Germany Is Seeing Virus Cases Go Down and Vaccinations Go Up

BERLIN — Dr. Peter Weitkamp placed an ad in eBay’s classifieds last week, offering appointments for an AstraZeneca vaccine — “free/to give away” — to anyone over 60. Many of his own patients didn’t want it, since the German government had spent months questioning the vaccine.

But within a day, his practice in Kirchlengern, in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, was inundated with calls from people seeking the remaining 80 to 90 doses, including some offering to drive in from out of state. Another family doctor got a similar response after setting up a drive-through vaccination center in a grocery store parking lot to administer AstraZeneca shots her that her own patients had rejected.

To the doctors, the response was proof that plenty of Germans were willing, even eager, for doses of AstraZeneca. Days later, the German government apparently agreed and relaxed previous restrictions that limited the AstraZeneca vaccine to certain age groups over concerns about rare but dangerous blood clots.

vaccine passport to make travel within the European Union easier and Germany’s upper house of Parliament moving to exempt the fully vaccinated from many restrictions — social distancing and wearing a mask will still be required of everyone — many Germans who qualified for an AstraZeneca shot were reluctant to get one. That was partly because the rival two-dose vaccine from BioNTech and Pfizer could be completed in only six weeks, whereas the recommended wait between shots for the AstraZeneca one was 12 weeks.

“We will make a lot more flexibility possible,” Mr. Spahn told the public television station WDR on Wednesday. “Many people want to have their second shot earlier, with an eye on summer, and that is possible with Astra.”

The Lancet in February said the vaccine provided protection of more than 80 percent if the second shot was administered after 12 weeks, while after less than six weeks, it provided only 55 percent protection.

“The considerable damage to the image of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is still unjustified, is also because of the uncertainty caused by the disastrous communication of its possible side effects by politicians and authorities among the population,” said Ulrich Weigeldt, chairman of the German Association of Family Physicians.

German health authorities initially limited its application to younger adults because there wasn’t enough information on how older adults responded. Then they suspended it for several weeks because of reports of cases of blood clots accompanied by low platelet counts, before reintroducing it but only for individuals older than 60.

began reopening retail shops and outdoor dining, at a time when Germans were still wrangling over the terms of a new lockdown. That included nightly curfews to slow a surging third wave of the virus and a cumbersome vaccine sign-up system riddled with bureaucratic hurdles, and overtaxed hotlines.

“The British of course are all laughing, ‘Oh, the Germans again,’” said Henrike Thalenhorst, who is completing her residency in the office of Dr. Weitkamp, who offered the AstraZeneca appointments on eBay. “They are thinking, ‘While they are filling out six pieces of paper and waiting for an appointment we are all vaccinated with Astra and hitting the pubs.’”

But while AstraZeneca’s links to Britain made it a source of local pride, for Germans, similar sentiments surround the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, which was developed by a start-up based in the western city of Mainz and known to some as “the Mercedes-Benz of vaccines.”

In a letter to the Neue Westfälische newspaper, one man described his decision to hold out against an offer of AstraZeneca as a matter of national pride. “As a not-yet-vaccinated 67-year-old German patriot,” wrote Lutz Schaal, from Bielefeld, “I am waiting for my BioNTech inoculation.”

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin and Megan Specia from London.

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Beware of Car Towing Companies That Patrol Private Parking Lots

“It’s up to the consumer to advocate for themselves,” Ms. Brombach, the author of the towing report, said. Most states have consumer protection offices that can be a good first stop with a complaint.

It helps to be aware of the possibility of a tow when parking. People assume that a lot near a store or other business is public, Mr. Friedman said, but it’s usually private property — so act accordingly. “It’s a mind-set consumers have to have,” he said.

Scrutinize any signs on the lot that provide information about parking and any restrictions, he advised, and resist the urge to park and run errands at additional locations if the spot is dedicated to a specific store. If you have any doubt, find another spot. It may help to take a picture of your car, noting the time and any relevant signs with your phone, in case it can be used to challenge a towing fee, he said.

Here are some questions and answers about towing fees:

What should I do if my car is towed?

If a phone number is posted in the parking lot, call it. Otherwise, call the nonemergency number of the local police department. In many places, local rules require towing companies to report a vehicle to the police before hauling it away.

There’s typically little you can do to get back your car until you pay the fee. “It’s a highly unusual transaction from the get-go,” Mr. Friedman said, in that you have to pay the money and challenge the fee afterward.

Ask for an itemized bill when you retrieve your car. “Fees can stack up,” Ms. Brombach said. You may be charged a “release” fee, and an “after hours” fee, and you’ll want to be sure you weren’t overcharged.

If you can prove that your car was illegally towed, you are eligible for reimbursement in 27 states, the report notes. In 17 of those states, you are entitled to collect damages as well as reimbursement.

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‘It’s Not Quite Like Riding a Bike’: Pilots Get Ready to Fly Again

“The speed surprised me for one or two seconds, and my heart raced,” Mr. Gaad said. “The buildup of speed, the buildup of altitude, the speed that you need to control during landing and other phases, it’s entirely different from what you’re used to, but then after oneor two flights you get used to it.”

Another new reality for pilots flying during the pandemic: preparing to operate planes that have been parked for extended periods of time. The European Union Aviation Safety Agency, or EASA, responsible for civil aviation safety in the European Union, has issued guidelines for identifying hazards like worn out aircraft parking brakes or wildlife nesting in the aircraft engine.

“Airlines must factor in that pilots may need longer than normal to perform the necessary preflight checks on an aircraft returning to service,” said Patrick Ky, the executive director of the agency. “A holistic approach is key.”

Despite the challenges, many pilots feel relieved to be back at work.

“At the beginning there was a lot of worry about the risks of Covid, but now that vaccinations are underway everyone who has been recalled is so happy,” said Sourav Basu Roy Choudhury, a pilot for an American airline, which he did not want to identify because he was not permitted to speak to the news media.

“We love the air, the view, the aircrafts and it’s so much more about those feelings than the money, although in this pandemic you realize that the money is also important.” Mr. Choudhury said. “Everyone is making a big effort with training because they just want to get back.”

Some pilots spent the past year working in warehouses or as delivery drivers just so they could provide for their families; others have not worked at all.

“I felt completely useless and didn’t understand how I could work and train so hard to become a captain, only to find myself at the bottom of the ladder again,” said a former British Airways pilot who asked not to be identified by name because he did not want to jeopardize his chances of being rehired.

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‘A Land Grab’ for a Piece of New York’s Marijuana Business

It has been only five weeks since New York State legalized the use of recreational marijuana. The board that will oversee the rollout has yet to be appointed, let alone rules set for how licenses will be issued to cannabis businesses. The sale of legal pot in the state is still a year away. And, of course, marijuana remains illegal on the federal level.

But already the rush is on to get a piece of what could be a $4.2 billion industry in the Empire State.

Brokers are talking to landlords about leasing storefronts to dispensaries. Representatives of out-of-state cannabis businesses are flying in to scope out properties. And suppliers of medical marijuana are expanding in the hope that they will be able to branch into recreational sales.

Agricultural land upstate is now marketed as being “in the green zone” for hemp farming or the construction of grow houses for cultivating marijuana.

may soon change.

heated discussions among local officials, some of whom “can’t fathom the idea of the devil’s lettuce businesses within their borders,” said Neil M. Willner, co-chair of the cannabis practice at Royer Cooper Cohen Braunfeld, a New York City law firm.

But the pandemic may have softened the stance of some officials, given the jobs and tax revenue that cannabis businesses can generate after the protracted health crisis has decimated both. The state estimates that the new industry could bring it $350 million in annual revenue and create 30,000 to 60,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, funding is pouring into the industry in anticipation of possible federal legalization, some lenders will now do business with cannabis companies, and real estate investment trusts have sprung up to serve marijuana interests.

an increase in purchasing over leasing in the past year.

“Going forward, when banking becomes more normalized for us — when we have the opportunity to get real estate debt in the way traditional industries do — we would have a preference for owning real estate,” said Barrington Rutherford, senior vice president of real estate and community integration at Cresco Labs, a cannabis company with operations in several states.

law firms, consultants, insurance agents and accountants specializes in helping clients jump through regulatory hoops. A listing service that is the industry’s answer to Zillow offers a wide range of real estate, from $65,000 lots in an industrial park in Lexington, Okla., to a $109 million, 45,000-square-foot grow house in San Bernardino, Calif.

The brick-and-mortar side of cannabis real estate has also evolved.

As cultivation of marijuana has become more sophisticated, grow houses have expanded — they can be 150,000 square feet or more, with high ceilings, heavy-duty ventilation, lighting and security. Processing typically occurs in separate buildings with high-tech machinery.

dispensaries are increasingly stylish, offering a rarefied retail experience. Accomplished architecture and design firms have gotten into the act. There are even companies that specialize in kitting out dispensaries and other cannabis real estate.

And as marijuana gains broader public acceptance — and some celebrity glamour, with Jay-Z’s Monogram and Seth Rogen’s Houseplant — stores are opening in prominent locations near traditional retailers.

“We’re next to Starbucks in downtown Chicago,” Mr. Rutherford said. “In Philadelphia, the store we’re opening is a half block from Shake Shack and down the block from Macy’s.”

“We are building a portfolio of sites that would be enviable by any retail organization,” he added.

The New York State law also provides for licenses for “consumption sites,” and this is expected to give rise to clublike lounges and cannabis cafes. The prospect of such convivial settings has led to predictions that New York City may become the next Amsterdam.

These new storefront uses would appear to be a godsend for New York’s retail real estate market, where availability has increased and rents have fallen.

“A few years ago, when the market was stronger, it was harder to find landlords willing to play ball,” said Benjamin S. Birnbaum, a broker at the real estate services firm Newmark. “What’s changed, because of the pandemic, is that every landlord is willing to talk about it.”

in a recent CNBC interview.

Regardless of size, opening a dispensary can be complicated and expensive, in part because states have required that would-be retailers have control of a site, through a lease or option to lease, before they can apply for a license. But the number of licenses in some states is limited, with no guarantee a business will get one.

In Oregon, some applicants had to wait so long — one or two years, said Andrew DeWeese, a lawyer with Green Light Law Group in Portland — they eventually gave up and essentially sold their place in line.

“It’s a Catch-22,” said Kristin Jordan, a cannabis lawyer in New York City. “You want to secure real estate, but you don’t want to jump the gun.”

Still, the prospect of operating in New York, a state with more than 19 million residents and a major tourist destination, is so enticing that cannabis companies are getting their ducks in row.

Companies that have medical dispensaries, which have been operating since 2016, are in an enviable position because it is believed they will have an advantage in securing additional licenses.

Cresco Labs has four medical dispensaries in New York, including one in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is unclear whether the state will allow recreational marijuana to be sold at those locations, but Mr. Rutherford is hedging his bets, adding parking and in some cases expanding by leasing a storefront next door to an existing space.

“We are making sure those stores are ready for the future adult use market,” he said.

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A Grudge Match in Japan: One Corner, Two 7-Elevens

HIGASHI-OSAKA, Japan — Across Japan, it can seem as if there’s a 7-Eleven on every corner.

Now, on a single corner in a working-class suburb of Osaka, there are two.

The unusual pairing is the latest manifestation of a grudge match between one of Japan’s most powerful companies and, arguably, one of its most stubborn men.

Mitoshi Matsumoto, a franchisee, ran one of the two 7-Elevens until the chain revoked his contract in 2019 after he dared to shorten his operating hours. For over a year, his store has sat empty as he and 7-Eleven have battled in court over control of the shop. Fed up and with no end in sight, the company decided on a stopgap: It built a second shop in what used to be Mr. Matsumoto’s parking lot.

The conflict’s outcome will determine not just who gets to sell rice balls and cigarettes from one tiny patch of asphalt and concrete. It could also have profound implications for 7-Eleven’s authority over tens of thousands of franchise shops across Japan, part of a convenience store network so ubiquitous that the government considers it vital to the national infrastructure during emergencies.

ordered stores to give owners more flexibility or face possible legal action.

lenient stance on operating hours. It is not clear how far the changes will go or whether regulators will follow through on their threat.

Mr. Matsumoto is bemused by 7-Eleven’s decision to build a new shop next door to his. “Everyone had forgotten about me,” he said during a recent visit to the construction site. “Now they’ve put me back in the news again.”

As he watched a crane do excavation work, a passing bicyclist stopped to share a few words of encouragement, urging Mr. Matsumoto not to let the “big guys” win.

Last year, Mr. Matsumoto says, the company offered him 10 million yen, or more than $92,000, to drop his case. The court encouraged him to accept the offer. But he wasn’t interested. Now, the company is trying the opposite approach. Its lawyers have said they will bill him ¥30 million for construction of the new store.

Either way, it’s the same to him, Mr. Matsumoto said. “It’s not about the money,” he said. “It’s about something bigger.”

The same could be said for 7-Eleven. A sign in front of the construction site sums it all up: The building is temporary.

Win or lose, the company plans to tear it to the ground.

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Over 6 Years and 211 Spots, a British Man Conquers a Parking Lot

Michelangelo spent four years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Tolstoy devoted six to “War and Peace,” and the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan took more than twice that to erect the Taj Mahal.

But did any of them park in every single spot of their local grocery store?

Maybe they would have, given the chance and the existence of a Publix or Tesco. Instead the feat was achieved by Gareth Wild, a 39-year-old production director who assiduously took up space, in one spot after another at the local Sainsbury’s of his London suburb, until he had used 211 parking spots over six years.

“If you do anything small, or a little thing over a long period of time, it doesn’t feel like too much,” Mr. Wild said. “Then you put it together and suddenly you’re being interviewed by people for your car parking exploits.”

Mr. Wild finished his unusual project this week, drawing notice from the BBC, The Guardian and other news organizations after he wrote about his “magnum opus” on Twitter.

three prime ministers, a royal wedding, Brexit, “Megxit” and a pandemic, Mr. Wild closed in on Spot 211 this week. “I don’t want to call it an anticlimax because it was still great to finish, but by the last 20 or 30 it was inevitable,” he said. “I was getting one each week, it was pretty easy.”

Leisure Studies Association, said that while he had encountered many quirky hobbies and pet projects over the years, “I’ve never heard of any thing like this, to be brutally honest.”

He said the project likely resonated with people because Mr. Wild had taken something so mundane so seriously; because the pandemic had so constrained many people’s own hobbies; and because it took six years.

“It’s completely bonkers, isn’t it,” Mr. Fletcher said. But he said there was also a lesson about the value of personal projects in the story. “Our leisure is our time — it’s what we make of it,” he said. However trivial or strange a project may appear to other people, he said, “there’s the meaning we invest within them for ourselves.”

Mr. Wild does not know yet what form, or meaning, his next project will take. “Maybe some other kind of spreadsheet adventure, because spreadsheets are great,” he said. “But I’m probably done with car parks.”

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Ikea meets Lego: Google redesigns its office space.

Before the pandemic, Google’s sprawling campus of airy, open offices and whimsical common spaces set a standard for what an innovative workplace was supposed to look like.

Now, the company is creating a workplace for the Covid era, with a concept perhaps best described as Ikea meets Lego.

Instead of rows of desks next to cookie-cutter meeting rooms, Google is designing “Team Pods.” Chairs, desks, whiteboards and storage units on casters can be wheeled into various arrangements, and in some cases rearranged in a matter of hours. It is building outdoor work areas to respond to concerns about the coronavirus.

At its Silicon Valley headquarters, it has converted a parking lot and lawn area into a “camp,” with clusters of tables and chairs under open-air tents. The area is a fenced-in mix of grass and wooden deck flooring about the size of four tennis courts with Wi-Fi throughout.

David Radcliffe, Google’s vice president for real estate and workplace services, said that while moving more than 100,000 employees to virtual work last year was daunting, “now it seems even more daunting to figure out how to bring them back safely.”

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