees in the city, have told their work forces that the five-day office workweek is a relic. The bank is considering a model in which employees would rotate between working remotely and in the office.

    Other large businesses, including the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the marketing group Omnicom Group and the advertising giant WPP, have searched for subtenants to take over significant chunks of their Manhattan offices.

    The loss of workers has caused the market value of commercial properties that include office buildings to plunge nearly 16 percent, prompting a sharp decline in the tax revenue that pays for essential city services.

    The vaccine, which requires only a single shot, comes from Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen subsidiary.
    Credit…Stephen Zenner/Getty Images

    Johnson & Johnson said on Monday that it would supply its one-shot vaccine to African Union member states, as the continent experiences a slow rollout of vaccines, an uptick in cases and worries about new virus mutations.

    The pharmaceutical company said that its unit, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, agreed a deal with the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, an African Union organization, to supply up to 220 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine beginning in the fall. The organization will also have the possibility of ordering an additional 180 million doses for a combined total of up to 400 million doses through 2022.

    The company will supply most of the doses from a plant in South Africa, which is operated by Aspen Pharma. The African Export-Import Bank, a Pan-African bank headquartered in Cairo, will pay manufacturers $2 billion on behalf of member countries in the form of loans.

    South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who as the chair of the African Union set up the vaccine trust last year, is expected to tour the Aspen Pharma facilities in Port Elizabeth, on country’s southeast coast, on Monday.

    “This agreement is a significant milestone in protecting the health of all Africans,” Mr. Ramaphosa said in a statement. “It is also a powerful demonstration of African unity and of what we can achieve through partnership between the state sector, the private sector and international institutions that puts people first.”

    The announcement came as coronavirus cases surpassed 4.1 million in Africa, with more than 111,000 deaths, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Concerns have been mounting about the emergence of variants on the continent, particularly in countries like South Africa, where a highly transmissible variant has driven up cases. Scientists also recently said they found a highly mutated variant of the coronavirus in travelers from Tanzania, the East African nation whose leaders have consistently brushed aside the threat of the coronavirus pandemic.

    Besides dealing with other deadly outbreaks including Ebola, polio and measles, many nations in Africa are also dealing with vaccine inequity, as developed nations hoard doses and seek to inoculate their entire populations. So far, only 7.7 million vaccines have been administered on the continent, according to the World Health Organization, which last week warned of a slowdown in deliveries even as initial batches were exhausted.

    Vaccines were yet to arrive in 10 African countries, the W.H.O. said, while many others continued to face logistical challenges in addition to vaccine hesitancy.

    Nations including South Africa have called on governments and pharmaceutical companies to waive vaccine patents to get medicines to more people more quickly.

    The Africa C.D.C. has said that a minimum 60 percent of the continent’s population — or 750 million people — must be vaccinated if the virus is to be curbed there. The deal with Johnson & Johnson “enables Africa to meet almost 50 percent of that target,” Dr. John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa C.D.C., said in a statement.

    “The key to this particular vaccine is that it is a single-shot vaccine, which makes it easier to roll out quickly and effectively, thus saving lives,” he added.

    A vaccination center in Kathmandu, Nepal, this month.
    Credit…Niranjan Shrestha/Associated Press

    KATHMANDU, Nepal — Nepal on Monday received a donation of 800,000 doses of a Covid-19 vaccine from China, which the authorities said would help them restart an inoculation drive that had been halted because of shipment delays in India.

    Dr. Jageshwor Gautam, a spokesman for the ministry of health, said the vaccination campaign could resume in less than a week, “once we determine beneficiary age groups.”

    China and India, both of which border Nepal, have been jockeying for influence over the Himalayan nation of 30 million people, most recently through vaccine diplomacy.

    Nepal had planned its vaccination campaign around the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine producer. One million doses have been donated by the Indian government, and Nepal had bought an additional two million doses from the Serum Institute.

    But half of the purchase from the Serum Institute has been delayed indefinitely, health officials in Nepal said, despite an agreement that it would arrive 15 days after the deal. India, which is supplying the AstraZeneca vaccine to more than 70 countries, has begun holding back nearly all of its exports as it tries to suppress a surge in coronavirus cases at home.

    Officials in Nepal suspended vaccinations on March 17, citing the shortage of doses.

    To fill the gap, they are now relying on a vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinopharm, which last month became the second approved for emergency use in Nepal after Beijing pledged to provide doses free.

    Since its vaccination drive began in late January, Nepal has administered about 1.6 million doses, according to a New York Times database. Dr. Gautam said the 500,000 remaining AstraZeneca doses would be given to frontline health workers, and that there were none available for the rest of the population “at least for now.”

    Nepal has recorded almost 277,000 infections and 3,027 deaths, according to a New York Times database. Although the country’s average daily new cases are a small fraction of what they were at their peak last fall, health officials fear a second wave as infections surge in neighboring India. On Monday, India reported 68,020 new infections, the highest one-day rise since October.

    View Source

    India Cuts Back on Vaccine Exports as Infections Surge at Home

    NEW DELHI — With its own battle against the coronavirus taking a sharp turn for the worse, India has severely curtailed exports of Covid-19 vaccines, triggering setbacks for vaccination drives in many other countries.

    The government of India is now holding back nearly all of the 2.4 million doses that the Serum Institute of India, the private company that is one of the world’s largest producers of the AstraZeneca vaccine, makes each day.

    India is desperate for all the doses it can get. Infections are soaring, topping 50,000 per day, more than double the number less than two weeks ago. And the Indian vaccine drive has been sluggish, with less than 4 percent of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people getting a jab, far behind the rates of the United States, Britain and most European countries.

    Just a few weeks ago, India was a major exporter of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it was using that to exert influence in South Asia and around the world. More than 70 countries, from Djibouti to Britain, received vaccines made in India, with a total of more than 60 million doses. From mid January into March, not more than a few days passed between major vaccine shipments leaving India.

    data from India’s foreign ministry. And Covax, the program set up by donor agencies to purchase vaccines for poorer nations, said on Thursday that it had told those countries that nearly 100 million doses expected in March and April would face delays because of “increased demand for Covid-19 vaccines in India.”

    The Indian government has not publicly commented on what’s happening, and would not when reached by The New York Times for this article. But health experts say the explanation is obvious: India is drawing up its gates as a second wave of infections hits home, holding tight to a vaccine that it didn’t develop but that is being produced in huge quantities on its soil.

    a heavy-handed nationalist, has regulatory control over how many vaccine doses can be exported at any given time, and it seems India is going in the same direction as the European Union, which is moving to curb exports.

    Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive of the Serum Institute and scion of the billionaire family that runs the company, finds himself in a highly uncomfortable spot. The Serum Institute has a reputational interest in keeping its word to its foreign customers and to AstraZeneca, and fulfilling the contracts it has signed.

    Mr. Poonawalla tweeted in late February. “We are trying our best.”

    a deal it signed last year with AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical giant that teamed up with the scientists at Oxford who developed its vaccine.

    Production issues at other AstraZeneca facilities in Belgium and the Netherlands have led to wealthier nations like Canada, Saudi Arabia and Britain to rely on Serum Institute’s doses as well, making the company even more critical to the global supply chain of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

    the global vaccine supply chain.

    With new variants spreading, he said, it’s in the interests of all countries to work together to vaccinate the world.

    “Many countries around the world, poorer ones in particular, are counting on India,” Mr. Wouters said. “Vaccine nationalism hurts us all.”

    Nepal, one of Asia’s poorest nations and next door to India, has had to halt its vaccination campaign. It was heavily reliant on doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made at the Serum Institute, but with its national stockpile running low, Nepal stopped administering vaccines on March 17.

    Dr. Jhalak Sharma, chief of the immunization department within Nepal’s health ministry, said the country had received a donation of one million doses from the Indian government and had already paid 80 percent of the price for the next two million but that didn’t seem to have made a difference.

    according to Reuters. Morocco is now scrambling to secure more of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine or get doses from other sources, Moroccan news media reported.

    The Serum Institute’s manufacturing capacity was always central to a plan to get vaccines to the poor. A spokesman for AstraZeneca would not disclose exactly what percentage of the global supply of its vaccine that Serum manufactures, but a recent AstraZeneca statement called the contribution “substantial.” Serum has committed to making around a third of the total 3 billion doses that AstraZeneca said it will produce by the end of 2021, though meeting that timeline seems increasingly unlikely.

    The alliance between Serum, which started out as a ranch that made serums from horse blood, and Oxford-AstraZeneca has resulted in the world’s cheapest Covid-19 shot: just $2. The vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna, by comparison, cost much more and require extreme cold storage, adding to the difficulty.

    Serum is also playing a huge role in the Covax program for poorer nations. Documents from the World Health Organization show that the Indian company was expected to contribute 240 million doses by the end of June.

    But the data from the Indian foreign ministry, and the statement Thursday from Covax, indicate that vaccine drives around the world are likely to be further delayed.

    The Serum Institute has supplied Covax with 28 million doses so far, according to the international program. India’s foreign ministry showed that 18 million doses had been shipped abroad under Covax, suggesting that about 10 million doses of India’s domestic vaccination also came from the program, which lists India as qualifying for a share.

    In contrast, about 34 million doses have been supplied in commercial deals and about 8 million donated by the government of India as part of its vaccine diplomacy.

    On April 1, India will expand eligibility and allow anyone 45 or older to get a jab.

    “It’s a fluid situation,” said K. Srinath Reddy, a health policy expert at India’s nonprofit Public Health Foundation. “But at the moment, given the fact that vaccine supply and Covid situation is dynamic, I think it’s only appropriate that government of India takes a pause and says, ‘Let’s hold onto the stocks.’”

    Benjamin Mueller contributed from London, and Bhadra Sharma from Kathmandu, Nepal.

    View Source

    Covid-19 Live Updates: France Begins Monthlong Lockdown as Cases Surge

    reported 35,000 new coronavirus cases, according to a New York Times database — one of the highest numbers since November, when a second wave of infection forced the entire country into lockdown. The country’s slow inoculation campaign, further set back by a temporary suspension of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, has not helped.

    French officials said they would resume AstraZeneca vaccinations as soon as possible — they said that France’s national health authority had recommended the doses only for people age 55 and older. A very small number of cases of blood clotting have occurred in people younger than that.

    Health Minister Olivier Véran welcomed the move. “Thank you to all of our doctors and pharmacists who as of today are going to mobilize to continue the vaccination campaign,” he said in a tweet.

    Germany, Italy and Spain, said on Thursday that they would resume using the AstraZeneca vaccine, within hours of the European Medicines Agency declaring it safe. Norway said it would await further study.

    But officials worry that a fearful public may not be easily reassured.

    Coronavirus infections in France rose 24 percent from the previous week. The variant first identified in Britain now represents three-quarters of new cases.

    The Paris region has borne the brunt of it. Last week, health officials in Paris ordered hospitals to cancel many of their procedures to make room for Covid-19 patients. And this week some patients were transferred to other regions to ease the pressure on hospitals.

    France has been under a nighttime curfew since mid-January, with restaurants, cafes and museums remaining closed. Making a calculated gamble, the government tried to tighten restrictions just enough to stave off a third wave of infections without taking more severe steps that might hurt the economy.

    But as infections started to increase in late February, the government imposed new lockdowns on weekends in the French Riviera, the famed strip along the Mediterranean coast, and in the area surrounding the northern port of Dunkirk. Officials made clear that more lockdowns might follow in other regions.

    The new restrictions will affect about a third of the population, though they don’t go as far as those imposed a year ago, at the start of the epidemic.

    Primary schools and secondary schools will remain open, and the rules for high schools and universities will remain much the same, with attendance limited to prevent infections. People will also be allowed to take walks and exercise with no time limit.

    Though nonessential shops will close, the definition of essential has been expanded to include bookshops and music shops.

    Bruno Riou, the head of the crisis center for Paris public hospitals, said a lockdown was the only remaining option to prevent more deaths, given that less than 9 percent of the population has received at least a first vaccination dose.

    Video

    transcript

    bars

    0:00/1:27

    0:00

    transcript

    Biden: U.S. on Track for 100 Million Vaccinations Since Jan. 20

    President Biden said Thursday the U.S. would on Friday reach his Covid-19 vaccine goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, though he had earlier conceded they should aim higher.

    In the last week, we’ve seen increases in the number of cases in several states — scientists have made clear that things may get worse as new variants of this virus spread. Getting vaccinated is the best thing we can do to fight back against these variants. While millions of people are vaccinated, we need millions more to be vaccinated. And I’m proud to announce that tomorrow, 58 days into our administration, we will have met my goal of administering 100 million shots to our fellow Americans. That’s weeks ahead of schedule. Eight weeks ago, only 8 percent of seniors, those most vulnerable to Covid-19, had received a vaccination. Today, 65 percent of people age 65 or older have received at least one shot. And 36 percent are fully vaccinated. This is a time for optimism, but it’s not a time for relaxation. I need all Americans, I need all of you to do your part. Keep the faith, keep wearing the mask, keep washing your hands and keep socially distanced. We’re going to beat this. We’re way ahead of schedule, but we’ve got a long way to go.

    Video player loading
    President Biden said Thursday the U.S. would on Friday reach his Covid-19 vaccine goal of 100 million shots in 100 days, though he had earlier conceded they should aim higher.CreditCredit…Jon Cherry for The New York Times

    As more states expand eligibility for coronavirus vaccinations, the pace of daily shots administered in the United States has steadily increased to a rate that is now 12 percent higher than it was a week ago.

    On Thursday, Illinois joined a growing list of at least 16 other states announcing that they were opening appointments to all residents 16 years and older this month or next.

    “The light that we can see at end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter as more people get vaccinated,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a news conference.

    President Biden said on Thursday that the United States was a day away from reaching his goal of administering 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days — with six weeks to spare before his self-imposed deadline.

    “We’re way ahead of schedule,” he said in brief remarks from the White House, “but we have a long way to go.”

    Mr. Biden maintained that the 100 million-shot goal was ambitious, even though he conceded in January that the government should be aiming higher. And though the new administration has bulked up the vaccine production and distribution campaign, its key elements were in place before Mr. Biden took office.

    As of Thursday, the seven-day average was about 2.5 million doses a day, according to a New York Times analysis of data reported from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Last week, Mr. Biden set a deadline of May 1 for states to make vaccines available to all adult residents. At least Maine, Virginia, North Carolina and Wisconsin, in addition to Washington, D.C., plan to meet that goal. Others, including Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan and Montana, hope to make vaccines available to all of their adult residents even earlier.

    Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah said opening up eligibility to all adults in his state would help address vaccine equity and reach rural communities. He also said it would “allow us to take our mobile vaccination clinics into these hard-to-reach areas or populations who may have a little more vaccine hesitancy.”

    Other states have also pushed up their eligibility dates: Nevada will make vaccines available to all adults on April 5; Missouri on April 9; Maryland as of April 27; and Rhode Island starting April 19.

    New York has yet to make all adults eligible, but the state recently expanded to include public-facing government employees, nonprofit workers and essential building service workers. On Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, newly eligible because of the change, received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a news conference.


    16+ or 18+

    50+ or 55+

    60+ or 65+

    Eligible only in some counties


    Restaurant workers

    Eligible only in some counties


    High-risk adults

    Over a certain age

    Eligible only in some counties

    Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa, center behind brown box, who plans to climb Mount Everest, arriving at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Monday.
    Credit…Nishant S. Gurung/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    KATHMANDU, Nepal — A peculiar vaccine drama is unfolding at the international airport in Nepal’s capital. It involves a member of Bahrain’s royal family who arrived with thousands of doses of coronavirus vaccines from China for an expedition to Mount Everest.

    Before setting out, a team of Bahraini climbers led by Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa had announced that they would be coming with 2,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, which Nepal’s government said would be of the AstraZeneca kind.

    This move would fulfill a pledge that the climbers had made to local villagers during another expedition last September — a promise of generosity that led the villagers to name a local hill “Bahrain Peak.”

    But when the climbers arrived in the capital, Kathmandu, on Monday, an inquiry by Nepal’s drug regulators found that the vaccines they were carrying were actually the one developed by Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned vaccine maker.

    The Nepali authorities now find themselves in a fix: whether to accept the vaccine doses or refuse.

    The doses are being held in cold storage at the airport, and the climbers have been quarantined at a hotel as the authorities ponder how to handle the situation.

    Nepal has largely relied on the AstraZeneca vaccine for its rollout, which is off to a slow start. Relying on a donation of one million doses from India, Nepal has vaccinated about 1.7 million people in a country of about 30 million.

    Its efforts have been slowed because of a delay in the delivery of two million vaccine doses that it bought from the Serum Institute of India.

    Although Nepal approved the emergency use of the Sinopharm vaccine after China pledged to give 500,000 doses to the country, it has not received the Chinese donation.

    In September, the Bahraini climbers arrived in Nepal in a chartered plane to climb two mountains, Mount Manaslu and Lobuche Peak. The vaccine doses they were carrying this week were a gift for villagers in Samagaun, a gateway to Mount Manaslu.

    The team of Bahraini climbers could not be reached for comment. But Mingma Sherpa, the owner of Seven Summit Treks, the agency that has been organizing the Bahrain team’s Everest expedition, said the complications might have resulted from miscommunication between Nepal’s foreign ministry and the health ministry.

    He said the Sinopharm vaccine had also been used during Bahrain’s vaccination drive.

    “It’s up to the government,” Mr. Sherpa said. “If they think it’s OK, the vaccines will be administered to villagers. If they think it’s risky to vaccinate the people, the team will take the vaccine back to Bahrain.”

    Maria Alyokhina, center, a member of Pussy Riot, at a hearing at the Moscow City Court in February.
    Credit…Moscow City Court Press Service, via Shutterstock

    A Russian court has confined some of the country’s most prominent opposition figures to house arrest on accusations that they violated coronavirus safety rules, in what appears to be a government effort to use the restrictions to muzzle its opponents.

    The legal action, known as a “sanitary case,” targets 10 opposition politicians and dissidents, including the senior leadership of Aleksei A. Navalny’s organization and members of the protest group Pussy Riot. All are accused of inciting others to violate rules introduced last spring to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Their lawyers have denied that they did.

    Prosecutors say their social media posts promoting a protest in Moscow in January resulted in attendance by 19 people who were legally required to isolate because of positive Covid-19 tests, thus putting at risk others who attended.

    Defense lawyers say the authorities are cynically twisting coronavirus rules to isolate people who pose no infection risk but are seen by the government as posing a political one.

    “The ideological intent is to label opposition figures as infectious, as toxic, as poisoners of the public,” said Danil Berman, a lawyer for Maria Alyokhina, a member of Pussy Riot who was one of those targeted. Isolating key leaders before parliamentary elections scheduled for this year also hobbles the opposition, he said.

    Many people around the world have complained that coronavirus restrictions have infringed on their freedoms as a byproduct of safety measures. But the Russian opposition members argue that the government is using the restrictions against them with the specific aim of curbing their liberty.

    Online posts from the opposition figures promoting the protest did not specifically encourage people who were sick to attend, as the government charged, defense lawyers say. Lockdowns in Moscow had in any case been mostly lifted months earlier.

    Also, the defense lawyers say, the rules are selectively enforced to restrict opposition activity while allowing pro-government events to go ahead with few restrictions, though the virus would spread as readily at either type of gathering.

    Hiking at Zion National Park in Utah in November.
    Credit…Nikki Boliaux for The New York Times

    Last June, as Americans began to emerge from lockdowns and into a new yet still uncertain stage of the pandemic, Amy Ryan and her family set sail in a 44-foot catamaran and headed up the Atlantic coast. They haven’t stopped sailing since.

    Ms. Ryan’s husband, Casey Ryan, 56, was on partly paid leave from his job as an airline pilot. School was remote for their daughters, now 7 and 11. Ms. Ryan, a real estate agent, could manage her team from anywhere.

    For nine months, the Ryans have been hopscotching, first up the coast and later in the Caribbean. “We’re so secluded most of the time, we won’t see any people on land for weeks at a time,” Ms. Ryan said. The biggest challenge is finding a Covid-19 test before setting sail for a new location.

    For many people, the past 12 months have been lived in a state of suspended animation, with dreams and plans deferred until further notice amid worry over venturing out for even basic excursions. But some people, like the Ryans, took the restrictions — virtual school and remote work — as an opportunity to pick up and go somewhere else. With a good internet connection, a Zoom conference call can happen just as easily on a boat or in the back of a camper as it can in a living room.

    Many people bristle at the idea of anyone taking a trip at all, let alone traveling indefinitely at a time of immense suffering. School and office closings weren’t meant to make it easier to see the world; they were intended to persuade people to stay home and slow the spread of a deadly virus. And with many out of work and struggling to pay bills, or trying to balance parenting with the demands of remote work, it would have been impossible.

    But these families insist that their “slow travel” methods — allowing for only rare encounters with other people indoors — are no more dangerous than staying home. Spend your time crisscrossing the country in a camper and staying in state parks, and you rarely encounter anyone outside your family, except to get food and gas.

    “This pandemic has been so incredibly hard for everybody, and people are finding their ways of managing and getting through it,” said Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, adding that isolated activities like sailing and camping are not inherently risky.

    Until the pandemic, the Ryans weren’t sailors, nor had they ever planned to be. But they spent the lockdown watching YouTube videos about families that sail. By May, they had bought a boat with no idea how long they would be on it.

    “If it hadn’t been for Covid,” Ms. Ryan said, “there is no way this would have happened.”

    Marge Rohlf receiving a vaccination at the Madrid Home in Iowa in January.
    Credit…Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register, via Associated Press

    For the first time in nearly a year, Iowa is reporting that there are no active coronavirus outbreaks in any of the state’s long-term care facilities.

    Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 2,200 residents of those facilities have died from the virus, according to Iowa’s Covid-19 dashboard. But the rate of outbreaks began a steep decline in January, when the state ramped up vaccinations for residents and staff.

    In the first two weeks of January alone, cases declined 70 percent, from 410 to 119 by mid-January, according to the Iowa Health Care Association. Of the state’s 445 skilled nursing homes and 258 assisted-living facilities, 146 were experiencing outbreaks in December.

    “This is a big milestone,” said Nola Aigner Davis, the public health communications officer for the Polk County Health Department in Des Moines. “It really speaks volumes of how effective this vaccine is.”

    For much of the pandemic, residents and employees in nursing homes have been among the most vulnerable people in the country.

    The coronavirus, as of late February, had scythed through more than 31,000 long-term care facilities and killed at least 172,000 people living and working in them. More than 1.3 million long-term care residents and workers have been infected over the past year.

    Of Iowa’s 5,673 deaths, nearly 60 percent were people over age 80.

    That has changed, however, with the advent of vaccinations.

    Facilities for older people were given early priority for shots, and from late December to early February, a New York Times analysis found, new cases among nursing home residents — a subset of long-term care residents — fell more than 80 percent. That was about double the rate of improvement in the general population.

    Even as fatalities were peaking in the general population, deaths inside the facilities decreased more than 65 percent.

    About 4.8 million residents and employees in long-term care facilities have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 2.8 million have been fully vaccinated.

    View Source

    For a Mount Everest trek, a Bahraini sheikh arrived with 2,000 Covid vaccine doses.

    KATHMANDU, Nepal — A peculiar vaccine drama is unfolding at the international airport in Nepal’s capital. It involves a member of Bahrain’s royal family who arrived with thousands of doses of coronavirus vaccines from China for an expedition to Mount Everest.

    Before setting out, a team of Bahraini climbers led by Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed al-Khalifa had announced that they would be coming with 2,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, which Nepal’s government said would be of the AstraZeneca kind.

    This move would fulfill a pledge that the climbers had made to local villagers during another expedition last September — a promise of generosity that led the villagers to name a local hill “Bahrain Peak.”

    But when the climbers arrived in the capital, Kathmandu, on Monday, an inquiry by Nepal’s drug regulators found that the vaccines they were carrying were actually the one developed by Sinopharm, a Chinese state-owned vaccine maker.

    The Nepali authorities now find themselves in a fix: whether to accept the vaccine doses or refuse.

    The doses are being held in cold storage at the airport, and the climbers have been quarantined at a hotel as the authorities ponder how to handle the situation.

    Nepal has largely relied on the AstraZeneca vaccine for its rollout, which is off to a slow start. Relying on a donation of one million doses from India, Nepal has vaccinated about 1.7 million people in a country of about 30 million.

    Its efforts have been slowed because of a delay in the delivery of two million vaccine doses that it bought from the Serum Institute of India.

    Although Nepal approved the emergency use of the Sinopharm vaccine after China pledged to give 500,000 doses to the country, it has not received the Chinese donation.

    In September, the Bahraini climbers arrived in Nepal in a chartered plane to climb two mountains, Mount Manaslu and Lobuche Peak. The vaccine doses they were carrying this week were a gift for villagers in Samagaun, a gateway to Mount Manaslu.

    The team of Bahraini climbers could not be reached for comment. But Mingma Sherpa, the owner of Seven Summit Treks, the agency that has been organizing the Bahrain team’s Everest expedition, said the complications might have resulted from miscommunication between Nepal’s foreign ministry and the health ministry.

    He said the Sinopharm vaccine had also been used during Bahrain’s vaccination drive.

    “It’s up to the government,” Mr. Sherpa said. “If they think it’s OK, the vaccines will be administered to villagers. If they think it’s risky to vaccinate the people, the team will take the vaccine back to Bahrain.”

    View Source

    Covid-19 Restrictions May Have Led to Rise in Child Deaths in South Asia

    The same Covid-19 lockdowns that may have saved lives in South Asia last year may have contributed to a jump in deaths of young children by cutting off essential services, a new report said.

    In 2019, South Asia recorded the deaths of 1.4 million children under the age of five, according to a report released Wednesday by Unicef. Last year, such deaths may have climbed by an additional 228,000 as the pandemic made access to medical care and food difficult. Also, an additional 11,000 pregnant women also may have died in India, Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, according to the report, which was supported by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund.

    “The generally restrictive measures taken to mitigate the Covid-19 outbreak have contributed to more deaths,” said Dr. Atnafu Getachew Asfaw, who led development of the report, which pulled national health data comparing people accessing services before and during the pandemic.

    The report is the latest example of how the global death toll from the pandemic may have been much higher than official tallies. A Wall Street Journal analysis of excess deaths in 2020 suggests that the death count from Covid-19 may be far worse than official figures.

    In close to 60 countries that have figures for deaths last year, the number of deaths was more than 10% above average. Less than two-thirds of the increase in deaths has been attributed directly to Covid-19. Public-health experts believe that many, if not most, of the additional deaths were directly linked to the disease.

    In South Asia, disruptions—much of it caused by lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions—were a shock to healthcare systems. Overrun hospitals, fears among healthcare workers and measures that delayed people from seeking help were among many factors contributing to the increase in deaths.

    The Unicef report estimated the deaths related to Covid restrictions by using survey data from each country to determine a baseline level of medical and children’s services in 2019. The models also took into account the level of disruption to those services by country.

    Official figures could take years to be released. For example, the latest publicly available official mortality numbers in India are from 2018 and the national mortality numbers for 2020 aren’t likely to be published this year.

    In South Asia, where 10% of its 1.8 billion people live below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day, malnutrition was another major childhood killer.

    In western Nepal, at least a dozen patients a day would typically come to a government-run clinic in the Kailali district to seek treatment for childhood malnutrition, said facility manager Gita Bista. But starting last March, only one or two patients a day trickled in. Lockdown restrictions meant many families simply couldn’t find a ride to the clinic, Ms. Bista said.

    “They were also scared,” she said, “that their children will be exposed to Covid-19 infection at the hospital.”

    These declines were repeated throughout Bangladesh and Nepal, where the number of children who received treatment for severe acute malnutrition plunged by over 80% after the pandemic hit, the report said.

    Healthcare access for pregnant women was a recurring problem during the pandemic. Nearly 60% of the potential additional deaths of children last year likely occurred shortly after birth. In the second quarter of 2020, when the most severe lockdowns were in effect, most medical services for women and children plunged by more than 50% across South Asia compared with 2019.

    As highly transmissible coronavirus variants sweep across the world, scientists are racing to understand why these new versions of the virus are spreading faster, and what this could mean for vaccine efforts. New research says the key may be the spike protein, which gives the coronavirus its unmistakable shape. Illustration: Nick Collingwood/WSJ

    Aruna Uprety, a doctor and president of Nepal Public Health Foundation, a Kathmandu-based health advocacy group, said she traveled throughout Nepal last year where she encountered at least four or five women who died in childbirth who could have been saved if they had been able to get to a hospital. Ambulances were either not available or too expensive for most families to afford, she said.

    “More children and mothers have died,” she said “It’s especially the case in rural Nepal where poverty is high and access to health facilities is already severely limited.”

    The report estimated that essential services may improve 10% in the first quarter and 20% in the second quarter of 2021, compared with the last three months of 2020. In the first half of this year, Nepal and Sri Lanka are expected to see a decline in child deaths, while Bangladesh will see fewer maternal deaths.

    Countries need to take into account the health impacts of lockdowns and other restrictions as they continue to battle Covid-19, the report said.

    Dr. Asfaw of Unicef said that countries should find a way to enforce coronavirus-safety measures, such as hand washing and social distancing, that don’t cause a massive disruption in essential services.

    “That doesn’t mean mitigation measures weren’t necessary or were wrong,” he said. “But if you just focus on that one and stop everything else, you will lose more people from other issues.”

    Write to Shan Li at shan.li@wsj.com and Krishna Pokharel at krishna.pokharel@wsj.com

    Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

    View Source