Pfizer and Moderna have released a new COVID booster shot that will target the highly contagious BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variant.
COVID boosters are getting an omicron makeover and could go into arms by the weekend.
“I will be at the front of the line at the pharmacy getting my vaccination. I’m very confident about this,” said Dr. Robert Califf, the FDA commissioner.
The Food and Drug Administration has authorized a formula change to target the highly contagious omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants.
Anyone at least two months past their last COVID-19 shot is eligible. Moderna is authorized for those age 18 and older. For Pfizer and Biontech’s it’s 12 and up.
Health officials say it’s to get ahead for fall and winter when the virus has mutated and spread because more people are inside.
“The idea here is the more up to date you are, the better chance we have of looking at what may come afterwards,” said Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA vaccine chief.
Pfizer and Moderna can now ship out the omicron formulated boosters.
State and local health departments began placing pre-orders last month.
The decision has faced some criticism though.
Regulators say the new vaccine formula is similar enough that safety is sound.
But how well it works in humans is unclear.
Both Moderna and Pfizer submitted efficacy results from animal studies.
That research did show a better antibody response to all the omicron subvariants compared to the original formula.
Clinical trials on humans are set to begin next month.
“f we wait for those data in human data, not just mice data, in human data we will be using what I would be using what I would consider to be a very outdated vaccine,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDCd director.
The CDC still needs to sign off and officially recommend the new booster formula. Their advisors are meeting this week.
The U.N. health agency said there were 5.4 million new COVID-19 cases reported last week, a decline of 24% from the previous week.
New coronavirus cases reported globally dropped nearly a quarter in the last week while deaths fell 6% but were still higher in parts of Asia, according to a report Thursday on the pandemic by the World Health Organization.
The U.N. health agency said there were 5.4 million new COVID-19 cases reported last week, a decline of 24% from the previous week. Infections fell everywhere in the world, including by nearly 40% in Africa and Europe and by a third in the Middle East. COVID deaths rose in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia by 31% and 12% respectively, but fell or remained stable everywhere else.
At a press briefing Wednesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said reported coronavirus deaths over the past month have surged 35%, and noted there had been 15,000 deaths in the past week.
“15,000 deaths a week is completely unacceptable, when we have all the tools to prevent infections and save lives,” Tedros said. He said the number of virus sequences shared every week has plummeted 90%, making it extremely difficult for scientists to monitor how COVID-19 might be mutating.
“But none of us is helpless,” Tedros said. “Please get vaccinated if you are not, and if you need a booster, get one.”
On Thursday, WHO’s vaccine advisory group recommended for the first time that people most vulnerable to COVID-19, including older people, those with underlying health conditions and health workers, get a second booster shot. Numerous other health agencies and countries made the same recommendation months ago.
The expert group also said it had evaluated data from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for younger people and said children and teenagers were in the lowest priority group for vaccination, since they are far less likely to get severe disease.
Joachim Hombach, who sits on WHO’s vaccine expert group, said it was also uncertain whether the experts would endorse widespread boosters for the general population or new combination vaccines that target the Omicron variant.
“We need to see what the data will tell us and we need to see actually (what) will be the advantage of these vaccines that comprise an (Omicron) strain,” he said.
Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, the expert group’s chair, said that unless vaccines were proven to stop transmission, their widespread use would be “a waste of the vaccine and a waste of time.”
Earlier this week, British authorities authorized an updated version of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine that targets Omicron and the U.K. government announced it would be offered to people over 50 beginning next month.
The changes are driven by a recognition that an estimated 95% of Americans 16 and older have acquired some level of immunity.
The nation’s top public health agency relaxed its COVID-19 guidelines Thursday, dropping the recommendation that Americans quarantine themselves if they come into close contact with an infected person.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said people no longer need to stay at least 6 feet away from others.
The changes, which come more than 2 1/2 years after the start of the pandemic, are driven by a recognition that an estimated 95% of Americans 16 and older have acquired some level of immunity, either from being vaccinated or infected, agency officials said.
“The current conditions of this pandemic are very different from those of the last two years,” said the CDC’s Greta Massetti, an author of the guidelines.
Many places around the country long ago abandoned social distancing and other once-common precautions, but some of the changes could be particularly important for schools, which resume classes this month in many parts of the country.
Perhaps the biggest education-related change is the end of the recommendation that schools do routine daily testing, although that practice can be reinstated in certain situations during a surge in infections, officials said.
The CDC also dropped a “test-to-stay” recommendation, which said students exposed to COVID-19 could regularly test — instead of quarantining at home — to keep attending school. With no quarantine recommendation anymore, the testing option disappeared too.
Masks continue to be recommended only in areas where community transmission is deemed high, or if a person is considered at high risk of severe illness.
School districts across the U.S. have scaled back their COVID-19 precautions in recent weeks even before the latest guidance was issued. Some have promised a return to pre-pandemic schooling.
Masks will be optional in most districts when classes resume this fall, and some of the nation’s largest districts have dialed back or eliminated COVID-19 testing requirements.
Public schools in Los Angeles are ending weekly COVID-19 tests, instead making at-home tests available to families, the district announced last week. Schools in North Carolina’s Wake County also dropped weekly testing.
Some others have moved away from test-to-stay programs that became unmanageable during surges of the Omicron variant last school year.
The American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s largest teachers unions, said it welcomes the guidance.
“Every educator and every parent starts every school year with great hope, and this year even more so,” President Randi Weingarten said. “After two years of uncertainty and disruption, we need as normal a year as possible so we can focus like a laser on what kids need.”
The new recommendations prioritize keeping children in school as much as possible, said Joseph Allen, director of Harvard University’s healthy building program. Previous isolation policies forced millions of students to stay home from school, he said, even though the virus poses a relatively low risk to young people.
“Entire classrooms of kids had to miss school if they were deemed a close contact,” he said. “The closed schools and learning disruption have been devastating.”
Others say the CDC is going too far in relaxing its guidelines.
Allowing students to return to school five days after infection, without proof of a negative COVID-19 test, could lead to outbreaks in schools, said Anne Sosin, a public health researcher at Dartmouth College. That could force entire schools to close temporarily if teachers get sick in large numbers, a dilemma that some schools faced last year.
“All of us want a stable school year, but wishful thinking is not the strategy for getting there,” she said. “If we want a return to normal in our schools, we have to invest in the conditions for that, not just drop everything haphazardly like we’re seeing across the country.”
The average numbers of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths have been relatively flat this summer, at around 100,000 cases a day and 300 to 400 deaths.
The CDC previously said that if people who are not up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations come into close contact with a person who tests positive, they should stay home for at least five days. Now the agency says quarantining at home is not necessary, but it urges those people to wear a high-quality mask for 10 days and get tested after five.
The agency continues to say that people who test positive should isolate from others for at least five days, regardless of whether they were vaccinated. CDC officials advise that people can end isolation if they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication and they are without symptoms or the symptoms are improving.
Also on Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration updated its recommendations for how many times people exposed to COVID-19 should test.
Previously, the FDA had advised taking two rapid antigen tests over two or three days to rule out infection. Now the agency recommends three tests.
FDA officials said the change was based on new studies that suggest the old protocol can miss too many infections and result in people spreading the coronavirus, especially if they don’t develop symptoms.
The 79-year-old Biden is fully vaccinated after getting two initial doses of the coronavirus vaccine and two boosters since.
President Joe Biden tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, underscoring the persistence of the highly contagious virus as new variants challenge the nation’s efforts to resume normalcy after two and a half years of pandemic disruptions.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that Biden was experiencing “mild symptoms” and has begun taking Paxlovid, an antiviral drug designed to reduce the severity of the disease.
She said Biden “will isolate at the White House and will continue to carry out all of his duties fully during that time. He has been in contact with members of the White House staff by phone this morning, and will participate in his planned meetings at the White House this morning via phone and Zoom from the residence.”
Biden, 79, is fully vaccinated, after getting two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine shortly before taking office, a first booster shot in September and an additional dose March 30.
Up to this point, Biden’s ability to avoid the virus seemed to defy the odds, even with the testing procedures in place for those expected to be in close contact with him. Prior waves of the virus swept through Washington’s political class, infecting Vice President Kamala Harris, Cabinet members, White House staffers and lawmakers. Biden has increasingly stepped up his travel schedule and resumed holding large indoor events where not everyone is tested.
Top White House officials in recent months have been matter-of-fact about the likelihood of the president getting COVID, a measure of how engrained the virus has become in society — and of its diminished threat for those who are up to date on their vaccinations and with access to treatments.
When administered within five days of symptoms appearing, Paxlovid, produced by drugmaker Pfizer, has been proven to bring about a 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients most likely to get severe disease.
In an April 30 speech to more than 2,600 attendees at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, Biden acknowledged the risks of attending large events, but said it was worthwhile to attend.
“I know there are questions about whether we should gather here tonight because of COVID,” he said. “Well, we’re here to show the country that we’re getting through this pandemic.”
Biden is far from the first world leader — and not the first U.S. president — to get the coronavirus, which has infected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and more than a dozen other leaders and high-ranking officials globally.
When Biden’s predecessor, President Donald Trump, contracted the disease in October 2020, it was a far different time. Vaccines were not available and treatment options were limited and less advanced. After being diagnosed with COVID-19 at the White House, Trump was given an experimental antibody treatment and steroids after his blood oxygen levels fell dangerously low. He was hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for three days
While much of the world has resumed normal rhythms after the early lockdowns to control spikes in cases and deaths, the virus still serves as a disrupter in daily life as people are forced to change plans, isolate and calculate the risks of taking part in various activities.
And after more than two years and over a million deaths in the U.S., the virus is still killing an average of 353 people a day in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The unvaccinated are at far greater risk, more than two times more likely to test positive and nine times more likely to die from the virus than those who have received at least a primary dose of the vaccines, according to the public health agency.
The White House has faced a flurry of questions about COVID-19 protocols surrounding the president. The spring Washington outbreak came weeks after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased face-covering guidance in most of the U.S.
As the virus crept closer to Biden, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden believed it to be “vitally important to him, to his presidency, to the American people,” to travel and continue to host large events.
She added of Biden, “Just like many Americans, he makes risk assessments.”
The highly transmissible omicron variant is the dominant strain in the U.S., but scientists say it poses a lower risk for severe illness to those who are up to date on their vaccinations. The BA.5 sub-strain, believed to be even more contagious, now makes up more than 65% of U.S. cases.
“There’s a lot of infections across America,” White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said May 18, blaming the highly-transmissible variants, as well as relaxing mitigation measures like mask requirements.
The coronavirus pandemic helped put Biden in the White House, as he pledged to handle COVID-19 better than his predecessor. After initial months of success surging the nation’s supply and availability of vaccines, the virus became a morass for the Democrat in the first year of his presidency, as he struggled to boost the country’s vaccination rate and to stay ahead of the unpredictable disease.
As cases sharply declined earlier this year, Biden again highlighted his administration’s efforts to end the pandemic and help the nation regain a sense of normalcy.
In his State of the Union address on March 1, Biden said it was safe for most Americans to resume their normal pre-pandemic activities, citing declining case rates, vaccinations and newly developed therapeutics.
“Tonight, I can say we are moving forward safely, back to more normal routines,” he said. “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”
Yet in recent weeks, U.S. officials have called for the public to exercise caution once again over the BA.5 variant, and appealed to the public to seek out booster shots if eligible and for most Americans to consider whether they should wear a face mask in public indoor settings.
“We should not let it disrupt our lives,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said July 12, “but we cannot deny that it is a reality that we need to deal with.”
The White House has sought to go above and beyond public health guidelines to protect the president, with all visitors and staff, required to attest to their vaccination status or submit to daily tests. Additionally, people expected to be in close proximity to Biden are tested daily.
Still, Biden has increasingly demonstrated a willingness to participate in larger, indoor events in recent months — riskier activities for contracting the virus — and many have had people not wearing masks. White House officials say Biden was intent on showing he can fulfill his presidential responsibilities without fear of the virus, believing he was well protected against severe outcomes
“His doctors are comfortable that he could continue to carry out his duties because of all these steps and precautions and protections he’s taken,” Psaki said on April 8.
In studies, the vaccines most widely used in the U.S. have been found to protect against severe illness and hospitalization, but new cases have emerged even among those who are fully vaccinated.
CDC officials said between 26 million and 37 million adults haven’t had a single dose of any COVID vaccine.
U.S. adults who haven’t gotten any COVID-19 shots yet should consider a new option from Novavax — a more traditional kind of vaccine, health officials said Tuesday.
Regulators authorized the nation’s first so-called protein vaccine against COVID-19 last week, but the final hurdle was a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If you have been waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine built on a different technology than those previously available, now is the time to join the millions of Americans who have been vaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC’s director, said in a statement, endorsing an earlier decision from an influential advisory panel.
Most Americans have gotten at least their primary COVID-19 vaccinations by now, but CDC officials said between 26 million and 37 million adults haven’t had a single dose — the population that Novavax, for now, will be targeting.
“We really need to focus on that population,” said CDC adviser Dr. Oliver Brooks, past president of the National Medical Association. Hopefully, the vaccine “will change them over from being unvaccinated to vaccinated.”
While it’s unclear how many will be persuaded by a more conventional option, “I’m really positive about this vaccine,” agreed fellow adviser Dr. Pablo Sanchez of Ohio State University.
THE NOVAVAX DIFFERENCE
All of the vaccines used in the U.S. train the body to fight the coronavirus by recognizing its outer coating, the spike protein — and the first three options essentially turn people’s cells into a temporary vaccine factory. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines deliver genetic instructions for the body to make copies of the spike protein. The lesser-used Johnson & Johnson option uses a cold virus to deliver those instructions.
In contrast, the Novavax vaccine injects copies of the spike protein that are grown in a lab and packaged into nanoparticles that to the immune system resemble a virus. Another difference: An ingredient called an adjuvant, that’s made from the bark of a South American tree, is added to help rev up that immune response.
Protein vaccines have been used for years to prevent other diseases including hepatitis B and shingles.
HOW WELL IT WORKS
Large studies in the U.S., Mexico and Britain found two doses of the Novavax vaccine were safe and about 90% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. When the delta variant emerged last summer, Novavax reported a booster dose revved up virus-fighting antibodies that could tackle that mutant.
Typical vaccine reactions were mild, including arm pain and fatigue, but regulators did warn about the possibility of a rare risk, heart inflammation, that also has been seen with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, mostly in teen boys or young men.
But early on, manufacturing problems delayed the Novavax vaccine — meaning the shots were studied long before the omicron variant hit, so it’s not clear how well they hold up against the immune-evading mutant.
Still, Novavax points to lab testing that shows the first two shots do spur production of virus-fighting antibodies that are cross-protective against omicron, including the BA.5 subtype that’s currently the nation’s top threat. A booster dose further revved up cross-protective antibodies.
HOW TO USE NOVAVAX SHOTS
The CDC’s advisers unanimously endorsed the two-shot primary series. But several noted that it was important for regulators to clear a booster by the time, five or so months after their last dose, that Novavax recipients will need one.
Also, the two doses typically are given three weeks apart. But CDC officials said that like with other COVID-19 vaccines, it’s possible to wait up to eight weeks for the second dose — except for people at the highest risk, who need protection quickly.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Walensky signed off on recommendations for adults to get the first two Novavax doses. In its first purchase, the U.S. government bought 3.2 million doses and vaccinations are expected to begin in the next few weeks.
The Novavax vaccine also is used in Europe, Canada, Australia, South Korea and other countries. Many allow booster doses, and European regulators recently cleared the shots to given as young as age 12.
The Maryland-based company likewise expects U.S. authorization of a booster dose and teen vaccinations to follow fairly soon.
And like other vaccine makers, Novavax is testing shots updated to better match the newest omicron subtypes — in anticipation of another round of boosters this fall and winter.
China’s entrepreneur class is grappling with the worst economic slump in decades as the government’s zero Covid policy has shut down cities and kept would-be customers at home. Yet they can’t seem to agree on how loudly they should complain — or even whether they should at all.
A tech entrepreneur wrote in a big group chat in May that many members were too critical. “What people here do every day is criticizing the government and the system,” she wrote. “I can’t see any entrepreneurship in this.”
A top venture capitalist told his nearly nine million social media followers that as much as everyone had suffered from the pandemic, they should try to stay away from negative news and information.
zero Covid policy, which has put hundreds of millions of people under some kind of lockdowns in the past few months, costing jobs and revenues. He’s saying what many others are whispering in private but fear to say in public.
“The questions we should ask ourselves are,” he wrote in an article that was censored within an hour of posting but shared widely in other formats, “what caused such widespread negative sentiment across the society? Who should be responsible for this? And how can we change it?”
He said the lockdowns in Shanghai and other cities made it clear that wealth and social status meant little to a government determined to pursue its zero Covid policy. “We’re all nobodies who could be sent to the quarantine camps, and our homes could be broken into,” he wrote. “If we still choose to adapt to and put up with this, all of us will face the same destiny: trapped.”
staying out of politics is no longer an option for China’s business leaders. But some of his peers are reluctant, given the potential penalties.
steered away from the market economy and cracked down on some industries. It demonized entrepreneurs and went after some of the most prominent of them. Then when the mild, albeit contagious, Omicron variant of the coronavirus emerged in China this year, the government meddled with free enterprise as it hadn’t in decades.
The lockdowns and restrictions have done so much damage to the economy that Premier Li Keqiang summoned about 100,000 cadres to an emergency meeting in late May. He called the situation “severe” and “urgent,” citing sharp drops in employment, industrial production, electricity consumption and freight traffic.
Many business leaders believe that it will be hard to reverse the damage if the government doesn’t stop the zero Covid policy. Yet they feel that there’s nothing they can do to make Beijing change course.
The chairman of a big internet company told me that with all the pandemic restrictions, he and others were operating as if dancing with shackles on while expecting the sword of a lockdown to strike at any moment. With a big public company to run, he said, it would be too risky to be vocal. He hoped the economists could be more outspoken.
The chairman of a publicly listed conglomerate with many consumer-facing businesses said he had to shut down a few of his companies and let people go as revenues dropped off a cliff. He’s not a Christian, he said, but he has been praying to God every day to help him get through this tough period.
articles that compared the pros and cons of different pandemic policies. Then, in mid-May, his social media Weibo account was suspended.
Jack Ma, the founder of the e-commerce behemoth Alibaba, largely disappeared from public view after he criticized banking regulators in late 2019. The regulators quashed the initial public offering of Ant Group, the tech and financial company controlled by Mr. Ma, and fined Alibaba a record $2.8 billion last year.
Ren Zhiqiang, a retired real estate developer, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on charges of committing graft, taking bribes, misusing public funds and abusing his power. His real crime, his supporters say, was criticizing Mr. Xi’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020.
Mr. Zhou, 49, is known as a maverick in Chinese business circles. He founded his first business in stereo systems with his brother in the mid-1990s when he was still in college. In 2010, he started Yongche, one of the first ride-hailing companies.
Unlike most Chinese bosses, he didn’t demand that his employees work overtime, and he didn’t like liquor-filled business meals. He turned down hundreds of millions of dollars in funding and refused to participate in subsidy wars because doing so didn’t make economic sense. He ended up losing out to his more aggressive competitor Didi.
He later wrote a best seller about his failure and became a partner at a venture capital firm in Beijing. In April, he was named chairman of the ride-sharing company Caocao, a subsidiary of auto manufacturing giant Geely Auto Group.
A Chinese citizen with his family in Canada, Mr. Zhou said in an interview that in the past many wealthy Chinese people like him would move their families and some of their assets abroad but work in China because there were more opportunities.
Now, some of the top talent are trying to move their businesses out of the country, too. It doesn’t bode well for China’s future, he said.
“Entrepreneurs have good survivor’s instinct,” he said. “Now they’re forced to look beyond China.” He coined a term — “passive globalization” — based on his discussions with other entrepreneurs. “Many of us are starting to take such actions,” he said.
The prospect depressed him. China used to be the best market in the world: big, vibrant, full of ambitious entrepreneurs and hungry workers, he said, but the senseless and destructive zero Covid policy and the business crackdowns have forced many of them to think twice.
“Even if your company is a so-called giant, we’re all nobodies in front of the bigger force,” he said. “A whiff of wind could crush us.”
All the business leaders I spoke to said they were reluctant to make long-term investment in China and fearful that they and their companies could become the next victim of the government’s iron fist. They’re focusing on their international operations if they have them or seeking opportunities abroad.
Mr. Zhou left for Vancouver, British Columbia, in a hurry in late April when Beijing was locking down many neighborhoods. Then he wrote the article, urging his peers to try to speak up and change their powerless status.
He said he understood the fear and the pressure they faced. “Honestly speaking, I’m scared, too.” But he would probably regret it more if he did nothing. “Our country can’t go on like this,” he said. “We can’t allow it to deteriorate like this.”
In recent years, a few of Mr. Zhou’s articles and social media accounts have been deleted. His outspokenness has caused uneasiness among his friends, he said. Some have told him to shut up because it didn’t change anything and was creating unnecessary risks for himself, his family, his companies and the stakeholders in his businesses.
But Mr. Zhou can’t help himself. He’s worried that China could become more like it was under Mao: impoverished and repressive. His generation of entrepreneurs owes much of their success to China’s reform and opening up policies, he said. They have the responsibilities to initiate change instead of waiting for a free ride.
Maybe they can start by speaking up, even if just a little bit.
“Any change starts with disagreement and disobedience,” he said.
TOKYO — Last December, after two years of stop-and-go growth, Japan’s economic engine seemed like it might finally be revving up. Covid cases were practically nonexistent. Consumers were back on the town, shopping, eating out, traveling. The year 2021 ended on a high note, with the country’s economy expanding on an annual basis for the first time in three years.
But the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, geopolitical turmoil and supply chain snarls have once again set back Japan’s fragile economic recovery. In the first three months of the year, the country’s economy, the world’s third largest after the United States and China, shrank at an annualized rate of 1 percent, government data showed on Wednesday.
A combination of factors contributed to the decline in growth. In January, Japan had put into place new emergency measures as coronavirus case numbers, driven up by Omicron, moved toward the highest levels of the pandemic. In February, Russia invaded Ukraine, spiking energy prices. And that was before China, Japan’s largest export market and a key supplier of parts and labor to its manufacturers, imposed new lockdowns in Shanghai, throwing supply chains into chaos.
The contraction has not been as “extreme” as previous economic setbacks thanks to high levels of vaccine uptake and less wide-ranging emergency measures than during previous waves of the coronavirus, according to Shinichiro Kobayashi, principal economist at the Mitsubishi UFJ Research Institute.
traced to the outbreak of Covid-19, which triggered an economic slowdown, mass layoffs and a halt to production. Here’s what happened next:
A reduction in shipping. With fewer goods being made and fewer people with paychecks to spend at the start of the pandemic, manufacturers and shipping companies assumed that demand would drop sharply. But that proved to be a mistake, as demand for some items would surge.
Demand for protective gear spiked. In early 2020, the entire planet suddenly needed surgical masks and gowns. Most of these goods were made in China. As Chinese factories ramped up production, cargo vessels began delivering gear around the globe.
Then, a shipping container shortage. Shipping containers piled up in many parts of the world after they were emptied. The result was a shortage of containers in the one country that needed them the most: China, where factories would begin pumping out goods in record volumes.
Demand for durable goods increased. The pandemic shifted Americans’ spending from eating out and attending events to office furniture, electronics and kitchen appliances – mostly purchased online. The spending was also encouraged by government stimulus programs.
Strained supply chains. Factory goods swiftly overwhelmed U.S. ports. Swelling orders further outstripped the availability of shipping containers, and the cost of shipping a container from Shanghai to Los Angeles skyrocketed tenfold.
Consumer spending “will recover from the downward pressure, but because there are these negative factors, the question is how broad will that recovery be?” said Yoshiki Shinke, a senior economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.
Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, has tried to offset the effects of price increases with large government subsidies for fuel and cash handouts for families with children. But Japanese consumers, wary of the pandemic’s economic effects, have largely been putting rounds of stimulus money into savings.
Japan’s growth is facing diverse challenges, but ultimately its recovery will depend on Covid, analysts said, a common refrain over the last two years.
While Japan has high vaccination rates and has performed better than most other wealthy countries at keeping the pandemic in check, the virus’s protean nature has made it difficult to predict its path. And that has made experts hesitant to commit to any forecasts about its future impact on global economies.
“The big risk is that corona starts to spread again,” said Naoyuki Shiraishi, an economist at the Japan Research Institute. “If a new variant appears, there will be new restrictions on activity, and that will suppress consumption.”
When Google employees returned to their mostly empty offices this month, they were told to relax. Office time should be “not only productive but also fun.” Explore the place a little. Don’t book back-to-back meetings.
Also, don’t forget to attend the private show by Lizzo, one of the hottest pop stars in the country. If that’s not enough, the company is also planning “pop-up events” that will feature “every Googler’s favorite duo: food and swag.”
But Google employees in Boulder, Colo., were still reminded of what they were giving up when the company gave them mouse pads with the image of a sad-eyed cat. Underneath the pet was a plea: “You’re not going to RTO, right?”
R.T.O., for return to office, is an abbreviation born of the pandemic. It is a recognition of how Covid-19 forced many companies to abandon office buildings and empty cubicles. The pandemic proved that being in the office does not necessarily equal greater productivity, and some firms continued to thrive without meeting in person.
a happy hour with its chief executive, Cristiano Amon, at its San Diego offices for several thousand employees with free food, drink and T-shirts. The company also started offering weekly events such as pop-up snack stands on “Take a Break Tuesday” and group fitness classes for “Wellness Wednesday.”
the surveys, is that employees want to see colleagues in person.
After a number of postponements, Google kicked off its hybrid work schedule on April 4, requiring most employees to show up at U.S. offices a few days a week. Apple started easing staff back to the office on Monday, with workers expected to check in at the office once a week at first.
reimburse $49 monthly leases for an electric scooter as part of its transportation options for staff. Google also plans to also start experimenting with different office designs to adapt to changing work styles.
When Microsoft employees returned to their offices in February as part of a hybrid work schedule, they were greeted with “appreciation events” and lawn games such as cornhole and life-size chess. There were classes for spring basket making and canvas painting. The campus pub transformed into a beer, wine and “mocktail” garden.
And, of course, there was free food and drink: pizzas, sandwiches and specialty coffees. Microsoft paid for food trucks with offerings including fried chicken, tacos, gyros, Korean food and barbecue.
Unlike other technology companies, Microsoft expects employees to pay for their own food at the office. One employee marveled at how big a draw the free food was.
signed a letter urging management to be more open to flexible work arrangements. It was a rare show of dissent from the company’s rank-and-file, who historically have been less willing to openly challenge executives on workplace matters.
But as tech companies grapple with offering employees greater work flexibility, the firms are also scaling back some office perks.
cutting back or eliminating free services like laundry and dry cleaning. Google, like some other companies, has said it approved requests from thousands of employees to work remotely or transfer to a different office. But if employees move to a less expensive location, Google is cutting pay, arguing that it has always factored in where a person was hired in setting compensation.
Clio, a legal software company in Burnaby, British Columbia, won’t force its employees back to the office. But last week, it gave a party at its offices.
There was upbeat music. There was an asymmetrical balloon sculpture in Clio’s signature bright blue, dark blue, coral and white — perfect for selfies. One of Clio’s best-known workers donned a safari costume to give tours of the facility. At 2 p.m., the company held a cupcake social.
To make its work spaces feel more like home, the company moved desks to the perimeter, allowing Clions — what the company calls its employees — to gaze out at the office complex’s cherry blossoms while banging out emails. A foosball table was upgraded to a workstation with chairs on either end, “so you could have a meeting while playing foosball with your laptop on it,” said Natalie Archibald, Clio’s vice president of people.
Clio’s Burnaby office, which employs 350, is open at only half capacity. Spaced-out desks must be reserved, and employees got red, yellow and green lanyards to convey their comfort levels with handshakes.
Only around 60 people came in that Monday. “To be able to have an IRL laugh rather than an emoji response,” Ms. Archibald said. “People are just excited for that.”
The January jobs report is arriving at a critical time for the U.S. economy. Inflation is rising. The pandemic is still taking a toll. And the Federal Reserve is trying to decide how best to steer the economy through a swirl of competing threats.
Unfortunately, the data, which the Labor Department will release on Friday, is unlikely to provide a clear guide.
A slew of measurement issues and data quirks will make it hard to assess exactly how the latest coronavirus wave has affected workers and businesses, or to gauge the underlying health of the labor market.
“It’s going to be a mess,” said Skanda Amarnath, executive director of Employ America, a research group.
on Twitter and in conversations with reporters that a weak January jobs number would not necessarily be a sign of a sustained slowdown.
Economists generally agree. Coronavirus cases have already begun to fall in most of the country, and there is little evidence so far that the latest wave caused lasting economic damage. Layoffs have not spiked, as they did earlier in the pandemic, and employers continue to post job openings.
“You could have the possibility of a payroll number that looks really truly horrendous, but you’re pulling on a rubber band,” said Nick Bunker, director of economic research for the job site Indeed. “Things could bounce back really quickly.”
loss of purchasing power over time, meaning your dollar will not go as far tomorrow as it did today. It is typically expressed as the annual change in prices for everyday goods and services such as food, furniture, apparel, transportation and toys.
What causes inflation? It can be the result of rising consumer demand. But inflation can also rise and fall based on developments that have little to do with economic conditions, such as limited oil production and supply chain problems.
Is inflation bad? It depends on the circumstances. Fast price increases spell trouble, but moderate price gains can lead to higher wages and job growth.
Can inflation affect the stock market? Rapid inflation typically spells trouble for stocks. Financial assets in general have historically fared badly during inflation booms, while tangible assets like houses have held their value better.
Economists typically pay more attention to the survey of businesses, which is larger and seen as more reliable. But some say they will be paying closer attention than usual this month to the data from the survey of households, because it will do a better job of distinguishing between temporary absences and more lasting effects from Omicron, such as layoffs or postponed expansions.
But economists have also cautioned not to minimize the impact that even temporary absences from work could have on families and the economy, especially now that the government is no longer offering expanded unemployment benefits and other aid.
“There isn’t that much Covid relief funding sloshing about anymore, so absences from work may actually reflect a meaningful decline in income,” said Julia Pollak, chief economist at the employment site ZipRecruiter.
Even in normal times, January jobs data can be tough to interpret. Retailers, shippers and other companies every year lay off hundreds of thousands of temporary workers hired during the holiday season. Government statisticians adjust the data to account for those seasonal patterns, but that process is imperfect. January is also the month each year when the Labor Department incorporates long-run revisions and other updates to its estimates.
“January is a messy month as it is,” Mr. Amarnath said.
This year, it could be extra messy because the pandemic has disrupted normal seasonal patterns. The labor shortage led some companies to hire permanent workers instead of short-term seasonal help during the holidays; others may have retained temporary workers longer than planned to cover for employees who were out sick. If that results in fewer layoffs than usual, the government’s seasonal adjustment formula will interpret that continued employment as an increase.
Other numbers could also be deceptive. The unemployment rate, for example, could fall even if hiring slowed. That is because the government considers people unemployed only if they are actively searching for work, and the spike in Covid cases may have led some to suspend their job searches.
Data on average hourly earnings could also be skewed because it is based on the payroll data — people who aren’t on payrolls aren’t counted in the average at all. Low-wage workers were probably the most likely to be missing from payrolls last month, since higher-wage workers are more likely to have access to paid sick leave. That could lead to an artificial — and temporary — jump in average earnings when policymakers at the Fed are watching wage data for hints about inflation.
Astonishing data for 2021 tell the story. U.S. start-ups raised $330 billion, nearly double 2020’s record haul of $167 billion, according to PitchBook, which tracks private financing. More tech start-ups crossed the $1 billion valuation threshold than in the previous five years combined. The median amount of money raised for very young start-ups taking on their first major round of funding grew 30 percent, according to Crunchbase. And the value of start-up exits — a sale or public offering — spiked to $774 billion, nearly tripling the prior year’s returns, according to PitchBook.
The big-money headlines have carried into this year. Over a few days this month, three private start-ups hit eye-popping valuations: Miro, a digital whiteboard company, was valued at $17.75 billion; Checkout.com, a payments company, was valued at $40 billion; and OpenSea, a 90-person start-up that lets people buy and sell nonfungible tokens, known as NFTs, was valued at $13.3 billion.
Investors announced big hauls, too. Andreessen Horowitz, a venture capital firm, said it had raised $9 billion in new funds. Khosla Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, two other venture firms, each raised nearly $2 billion.
The good times have been so good that warnings of a pullback inevitably bubble up. Rising interest rates, expected later this year, and uncertainty over the Omicron variant of the coronavirus have deflated tech stock prices. Shares of start-ups that went public through special purpose acquisition vehicles last year have slumped. One of the first start-up initial public offerings expected this year was postponed by Justworks, a provider of human resources software, which cited market conditions. The price of Bitcoin has sunk nearly 40 percent since its peak in November.
But start-up investors said that had not yet affected funding for private companies. “I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more competitive market,” said Ambar Bhattacharyya, an investor at Maverick Ventures.
Even if things slow down momentarily, investors said, the big picture looks the same. Past moments of outrageous deal making — from Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp to the soaring private market valuations of start-ups like Uber and WeWork — have prompted heated debates about a tech bubble for the last decade. Each time, Mr. Bahat said, he thought the frenzy would eventually return to normal.
Instead, he said, “every single time it’s become the new normal.”
Investors and founders have adopted a seize-the-day mentality, believing the pandemic created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shake things up. Phil Libin, an entrepreneur and investor, said the pandemic had changed every aspect of society so much that start-ups were accomplishing five years of progress in one year.