“This is a significant, historic investment,” Mr. Espinoza said. “But when you take into account the magnitude of the crisis in front of us, it’s clear that this is only a first step.”

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How America’s Great Economic Challenge Suddenly Turned 180 Degrees

Container ships stretch far out into the Pacific, waiting days for their turn to unload goods at California ports. Automakers pause production because they can’t get enough of the computer chips that make a modern car work. Long-dormant restaurants finally see a surge of customer demand, but they can’t find enough cooks.

These are all headlines of recent days, and they have one thing in common: They show how America’s great economic challenge has turned 180 degrees in a breathtakingly short time.

Just a few months ago, the nation faced an enormous shortage of demand for goods and services, which threatened to prolong the pandemic-induced downturn long beyond the point at which the virus was contained. The central economic problem of 2021 is looking like the polar opposite. Businesses are beginning to face the challenge of producing adequate supplies of goods and services — whether of lumber or of cold beer — to satiate that resurgent demand.

Huge swaths of the economy shut down last spring and are now being turned back on. But as roughly three million Americans are vaccinated per day and nearly $3 trillion in federal money courses through the economy, it is an open question how long it will take businesses to get up to speed. Their collective success or failure will determine whether this is a year of Goldilocks economic conditions, or a frustrating mix of price spikes and persistent shortages.

idled the factory that makes its popular F-150 trucks, for example. Over all, analysts at IHS Markit forecast one million fewer vehicles will be made in the first quarter of 2021 because of the disruptions. That means American consumers who want to put their new stimulus checks toward a car may face fewer options and have little negotiating leverage on price.

The labor market, meanwhile, presents a paradox. The unemployment rate, at 6 percent, is far above its prepandemic level, and the job market is even worse if you include Americans who say they are no longer looking for work. Yet many employers, especially in restaurants and related service industries, describe a shortage of labor.

research on earlier rounds of expanded benefits, which found that a shortage of job opportunities was a bigger factor in joblessness than people staying on unemployment benefits.

The combination of a surge in demand and disruptions in the economy’s supply has important global dimensions, too. Many businesses rely on imports, including from countries that are far behind the United States in vaccinating their people, and in some cases facing new outbreaks.

Moreover, the backup in container ships at the Port of Los Angeles and some other American ports, especially on the West Coast, shows the world trade system has continued to be stressed by the whipsaw effect of last year’s shutdowns followed by surging demand.

“There are companies that have changed the way they operate from before the pandemic and are more digitally enabled, and reopening is not as big a deal for them,” said James Manyika, a partner at McKinsey Global Institute, the in-house research arm of the giant consultancy. “The problem is those are not the majority of companies, and those other companies will find they are highly dependent on their ecosystems and their supply chains.”

You can’t turn the world economy off, then turn it back on, and expect everything to come back to normal instantly, in other words. The question for 2021 is just how slow that rebooting process turns out to be.

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Texas Bans Agencies and Some Businesses From Requiring Covid Vaccine Proof

Under a new executive order issued by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas this week, government agencies, private businesses and institutions that receive state funding cannot require people to show proof that they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Mr. Abbott said that vaccination status is private health information, and that no one should have to disclose it as a condition of engaging in normal activities. His order includes an exception allowing nursing homes and similar care facilities to require documentation of vaccination status for their residents.

A wide range of businesses, including cruise lines and airlines, are eager for people to be issued some kind of credential, often called a vaccine passport, that they can present to show they are immunized so that the businesses can more safely reopen, especially as the number of new virus cases rises across the country.

But a growing number of Republicans are politicizing the issue and framing proof-of-vaccination requirements and vaccine passports as government overreach. Last year many Republican governors rejected mask mandates for similar reasons, often calling the requirement to wear masks in public settings a violation of a citizen’s personal liberties, despite overwhelming evidence that masks stem the spread of the virus.

Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi said he opposes the idea of vaccine passports, and last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, issued an executive order banning policies that would require that customers provide any proof of vaccination. Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska has said his state would not participate in any vaccine passport program. Gov. Mike Parson of Missouri has said that he would not require vaccine passports in the state but was also not opposed to private companies adopting them.

Vaccine passports, including digital ones, raise daunting political, ethical and privilege questions. The Biden administration has made clear that it will neither issue nor require the passports.

Legal experts said there may be questions, depending on state law, about whether governors are authorized to bar requests for vaccination status by executive decree. But they said State Legislatures are most likely free to enact statutes to do so.

In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled that states can enforce compulsory vaccination laws. For more than a century, that ruling has let public schools require proof of vaccinations of its students, with some exceptions for religious objections.

Private companies, moreover, are free to refuse to employ or do business with whomever they want, subject to just a few exceptions that do not include vaccination status. But states can probably override that freedom by enacting a law barring discrimination based on vaccination status.

Adam Liptak and Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.

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Jobless Claims Tick Up, Showing a Long Road to Recovery: Live Updates

filed for state unemployment benefits last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. That was up modestly from the week before, but still among the lowest weekly totals since the pandemic began.

In addition, 237,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers people who don’t qualify for state benefits programs. That number, too, has been falling.

Jobless claims remain high by historical standards, and are far above the norm before the pandemic, when around 200,000 people a week were filing for benefits. Applications have improved only gradually — even after the recent declines, the weekly figure is modestly below where it was last fall.

But economists are optimistic that further improvement is ahead as the vaccine rollout accelerates and more states lift restrictions on business activity. Fewer companies are laying off workers, and hiring has picked up, meaning that people who lose their jobs are more likely to find new ones quickly.

“We could actually finally see the jobless claims numbers come down because there’s enough job creation to offset the layoffs,” said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at the job site ZipRecruiter.

But Ms. Pollak cautioned that benefits applications would not return to normal overnight. Even as many companies resume normal operations, others are discovering that the pandemic has permanently disrupted their business model.

“There are still a lot of business closures and a lot of layoffs that have yet to happen,” she said. “The repercussions of this pandemic are still rippling through this economy.”

Shoppers in Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. Germany and other countries have cut their value-added taxes to encourage consumer spending.
Credit…Lena Mucha for The New York Times

The European Central Bank’s chief economist argued on Thursday that fears of a big rise in inflation are overblown, a sign that the people who control interest rates in the eurozone are likely to keep them very low for some time to come.

The comments — by Philip Lane, an influential member of the central bank’s Governing Council whose job includes briefing other members on the economic outlook — are an attempt to calm bond investors who are nervous that the end of the pandemic will lead to high inflation.

Fueling their fears, inflation in the eurozone rose to an annual rate of 1.3 percent in March from 0.9 percent in February, according to official data released on Wednesday, the fastest increase in prices in more than a year.

Market-based interest rates have been rising because investors worry that President Biden’s $2 trillion stimulus program will provoke a broad increase in prices for years to come. The interest rates that prevail on bond markets ripple through the financial system and can make mortgages and other types of borrowing more expensive, creating a drag on economic growth.

Despite big monthly swings in inflation during the last year, the average had been remarkably stable at an annual rate of about 1 percent, Mr. Lane wrote in a blog post on the central bank’s website on Thursday. That is well below the European Central Bank’s target of 2 percent.

“The volatility in inflation over 2020 and 2021 can be attributed to a host of temporary factors that should not affect medium-term inflation dynamics,” Mr. Lane wrote.

That is another way of saying that the European Central Bank is not going to panic about short-lived fluctuations in inflation and put the brakes on the eurozone economy anytime soon.

On the contrary, Mr. Lane’s analysis suggests that the European Central Bank will continue trying to push inflation toward the 2 percent target. In March, the central bank said it would increase its purchases of government and corporate bonds to try to keep a lid on market-based interest rates.

Mr. Lane said it was no surprise to see “considerable volatility in inflation during the pandemic period.” He attributed the ups and downs to quirky factors that are not likely to recur.

Germany and some other countries cut their value-added taxes to encourage consumer spending, then raised them again later. The price of fuel fluctuated wildly. People spent almost nothing on travel, but increased spending on home exercise equipment or products that they needed to work from home. That affected the way inflation is calculated and made the annual rate look higher, Mr. Lane said.

“The medium-term outlook for inflation remains subdued,” he wrote, “and closing the gap to our inflation aim will set the agenda for the Governing Council in the coming years.”

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi oil minister, has argued that increasing oil output too fast would be risky.
Credit…via Reuters

OPEC and its allies, including Russia, are expected to meet by videoconference Thursday to discuss whether to ease production curbs on oil as countries around the world try to expand from pandemic lockdowns.

Analysts say recent events will support the views of Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi oil minister, who has argued for caution in increasing supply, noting the risks of swamping the market. But other outcomes are possible at the meeting of the group known as OPEC Plus, including modest increases and even cuts in oil production,

France’s reimposition of a national lockdown, announced Wednesday, underlines persistent doubts about the pace of recovery from the pandemic, as have rising case numbers in the United States.

After modest increases when the Suez Canal was recently blocked by a cargo ship, oil prices were rising again on Thursday, with Brent crude, the global benchmark, about 1.6 percent higher, to $63.75 a barrel.

“All signs seemingly point to the group maintaining current production levels,” Helima Croft, head of commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, an investment bank, wrote in a note to clients on Wednesday.

Yet pressure may also come to increase supply. Members of the OPEC Plus group are withholding an estimated eight million barrels of a day, or about 9 percent of current global consumption. As the global economy recovers, it will become increasingly difficult for the Saudis to persuade others to restrain supplies.

A ChargePoint charging station in Berkeley, Calif. Shares in ChargePoint rose 19 percent on Wednesday. President Biden’s infrastructure plan supports the use of electric vehicles.
Credit…John G Mabanglo/EPA, via Shutterstock

U.S. stock futures rose on Thursday and tech stocks were set to extend their rally as traders focused on optimism about the economic recovery. Shares in Europe and Asia were also higher before the Labor Department’s latest weekly report on initial applications for state unemployment benefits.

Bond yields pulled back from their recent 14-month high. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell 3 basis points, or 0.03 percentage point, to 1.71 percent.

Last week, jobless claims were at the lowest for the pandemic, but economists have warned against assuming this is the new trend because of measurement issues. New data released on Thursday showed a slight rise in claims for unemployment benefits, On Friday, the Labor Department will publish its monthly jobs report for March.

The occupancy rate in nursing homes in the fourth quarter of 2020 was down 11 percentage points from the first quarter, but there are hurdles to staying out of facilities.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

The pandemic has intensified a spotlight on long-running questions about how communities can do a better job supporting seniors who need care but want to live outside a nursing home.

The coronavirus had taken the lives of 181,000 people in U.S. nursing homes, assisted living and other long-term care facilities through last weekend, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — 33 percent of the national toll.

The occupancy rate in nursing homes in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 75 percent, down 11 percentage points from the first quarter, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, a research group. The shift may not be permanent, but this much is clear: As the aging of the nation accelerates, most communities need to do much more to become age-friendly, said Jennifer Molinsky, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard.

“It’s about all the services that people can access, whether that’s the accessibility and affordability of housing, or transportation and supports that can be delivered in the home,” she said.

But there are hurdles for those who wish to stay out of a facility, Mark Miller reports for The New York Times:

Marigold Lewi and Kimberley Vasquez outside their high school Baltimore City College this month in Baltimore, MD.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

A year after the pandemic turned the nation’s digital divide into an education emergency, President Biden is making affordable broadband a top priority, comparing it to the effort to spread electricity across the country. His $2 trillion infrastructure plan, announced on Wednesday, includes $100 billion to extend fast internet access to every home.

The money is meant to improve the economy by enabling all Americans to work, get medical care and take classes from wherever they live. Although the government has spent billions on the digital divide in the past, the efforts have failed to close it partly because people in different areas have different problems. Affordability is the main culprit in urban and suburban areas. In many rural areas, internet service isn’t available at all because of the high costs of installation.

“We’ll make sure every single American has access to high-quality, affordable, high speed internet,” Mr. Biden said in a speech on Wednesday. “And when I say affordable, I mean it. Americans pay too much for internet. We will drive down the price for families who have service now.”

Longtime advocates of universal broadband say the plan, which requires congressional approval, may finally come close to fixing the digital divide, a stubborn problem first identified and named by regulators during the Clinton administration. The plight of unconnected students during the pandemic added urgency.

“This is a vision document that says every American needs access and should have access to affordable broadband,” said Blair Levin, who directed the 2010 National Broadband Plan at the Federal Communications Commission. “And I haven’t heard that before from a White House to date.”

Some advocates for expanded broadband access cautioned that Mr. Biden’s plan might not entirely solve the divide between the digital haves and have-nots.

The plan promises to give priority to municipal and nonprofit broadband providers but would still rely on private companies to install cables and erect cell towers to far reaches of the country. One concern is that the companies won’t consider the effort worth their time, even with all the money earmarked for those projects. During the electrification boom of the 1920s, private providers were reluctant to install poles and string lines hundreds of miles into sparsely populated areas.

Taxpayers who received unemployment benefits last year — but who filed their federal tax returns before a new tax break became available — could receive an automatic refund as early as May, the Internal Revenue Service said on Wednesday.

The latest pandemic relief legislation — signed into law on March 11, in the thick of tax season — made the first $10,200 of unemployment benefits tax-free in 2020 for people with modified adjusted incomes of less than $150,000. (Married taxpayers filing jointly can exclude up to $20,400.)

But some Americans had already filed their tax returns by March and have been waiting for official agency guidance. Millions of U.S. workers filed for unemployment last year, but the I.R.S. said it was still determining how many workers affected by the tax change had already filed their tax returns.

On Wednesday, the I.R.S. confirmed that it would automatically recalculate the correct amount of benefits subject to taxation — and any overpayment will be refunded or applied to any other outstanding taxes owed. The first refunds are expected to be issued in May and will continue into the summer.

The I.R.S. said it would begin processing the simpler returns first, or those eligible for up to $10,200 in excluded benefits, and then would turn to returns for joint filers and others with more complex returns.

There is no need for those affected to file an amended return unless the calculations make the taxpayer newly eligible for additional federal credits and deductions not already included on the original tax return, the agency said. Those taxpayers may want to review their state tax returns as well, the I.R.S. said.

People who still haven’t filed and expect to do so electronically can simply answer the questions asked by their online tax preparer, which will factor in the new tax break when they file. The agency provided an updated worksheet and additional guidance in March for taxpayers that prefer paper.

Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets, demonstrated above in 2017, will equip soldiers with night vision, thermal vision and audio communication.
Credit…Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

Microsoft said Wednesday that it would begin producing more than 120,000 augmented reality headsets for Army soldiers under a contract that could be worth up to $21.9 billion.

The HoloLens headsets use a technology called the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, which will equip soldiers wearing them with night vision, thermal vision and audio communication. The devices also have sensors that help soldiers target opponents in battle.

The deal is likely to create waves inside Microsoft, where some employees have objected to working with the Pentagon. Employees at other big tech companies, like Google, have also rejected what they say is the weaponization of their technology.

But Microsoft has long courted Defense Department work, including a $10 billion contract to build a cloud-computing system. Amazon had been seen as a front-runner to win the contract, but the Defense Department chose Microsoft.

Amazon claimed that President Donald J. Trump had interfered in the process because of his feud with Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive and the owner of The Washington Post. A legal fight over the contract is still active.

Soldiers have tested the Microsoft headsets for two years, the company said. The Army said the devices would be used in combat and training.

Microsoft said its testing of the headsets had helped the Defense Department’s “efforts to modernize the U.S. military by taking advantage of advanced technology and new innovations not available to military.”

The devices will “provide the improved situational awareness, target engagement and informed decision-making necessary” to overcome current and future adversaries, the Army said in a news release.

In 2018, Microsoft won a $480 million bid to make prototypes of the headsets. The Army said Wednesday that the new contract to produce them on a larger scale was for five years, with the option to add up to five more years.

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The pandemic showed how broken nursing homes are. But the alternatives aren’t easy.

The pandemic has intensified a spotlight on long-running questions about how communities can do a better job supporting seniors who need care but want to live outside a nursing home.

The coronavirus had taken the lives of 181,000 people in U.S. nursing homes, assisted living and other long-term care facilities through last weekend, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation — 33 percent of the national toll.

The occupancy rate in nursing homes in the fourth quarter of 2020 was 75 percent, down 11 percentage points from the first quarter, according to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care, a research group. The shift may not be permanent, but this much is clear: As the aging of the nation accelerates, most communities need to do much more to become age-friendly, said Jennifer Molinsky, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard.

“It’s about all the services that people can access, whether that’s the accessibility and affordability of housing, or transportation and supports that can be delivered in the home,” she said.

Mark Miller reports for The New York Times:

  • A major shortage of age-friendly housing in the United States will present problems for seniors who wish to stay in their homes. By 2034, 34 percent of households will be headed by someone over 65, according to the Harvard center. Yet in 2011, just 3.5 percent of homes had single-floor living, no-step entry and extra-wide halls and doors for wheelchair access, according to Harvard’s latest estimates.

  • Medicare does not pay for most long-term care services, regardless of where they happen; reimbursement is limited to a person’s first 100 days in a skilled nursing facility. Medicaid, which covers only people with very low incomes, has long been the nation’s largest funder of long-term care. From its inception, the program was required to cover care in nursing facilities but not at home or in a community setting. “There’s a bias toward institutions,” said Judith Solomon, a senior fellow specializing in health at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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Turning Away From Nursing Homes, to What?

The PACE provider manages all of a person’s health care needs that are covered by Medicare or Medicaid. “It becomes your form of health care coverage,” said Peter Fitzgerald, executive vice president for policy and strategy at the National PACE Association, a membership and advocacy organization.

States decide whether to offer PACE programs; currently 30 have programs serving about 55,000 people, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

Some states and regions are moving to address the needs of their aging citizens.

In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom released a master plan for aging for California. It calls for creating, over the next decade, millions of housing units for older residents, one million high-quality caregiving jobs, and inclusion goals such as closing the digital divide and creating opportunities for work and volunteering. Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Texas have already established master plans, and a number of other states are working on them.

California’s plan also calls for a new state office focused on finding ways to innovate using Medicare funds, especially for low-income, chronically ill seniors who also participate in Medicaid.

“We think this can really help our state by bringing together medical and nonmedical services for people who want to live well in the place they call home,” said Gretchen E. Alkema, vice president of policy and communications at the SCAN Foundation, a nonprofit focused on elder care that has worked with California and other states on age-friendly models.

In the Atlanta metropolitan area, which began tackling these issues head-on in 2002, one in five residents will be 65 or older by 2050, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission, a planning organization. The group has responded by developing a “lifelong communities initiative” to raise awareness in local government of the need for housing that is affordable and convenient to sidewalks, shopping and transportation.

Atlanta and four suburbs have joined an AARP-sponsored network of age-friendly communities, and several city neighborhoods have created plans.

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A Nursing Home’s Mission to Vaccinate Its Hesitant Staff

For them, the half-hour Tyler Perry video that had been playing on repeat on a giant screen in the multipurpose room did not seemed to resonate.

Ms. Sandri, who is of Chinese descent, began to understand. “I’m Asian, but I’m not Japanese or Thai or Indian, and they are very different people,” she said. “Until we understand cultural sensitivities beyond the major skin color groups, we’re not going to be successful at reaching herd immunity levels with some of those subsets.”

She started planning to have her director of maintenance, an African immigrant who has been vaccinated, to talk to reluctant peers about his experience and their concerns, and to find leaders of local African churches who might be willing to do the same.

She also doubled down on what she believed was working best: listening to and addressing the concerns of her employees one by one — what she called a “time-intensive, conversation-intensive, case-by-case uphill climb.”

The key, she said, was to tailor her message to what would resonate most with each person.

“For analytical people, we provided data on number of cases, number of people in trials, percent of people who experience an immune response,” she said. “For relationship-based thinkers, we asked if they had any vulnerable friends or family members, and how having or not having the vaccine might impact the relationship.”

Still, as the date of the third vaccination event approached in early March, Ms. Proctor was tired — of the pandemic and the long loss of freedoms, but also of hearing every day at work about the importance of getting the shot. Ms. Sandri, whose office was just around the corner, stopped by frequently to chat and gently raise the benefits of being vaccinated.

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Election Day in Israel: Live Updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabel Kershner, Gabby SobelmanIrit Pazner Garshowitz and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Cologne Catholic Church Failed in Handling Sex Abuse Claims, Report Finds

BERLIN — The Cardinal of Cologne in Germany has suspended two high-ranking officials named in a report on the church’s handling of accusations of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests, bringing an end to months of speculation about a matter that has led thousands in the area to sever their relationship with the church over the past year.

The report, released on Tuesday, found no wrongdoing by the cardinal, Rainer Maria Woelki. But an auxiliary bishop serving in the archdiocese and the head of its ecclesiastical court were both named in the 800-page review. It documents a “systematic cover-up” in the archdiocese’s handling of accusations of sexual abuse from 1975 to 2018, and the cardinal immediately announced suspensions for both men.

“As of today, it is no longer possible to say we had no idea,” Cardinal Woelki said after the release of the report — which he had not previously seen, but which said he had been fearing. “I am deeply moved and shamed by this, and I am convinced that for clerics, their actions must have consequences.”

None of those named were accused of criminal wrongdoing, although a copy of the report was sent to prosecutors in Cologne for review. Cardinal Woelki said a copy would also be sent to the Vatican.

a hotline for abuse, and had a bishop serving as its own commissioner on the issue.

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