View Source

Vaccine Passports: What Are They, and Who Might Need One?

With Covid-19 vaccinations accelerating, attention is turning to tools for people to prove that they have been inoculated and potentially bypass the suffocating restrictions used to fight the pandemic.

Though the idea is meeting some resistance over privacy and equity concerns, several types of coronavirus vaccination records, sometimes called “vaccine passports,” already exist, in paper and digital form. Hundreds of airlines, governments and other organizations are experimenting with new, electronic versions, and the number grows daily, although so far their use has been very limited.

Portable vaccine records are an old idea: Travelers to many parts of the world, children enrolling in school and some health care workers have long had to supply them as proof that they have been vaccinated against diseases.

But vaccine passports use digital tools that take the concept to new levels of sophistication, and experts predict that electronic verification will soon become commonplace, particularly for international air travel, but also for admission to crowded spaces like theaters.

“yellow card,” used for decades by travelers to show inoculation against diseases like yellow fever. But those are on paper, filled out by hand and fairly vulnerable to forgery.

The tool might have to address several variables: It is unclear how long inoculation lasts, there can be bad batches and the emergence of new variants of the virus are likely to require new vaccines. So in the long run, an electronic record might need to show which specific vaccine a person received, from which batch and when.

More than a dozen competing versions are already being developed and promoted.

using CommonPass, developed by the Commons Project, a Swiss-based nonprofit, with support from the World Economic Forum. Lufthansa passengers flying into the United States can also use it.

The same month, Singapore Airlines became the first carrier to make limited use of Travel Pass for people flying between Singapore and London, and will put it into wide use in May.

Also in March, New York State became the first government in the United States to implement a system, the Excelsior Pass, developed with IBM, which some venues have used to prove vaccination. The governors of Florida and Texas have vowed to block any such system in their states, calling it government overreach and an invasion of privacy.

Vaccine Credential Initiative, to develop a broadly agreed-upon set of open standards, meaning that the software underlying a verification system is transparent and it can adapt easily to other systems, while safeguarding privacy. The W.H.O. has a similar initiative, the Smart Vaccination Certificate.

But several companies are creating closed, proprietary systems that they hope to sell to clients, and some apparently would have access to users’ information.

One concern is that a profusion of systems might not be compatible, defeating the purpose of making it easy to check someone’s status.

Another objection is that any requirement to prove vaccination status would discriminate against those who can’t get the shot or refuse to, and there is lingering uncertainty about how well inoculation prevents virus transmission.

For those reasons, the W.H.O. said this week that it does not support requiring proof of vaccination for travel — for now.

View Source

Biden’s Corporate Tax Proposal Could Raise Trillions

The Biden administration has unveiled its corporate tax overhaul, intended to raise $2.5 trillion over 15 years to pay for an infrastructure program. “Debate is welcome. Compromise is inevitable. Changes are certain,” President Biden said, but he stressed that “inaction is not an option.”

“America’s corporate tax system has long been broken,” the Treasury secretary Janet Yellen wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed coinciding with the plan’s release. In addition to raising the headline corporate tax rate, the administration’s proposal takes aim at companies that shift profits abroad, especially to low-tax havens like Bermuda or Ireland. Some of the changes could be enacted by regulation, but things like raising the corporate tax rate will need the approval of Congress.

What’s in the plan? Here are the main provisions:

  • Raise the corporate tax rate to 28 percent. The increase from 21 percent would put the U.S. more in line with other big countries and, the administration says, lift corporate tax receipts that have fallen to their lowest levels as a share of the economy since World War II.

global minimum tax rate by midyear, but previous efforts have faltered when it came to nailing down the details.

  • Punish companies that headquarter in low-tax countries. A provision in the plan would target “inversions,” where American companies merge with a foreign entity in order to move headquarters to a low-tax country.

  • Replace fossil-fuel tax subsidies with clean-energy incentives. Previous attempts to eliminate subsidies on oil and gas met with stiff industry and congressional opposition.

  • Beef up the I.R.S. The agency’s enforcement budget has fallen by 25 percent over the past decade, and the proposal would bolster the budget for experts in complex corporate litigation.

What effect would it have? A Wharton School budget model concluded that the corporate tax rate increase would “not meaningfully affect the normal return on investment,” but when combined with the proposed minimum tax on book income, business investment would fall somewhat. All told, by 2050 the tax provisions would reduce government debt by more than 11 percent from the current baseline, but also reduce G.D.P. by 0.5 percent over that period.

“I’m actually OK at 28 percent.”

For more on this, see our sister newsletter, The Morning: “Corporate Taxes Are Wealth Taxes

The counting of votes in the Amazon union drive begins soon. The union seeking to represent workers at a warehouse in Alabama said that 3,215 ballots were cast, representing 55 percent of eligible workers. The hand count of the ballots will begin either later today or tomorrow.

Britain curbs the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for people under 30. The decision came as regulators increasingly suspect a link between the shot and rare blood clots. While Britain has enough vaccines from other makers to avoid a slowdown in its inoculation efforts, the concerns may dent vaccination efforts in developing countries.

Senator Mitch McConnell walks back his comments on companies and politics, sort of. The minority leader conceded that his criticism of companies for speaking out against voting restrictions was not spoken “artfully.” (Democrats noted that Republicans have benefited from corporate donations.) “They are certainly entitled to be involved in politics,” Mr. McConnell said.

Tencent’s biggest shareholder sells a slice of its holdings for $14.7 billion. Prosus, the Europe-based tech investor, sold 2 percent of its stake in the Chinese tech giant in the biggest-ever block trade (breaking its own record). Prosus still owns a 29 percent stake in the company.

hadn’t told top executives or his board of the arrangement. He is accused of having the gun-rights group file for Chapter 11 to stymie an investigation by New York State’s attorney general.

Many parts of the economy have held up during the pandemic — but corporate real estate isn’t one of them. Landlords and cities are worried that remote working will irreversibly sap demand for office space, The Times’s Peter Eavis and Matthew Haag report.

The numbers are grim for landlords. The national office vacancy rate in city centers has hit 16.4 percent, according to Cushman & Wakefield, a decade-long high. In Manhattan alone, over 17 percent of all office space is available, the most in over 30 years. And rents on existing space could also face pressure from new buildings coming online, representing 124 million square feet.

Some are staying hopeful. Landlords like Boston Properties and SL Green haven’t suffered big financial losses from the pandemic, thanks to many tenants being locked into long leases. They’re also betting many companies want their workers to meet in person to better collaborate and train younger employees.

The final damage won’t be known for some time. Companies are still trying to figure out their real estate needs, based on their work policies: While Amazon expects a return to an “office-centric culture,” JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon said that the bank may need only 60 seats for every 100 employees after the pandemic.


— Peter Thiel, the tech investor, on how cryptocurrency threatens the U.S. dollar. “China wants to do things to weaken it, so China’s long Bitcoin,” he added.

Florida and Texas banned them. Airlines, universities, event venues and other businesses are also testing various methods of vaccine verification. The starkly different approaches reflect a wider national and global debate on proof of health in the pandemic era.

“There are a lot of ways it could be done badly,” Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union told DealBook, but he suggested a “narrow path” to a certification system that could work. The ideal system would be paper-based with a digital supplement, Mr. Stanley argues, so that people who lack access to technology aren’t disadvantaged. Encrypted data would be stored on a decentralized network, protected with a public key for vaccine providers and private keys for users to ensure privacy. Fairness also demands a standardized approach, rather than the current variety of systems, which could result in “a mess for civil liberties, equity and privacy,” he said.

The Biden administration has said it won’t mandate vaccine passports, a point it reiterated this week, but it is working on standards the private sector can adopt. New York partnered with IBM on the state’s opt-in Excelsior Pass, which allows access to restricted activities and venues.

The certificates can raise a slew of social and legal issues, depending on who is asking for proof of vaccination and why, according to the Stanford law professor David Studdert. Government mandates trigger more concerns than opt-in programs, he noted, and companies will have different considerations if they seek certification from customers or workers. Given all the variations, he said, “within reason” the market should decide what works, and officials should avoid both mandates and bans: “Different communities and employers have a different tolerance for risk.”

More on vaccine passports:

Deals

Politics and policy

Tech

Best of the rest

We’d like your feedback! Please email thoughts and suggestions to dealbook@nytimes.com.

View Source

Vaccine Passports Could Unlock World Travel and Cries of Discrimination

LONDON — For Aruba, a Caribbean idyll that has languished since the pandemic drove away its tourists, the concept of a “vaccine passport” is not just intriguing. It is a “lifeline,” said the prime minister, Evelyn Wever-Croes.

Aruba is already experimenting with a digital certificate that allows visitors from the United States who tested negative for the coronavirus to breeze through the airport and hit the beach without delay. Soon, it may be able to fast-track those who arrive with digital confirmation that they have been vaccinated.

“People don’t want to stand in line, especially with social distancing,” Ms. Wever-Croes said in an interview this week. “We need to be ready in order to make it hassle-free and seamless for the travelers.”

Vaccine passports are increasingly viewed as the key to unlocking the world after a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns — a few bytes of personal health data, encoded on a chip, that could put an end to suffocating restrictions and restore the freewheeling travel that is a hallmark of the age of globalization. From Britain to Israel, these passports are taking shape or already in use.

But they are also stirring complicated political and ethical debates about discrimination, inequality, privacy and fraud. And at a practical level, making them work seamlessly around the globe will be a formidable technical challenge.

The debate may play out differently in tourism- or trade-dependent outposts like Aruba and Singapore, which view passports primarily as a tool to reopen borders, than it will in vast economies like the United States or China, which have starkly divergent views on civil liberties and privacy.

The Biden administration said this week that it would not push for a mandatory vaccination credential or a federal vaccine database, attesting to the sensitive political and legal issues involved. In the European Union and Britain, which have taken tentative steps toward vaccine passports, leaders are running into thorny questions over their legality and technical feasibility.

And in Japan, which has lagged the United States and Britain in vaccinating its population, the debate has scarcely begun. There are grave misgivings there about whether passports would discriminate against people who cannot get a shot for medical reasons or choose not to be vaccinated.

Japan, like other Asian countries, has curbed the virus mainly through strict border controls.

“Whether or not to get vaccinated is up to the individual,” said Japan’s health minister, Norihisa Tamura. “The government should respond so that people won’t be disadvantaged by their decision.”

Still, almost everywhere, the pressure to restart international travel is forcing the debate. With tens of millions of people vaccinated, and governments desperate to reopen their economies, businesses and individuals are pushing to regain more freedom of movement. Verifying whether someone is inoculated is the simplest way to do that.

“There’s a very important distinction between international travel and domestic uses,” said Paul Meyer, the founder of the Commons Project, a nonprofit trust that is developing CommonPass, a scannable code that contains Covid testing and vaccination data for travelers. Aruba was the first government to sign up for it.

“There doesn’t seem to be any pushback on showing certification if I want to travel to Greece or Cyprus,” he said, pointing out that schools require students to be vaccinated against measles and many countries demand proof of yellow fever vaccinations. “From a public health perspective, it’s not fair to say, ‘You have no right to check whether I’m going to infect you.’”

CommonPass is one of multiple efforts by technology companies and others to develop reliable, efficient systems to verify the medical status of passengers — a challenge that will deepen as more people resume traveling.

At Heathrow Airport in London, which is operating at a fraction of its normal capacity, arriving passengers have had to line up for hours while immigration officials check whether they have proof of a negative test result and have purchased a mandatory kit to test themselves twice more after they enter the country.

Saudi Arabia announced this week that pilgrims visiting the mosques in Mecca and Medina during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan would have to show proof on a mobile app of being “immunized,” which officials defined as having been fully vaccinated, having gotten a single dose of a vaccine at least 14 days before arrival, or having recovered from Covid.

In neighboring United Arab Emirates, residents can show their vaccination status on a certificate through a government-developed app. So far, the certificate is not yet widely required for anything beyond entering the capital, Abu Dhabi, from abroad.

Few countries have gone farther in experimenting with vaccine passports than Israel. It is issuing a “Green Pass” that allows people who are fully vaccinated to go to bars, restaurants, concerts and sporting events. Israel has vaccinated more than half its population and the vast majority of its older people, which makes such a system useful but raises a different set of questions.

With people under 16 not yet eligible for the vaccine, the system could create a generational divide, depriving young people of access to many of the pleasures of their elders. So far, enforcement of the Green Pass has been patchy, and in any event, Israel has kept its borders closed.

So has China, which remains one of the most sealed-off countries in the world. In early March, the Chinese government announced it would begin issuing an “international travel health certificate,” which would record a user’s vaccination status, as well as the results of antibody tests. But it did not say whether the certificate would spare the user from China’s draconian quarantines.

Nor is it clear how eager other countries would be to recognize China’s certificate, given that Chinese companies have been slow in disclosing data from clinical trials of their homegrown vaccines.

Singapore has also maintained strict quarantines, even as it searches for way to restart foreign travel. Last week, it said it would begin rolling out a digital health passport, allowing passengers to use a mobile app to share their coronavirus test results before flying into the island nation.

Free movement across borders is the goal of the European Union’s “Digital Green Certificate.” The European Commission last month set out a plan for verifying vaccination status, which would allow a person to travel freely within the bloc. It left it up to its 27 member states to decide how to collect the health data.

That could avoid the pitfalls of the European Union’s vaccine rollout, which was heavily managed by Brussels and has been far slower than that in the United States or Britain. Yet analysts noted that in data collection, there is a trade-off between decentralized and centralized systems: the former tends to be better at protecting privacy but less efficient; the latter, more intrusive but potentially more effective.

“Given the very unequal access to vaccines we are witnessing in continental Europe, there is also an issue of equal opportunity and potential discrimination,” said Andrea Renda, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.

For some countries, the legal and ethical implications have been a major stumbling block to domestic use of a passport. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada put it last month, “There are questions of fairness and justice.”

And yet in Britain, which has a deeply rooted aversion to national ID cards, the government is moving gingerly in that direction. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week outlined broad guidelines for a Covid certificate, which would record vaccination status, test results, and whether the holder had recovered from Covid, which confers a degree of natural immunity for an unknown duration.

Mr. Johnson insisted that shops, pubs and restaurants would not be required to demand the certificate, though they could opt to do so on their own. That did not stop dozens of lawmakers, from his Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party, from opposing the plan on grounds that were legal, ethical and plainly commercial — that it could keep people out of the country’s beloved pubs.

Government officials now suggest that the plan is targeted less at pubs and restaurants and more at higher-risk settings, like nightclubs and sporting events.

“Would we rather have a system where no one can go to a sports ground or theater?” said Jonathan Sumption, a former justice on Britain’s Supreme Court, who has been an outspoken critic of the government’s strict lockdowns. “It’s better to have a vaccine passport than a blanket rule which excludes these pleasures from everybody.”

Reporting was contributed by Stephen Castle in London, Motoko Rich in Tokyo, Shashank Bengali in Singapore, Vivian Wang in Hong Kong, Vivian Yee in Cairo, Asmaa al-Omar in Beirut, and Ian Austen in Ottawa.

View Source

Online Scammers Have a New Offer For You: Vaccine Cards

SAN FRANCISCO — On Etsy, eBay, Facebook and Twitter, little rectangular slips of paper started showing up for sale in late January. Printed on card stock, they measured three-by-four inches and featured crisp black lettering. Sellers listed them for $20 to $60 each, with a discount on bundles of three or more. Laminated ones cost extra.

All were forgeries or falsified copies of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards, which are given to people who have been inoculated against Covid-19 in the United States.

“We found hundreds of online stores selling the cards, potentially thousands were sold,” said Saoud Khalifah, the founder of FakeSpot, which offers tools to detect fake listings and reviews online.

The coronavirus has made opportunists out of many people, like those who hoarded bottles of hand sanitizer at the start of the pandemic or those who cheated recipients out of their stimulus checks. Now online scammers have latched onto the latest profit-making initiative: the little white cards that provide proof of shots.

Airlines and other companies have recently said they may require proof of Covid-19 immunization so that people can safely travel or attend events.

The cards may also become central to “vaccine passports,” which offer digital proof of vaccinations. Some tech companies developing vaccine passports ask people to upload copies of their C.D.C. cards. Los Angeles also recently began using the C.D.C. cards for its own digital proof of immunization.

Last week, 45 state attorneys general banded together to call on Twitter, Shopify and eBay to stop the sale of false and stolen vaccine cards. The officials said they were monitoring the activity and were concerned that unvaccinated people would misuse the cards to attend large events, potentially spreading the virus and prolonging the pandemic.

“We’re seeing a huge market for these false cards online,” said Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, whose office has investigated fraud related to the virus. “This is a dangerous practice that undermines public health.”

The C.D.C. said it was “aware of cases of fraud regarding counterfeit Covid-19 vaccine cards.” It asked people not to share images of their personal information or vaccine cards on social media.

Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Shopify and Etsy said that the sale of fake vaccine cards violated their rules and that they were removing posts that advertised the items.

The C.D.C. introduced the vaccination cards in December, describing them as the “simplest” way to keep track of Covid-19 shots. By January, sales of false vaccine cards started picking up, Mr. Khalifah said. Many people found the cards were easy to forge from samples available online. Authentic cards were also stolen by pharmacists from their workplaces and put up for sale, he said.

Many people who bought the cards were opposed to the Covid-19 vaccines, Mr. Khalifah said. In some anti-vaccine groups on Facebook, people have publicly boasted about getting the cards.

“My body my choice,” wrote one commenter in a Facebook post last month. Another person replied, “can’t wait to get mine too, lol.”

Other buyers want to use the cards to trick pharmacists into giving them a vaccine, Mr. Khalifah said. Because some of the vaccines are two-shot regimens, people can enter a false date for a first inoculation on the card, which makes it appear as if they need a second dose soon. Some pharmacies and state vaccination sites have prioritized people due for their second shots.

One Etsy seller, who declined to be identified, said she had sold dozens of fake vaccine cards for $20 each recently. She justified her actions by saying she was helping people evade a “tyrannical government.” She added that she did not plan to get inoculated.

Vaccine proponents say they have been troubled by the proliferation of forged and stolen cards. To hold those people accountable, Savannah Sparks, a pharmacist in Biloxi, Miss., began posting videos on TikTok last month naming the sellers of falsified vaccine cards.

In one video, Ms. Sparks explained how she had tracked down the name of a pharmacy technician in Illinois who had nabbed several cards for herself and her husband and then posted about it online. The pharmacy technician had not disclosed her identity, but had linked the post to her social media accounts, where she used her real name. The video has 1.2 million views.

“It made me so mad that a pharmacist was using her access and position this way,” Ms. Sparks said. The video drew the attention of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, which said it reported the video to a state board for further investigation.

Ms. Sparks said her work had drawn detractors and vaccine opponents, who have threatened her and posted her home phone number and address online. But she was undeterred.

“They should be first in line advocating for people to get vaccinated,” she said of pharmacists. “Instead, they’re trying to use their positions to spread fear and help people circumvent getting the vaccine.”

Mr. Shapiro, the Pennsylvania attorney general, said in addition to violating federal copyright laws, the sale of counterfeit and stolen cards most likely broke civil and consumer protection laws that mandate that an item can be used as advertised. The cards could also violate state laws regarding impersonation, he said.

“We want to see them stop immediately,” Mr. Shapiro said of the fraudsters. “And we want to see the companies take serious and immediate action.”

View Source

Covid-19 Live Updates: U.K. to Offer Alternatives to AstraZeneza Vaccine to Adults Under 30

finally over rare, but sometimes fatal, blood clots reported in some recipients.

Those concerns led several European countries to first restrict the use of AstraZeneca in older age groups, then suspend it over reports of blood clots, only to roll it out again last month after the European Medicines Agency issued a preliminary opinion that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.

As doctors reported a higher incidence of serious blood clots in younger people, some countries decided to stop administering the shot to anyone younger than 55.

Europe’s concerns over the vaccine’s side effects are also likely to threaten global inoculation efforts, with much of the developing world depending on the AstraZeneca vaccine to tackle the pandemic. The shot is the cornerstone of Covax, a program designed to make vaccine access more equitable worldwide.

The vaccine appeared to be causing an immune reaction in which antibodies bind to platelets, activating them, German doctors and the European Medicines Agency have said. Those platelets, in turn, were causing the formation of dangerous clots in certain parts of the body, including in veins that drain blood from the brain, leading in some cases to a rare type of stroke.

Why the antibodies develop in these people is not known, doctors have said. Some component of the vaccine, or excessive immune reaction — or both — could be the cause, they said.

No pre-existing conditions are known to make patients more vulnerable to this clotting disorder after a vaccination, European regulators said.

A mass vaccination event for teachers in Carteret, N.J., this month. About eight million school employees had received at least one vaccine dose by the end of March.
Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Nearly 80 percent of school staff and child care workers in the United States have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.

The announcement comes as the Biden administration has made an ambitious push to reopen schools and return to in-person instruction by the president’s 100th day in office. That goal has been tempered by dangerous virus variants, protests from teachers’ unions, and the fears and frustrations of students and parents.

The push to reopen schools has gathered momentum as evidence mounted that proper safety measures limited virus transmission in schools and coronavirus cases fell sharply from their January peak. Education officials and experts have cited the urgency of getting students back in classrooms before the academic year ends.

About eight million teachers, school staff and child care workers received their first vaccine dose by the end of March, according to the C.D.C., with about two million receiving their shot through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

President Biden announced the program in March, urging nationwide access to vaccines for school employees and child care workers. But a hodgepodge of eligibility guidelines followed, as some states chose not to deviate from their rollout plans. By the end of March, however, K-12 educators in all states had become eligible to receive the vaccine.

While the acceleration of vaccinations among educators and staff has reduced the resistance from teachers’ unions to reopening classrooms, school systems with powerful unions, especially on the West Coast, have been slower to revert to in-person instruction.

Union resistance has led a bipartisan group of governors in several states to prod, and sometimes force, school districts to open. The result has been a major increase in the number of students who now have the option of attending school in-person, or will soon.

According to a school reopening tracker created by the American Enterprise Institute, 7 percent of the more than 8,000 districts being tracked were fully remote on March 22, the lowest percentage since the tracker was started in November. Forty-one percent of districts were offering full-time in-person instruction, the highest percentage in that time. Those findings have been echoed by other surveys.

In February, the C.D.C. issued guidelines that said K-12 schools could reopen safely as long as they followed basic health protocols like masking or distancing.

More recently, it said that elementary students and some middle and high schoolers could be spaced three feet apart in classrooms, instead of six feet, as long as everyone was wearing a mask. Unions had used the six-foot guidance to oppose bringing children back for normal schedules.

“Our push to ensure that teachers, school staff, and child care workers were vaccinated during March has paid off and paved the way for safer in-person learning,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the center’s director, said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Mr. Biden touted the C.D.C.’s newly released benchmark while visiting a vaccination site in Alexandra, Va., on Tuesday.

“That is great progress protecting our educators and our essential workers,” Mr. Biden said of the new estimate. “And because our vaccine program is in overdrive, we are making it easier to get a vaccination shot.”

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teacher’s union, on Tuesday released a survey that reported over 80 percent of association members had been vaccinated or had made a vaccine appointment. About 85 percent of members said their school was “operating on at least a part-time basis,” according to the survey.

Randi Weingarten, the federation’s president, said in a statement on Tuesday that “A.F.T. members have embraced vaccines as vital to getting back in the classroom.”

“They want to return, the road map to reopening is robust, and if we instill trust and meet fear with facts we can finally end this national nightmare,” Ms. Weingarten said.

A guest showed her “Excelsior Pass,” with proof of vaccination, on a phone outside the The Shed, a performing and visual arts venue in New York.
Credit…Angela Weiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Around the United States, businesses, schools and politicians are considering “vaccine passports” — digital proof of vaccination against the coronavirus — as a path to reviving the economy and getting Americans back to work and play.

New York has rolled out “Excelsior Pass,” billed by the state as “a free, fast and secure way to present digital proof of Covid-19 vaccination” in case reopening sports and entertainment venues require proof of attendees’ status.

Walmart is offering electronic verification apps to patients vaccinated in its stores so they “can easily access their vaccine status as needed,” the company said.

But the idea is raising charged legal and ethical questions: Can businesses require employees or customers to provide proof of vaccination against the coronavirus when the vaccine is ostensibly voluntary?

Can schools require that students prove they have been injected with what is still officially an experimental prophylaxis the same way they require long-approved vaccines for measles and polio? And finally, can governments mandate vaccinations — or stand in the way of businesses or educational institutions that demand proof?

Legal experts say the answer to all of these questions is generally yes, though in a society so divided, politicians are girding for a fight. Government entities like school boards and the Army can require vaccinations for entry, service and travel — practices that flow from a 1905 Supreme Court ruling that said states could require residents to be vaccinated against smallpox or pay a fine.

Backers of digital vaccination cards are pressing the Biden administration to become involved, at least by setting standards for privacy and for verifying the accuracy of the records.

The White House is clearly skittish.

“The government is not now nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday.

Republican critics say vaccine passports raise the specter of centralized databases of vaccinated people, which they view as a government intrusion on privacy.

“A vaccine passport — a unified, centralized system for providing or denying access to everyday activities like shopping and dining — would be a nightmare for civil liberties and privacy,” Justin Amash, a former Republican congressman who is now a libertarian, wrote on Twitter last week.

But, in fact, every state already has a database, or an “immunization registry.” And under “data use agreements,” the states are required to share their registries with the C.D.C., though the agency de-identifies the information and not all states have agreed to provide it.

global roundup

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

Three weeks after suspending its vaccination campaign, Nepal has started administering shots again thanks to a gift of doses from China.

Nepal, a poor Himalayan nation, had been depending on vaccines manufactured in neighboring India, but last month India began cutting vaccine exports as the country experienced a surge in coronavirus cases. Nepal’s vaccination effort ground to a halt, even as infections began to rise again.

Last week, Nepal’s other giant neighbor, China, stepped in with a donation of 800,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Sinopharm, a state-owned company.

The vaccines will be administered to essential workers, Nepali students preparing to travel to China to study and those living in districts along the Nepal-China border, health officials said. Taranath Pokhrel, a senior official in Nepal’s health department, said that the Chinese government asked Nepal to give priority to the students and to people involved in cross-border trade, presumably to reduce the risk of infected people crossing into China.

Thousands of Nepali students study at Chinese universities under Chinese government scholarships. China, to increase the appeal of its vaccines, has said that foreigners who are inoculated with Chinese-made vaccines may face fewer bureaucratic hurdles entering the country.

Nepal, a nation of 30 million people, has vaccinated more than 1.7 million and slowly begun reopening to visitors, including to a few hundred climbers attempting to scale Mount Everest. The country reported very few infections in January, but new cases have surpassed 300 in recent days, part of a worrying resurgence in new cases across South Asia. India, which shares a porous border with Nepal, recorded more than 115,000 new infections on Wednesday, by far its highest daily total since the pandemic began.

The future of Nepal’s vaccination campaign remains uncertain because the Chinese donation falls short of the two million vaccine doses Nepal was due to receive under an agreement with the Indian manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India. Nepal officials said that they had paid the company 80 percent of the contract price but received only half of the doses. Serum’s chief executive said this week that he hoped to restart exports by June if new infections in India subsided.

“Our entire diplomatic channels are mobilized to get vaccines, but none has assured us of providing vaccines when we tried to procure them,” Dr. Pokhrel said.

In other news from around the world:

With only months left in office, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has struggled to rally support for a national lockdown.
Credit…Hannibal Hanschke/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has called for a short and strict nationwide lockdown to bring down the number of new coronavirus infections in the country, according to her spokeswoman, but will meet with local officials next week to discuss potential regulations.

A year after the first lockdown was successful in tamping down cases, the country’s 16 governors are finding it harder than ever to agree on a unified plan to stem new infections. And with only months left in office, Ms. Merkel has found it increasingly difficult to rally support for a national lockdown as fatigue from prolonged restrictions looms large even as cases rise.

The governors and Ms. Merkel are scheduled to meet on Monday to hammer out new regulations.

While Armin Laschet, the governor of the country’s most populous state and a potential successor to Ms. Merkel, has made similar calls for a two- to three-week hard lockdown to bring down infections, other governors are pushing back. The governor of one small state even began a pilot program on Tuesday to reopen theaters, gyms and restaurant patios.

“A common nationwide approach would also be important here,” Ulrike Demmer, the deputy government spokeswoman, said during a daily news conference, referring to the confusing and often contradictory rules set by state governors. Ms. Demmer also pointed to the rising number of coronavirus patients in intensive care wards as a cause for concern.

According to Ms. Demmer, the goal is to get the infection rate below 100 new cases per 100,000 before the authorities should consider easing restrictions.

On Tuesday, the German health authorities recorded an average of 110 infections per 100,000 people over the previous 7 days, but warned that because fewer people were tested over the Easter holiday weekend, the number was likely to be much higher.

According to a New York Times database, Germany is averaging 15,562 new infections daily and since the pandemic began. More than 77,000 have died with the disease in the country since the pandemic began.

People accused of breaking coronavirus rules were made to exercise as punishment in Manila last month.
Credit…Lisa Marie David/Reuters

A 28-year-old man has died in the Philippines after the police forced him to do 300 squats as punishment after he was caught violating coronavirus lockdown rules.

The man, Darren Manaog Peñaredondo, was detained on Thursday in General Trias city, a Manila suburb, over a curfew violation. Officials have struggled to contain infections in the southeast Asian nation and have increasingly resorted to harsh tactics to enforce restrictions, rights groups say.

He was released the following day, but first was forced to complete 300 squats, his relatives said.

It is not the first time that the authorities have been accused of using aggressive tactics against civilians during the pandemic. President Rodrigo Duterte told the police last year not to be afraid to shoot anyone who “causes commotion,” after 20 people protesting restrictions were arrested. Last year, a former soldier suffering from mental health issues was gunned down by the police as he tried to cross a coronavirus checkpoint.

Mr. Peñaredondo’s partner, Reichelyn Balce, said that when he returned home on Friday after being detained, he had shown signs of fatigue.

“He told me that he fell when doing the exercises,” she said. “He struggled to walk when he got home. When he went to relieve himself, he turned blue and convulsed.”

She said that Mr. Peñaredondo was revived but he later died.

Two police officers who imposed the harsh punishment have been suspended pending the results of an investigation into their actions, said Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, a national police spokesman.

The local police had initially denied the events, but two men who were detained with Mr. Peñaredondo signed a sworn statement about the ordeal.

Cristina Palabay, who leads a local rights group called Karapatan, said that the police punishment amounted to “a form of torture that is cruel and inhuman” and signaled that the local police had adopted a “strongman approach.”

Ms. Palabay’s group aids families of the thousands of citizens killed in the president’s aggressive war on drugs.

The country’s Commission on Human Rights was critical of what it called an “overreach of the enforcement of quarantine rules and regulations,” according to the body’s spokeswoman, Jacqueline Ann de Guia.

Ms. de Guia said that curfew violations called for community service or a fine, rather than harsh physical punishment.

Near Cora, Wyo., in March. In the throes of a pandemic that has made the indoors inherently dangerous, tens of thousands more Americans than usual have flocked outdoors.
Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Kenna Tanner and her team can list the cases from memory: There was the woman who got tired and did not feel like finishing her hike; the campers, in shorts during a blizzard; the base jumper, misjudging his leap from a treacherous granite cliff face; the ill-equipped snowmobiler, buried up to his neck in an avalanche.

All of them were pulled by Ms. Tanner and the Tip Top Search and Rescue crew from the rugged Wind River mountain range — the Winds, as the range is known locally — in the past year in a sprawling, remote pocket of western Wyoming. And all of them, their rescuers said, were wildly unprepared for the brutal backcountry in which they were traveling.

“It is super frustrating,” said Ms. Tanner, Tip Top’s director. “We just wish that people respected the risk.”

In the throes of a pandemic that has made the indoors inherently dangerous, tens of thousands more Americans than usual have flocked outdoors, fleeing crowded cities for national parks and the public lands around them. But as these hordes of inexperienced adventurers explore the treacherous terrain of the backcountry, many inevitably call for help. It has strained the patchwork, volunteer-based search-and-rescue system in America’s West.

Where places like Canada or Switzerland have professional, full-time teams that manage everything from lost tourists to fatal mountaineering accidents, most operations in the United States are handled by a loose network of volunteer organizations like Tip Top, which are overseen by local sheriffs.

For much of the country’s history, this patchwork system met demand. But that trend has shifted in the past decade — and rapidly, over the past year — as less experienced recreationalists push further into treacherous places.

No one expects the eventual end of the pandemic to stem the flood of newcomers to the Winds, which people grudgingly admit have been discovered. Property values continue to soar in Sublette County, and even this winter, locals say out-of-state plates were more common than Wyoming plates in trailhead parking lots.

“You can’t stop it,” said Chris Hayes, who works at an outdoor retailer in Pinedale and also runs a fishing guide service. “There’s no secret place anymore. They’re all gone.”

Credit…Moritz Wienert

Before the pandemic, I found comfort in the routine of my life and the rhythms of my family — what Nora Ephron once called the “peanut-butter-and-jellyness” of days with children. I liked the morning thunderdome of getting the children dressed and fed, dropping them at school and taking the 20-minute walk to the subway.

At this point my commute is the five feet from my bed to my desk, and I am somehow both tired and agitated when I start work each day. My kids never leave the house, except when we go to the same three parks in our neighborhood. Sometimes when I go running outside, I fantasize about just … not stopping, my eyes thirsty for some new horizon.

In other words, I’m so freaking bored.

Here’s how one boredom researcher — yes, there are boredom researchers — has defined the emotion. “‘Feeling unchallenged’ and perceiving one’s ‘activities as meaningless’ is central to boredom,” concluded a study by Wijnand Van Tilburg, an experimental social psychologist at the University of Essex in England.

Even in normal times, boredom is a very common emotion — a study of almost 4,000 American adults found that 63 percent felt bored at least once in a 10-day sampling period. The causes of boredom are multifaceted, but a lack of control over your situation is a common one. He added, “There’s research that shows when you’re limited in your control over the situation — that intensifies boredom.”

Knowing that many of us may not be able to have much control over our movements for at least the next few months, how do we try to alleviate our boredom? First, the researchers I spoke to said it’s important to acknowledge there’s no easy fix for our doldrums — so much of what is happening right now is beyond our control, and the vaccines are just beginning to be tested in children under 12, so we may not be able to make big moves just yet.

This weekend, we saw relatives I adore for an outdoor Easter egg hunt. Just 90 minutes of warm interaction with these beloved adults made me feel so happy and alive that I was smiling for the rest of the day.

As the weather gets warmer and more of my peers are inoculated, I am planning more get-togethers. Whenever I drop back into the doldrums, I will think about all the walks and dinners and hugs on the horizon.

Kate Whelley McCabe, a co-founder of Vermont Evaporator Company, which saw customer demand double during the pandemic, tapping trees in a neighbor’s yard near Montpelier, Vt.
Credit…Jay Ericson

Stress-baking and panic shopping. Vegetable regrowing and crafting. Now we can add another hobby to a year of quarantine trends: backyard maple sugaring.

Among the many indicators that it’s on the rise: a run on at-home evaporators and other syrup-making accouterments. A surge in traffic and subscriptions to syrup-making websites and trade publications. And, of course, lots of documentation on social media. (The Facebook group Backyard Maple Syrup Makers added some 5,000 members, almost doubling the its community, in the past year.)

Tapping maple trees and boiling the sap into syrup — known as sugaring — isn’t a new hobby. What’s unique about this year is the influx of suburban and urban backyard adventurers fueling these maple sugaring highs.

Claire and Thomas Gallagher, for example, tapped a tree behind their home in New Rochelle, N.Y., for the first time three weeks ago.

“It’s such a fun thing to do with the kids, it gets us outside, it’s educational,” Ms. Gallagher, 37, said. And with everyone at home all winter and probably the spring as well, the Gallaghers decided there would never be a better year to try it.

Because sugaring is a sticky business — and boiling sap indoors can mean resin all over the walls — many backyard amateurs turn to small-scale, hobby-size evaporators like the ones sold by Vermont Evaporator Company in Montpelier, Vt.

“When we started our company five years ago, our customers used to look just like us: rural homeowners with five to 10 acres of land,” said Kate Whelley McCabe, the chief executive. “Now we sell to people all over the country and to a growing number of suburban and urban customers.”

The governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, is a dedicated sugarer. His 8-year old son, Leo, is his tree tapping assistant, and his two teenagers, Edie and Calvin, “do the heavy lifting.”

Governor Sununu said that when the tree sap begins to flow, it’s the official signal that spring has arrived. “It’s been a long winter and a long year. The sun is coming up, the days are getting warmer, and when the sap ran this year, we knew we were really coming out of winter with a lot of optimism,” he said in an interview.

View Source

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.

View Source

Vaccine Passports, Covid’s Next Political Flash Point

The next major flash point over coronavirus response has already provoked cries of tyranny and discrimination in Britain, protests in Denmark, digital disinformation in the United States and geopolitical skirmishing within the European Union.

The subject of debate: vaccine passports — government-issued cards or smartphone badges stating that the bearer has been inoculated against the coronavirus.

The idea is to allow families to reunite, economies to restart and hundreds of millions of people who have received a shot to return to a degree of normalcy, all without spreading the virus. Some versions of the documentation might permit bearers to travel internationally. Others would allow entry to vaccinated-only spaces like gyms, concert venues and restaurants.

While such passports are still hypothetical in most places, Israel became the first to roll out its own last week, capitalizing on its high vaccination rate. Several European countries are considering following. President Biden has asked federal agencies to explore options. And some airlines and tourism-reliant industries and destinations expect to require them.

wrote in Scientific American. But with vaccines distributed unequally by race, class and nationality, “it is not obvious that they are ethical.”

Still, there are clear upsides: grandparents reuniting with out-of-town grandchildren; sports, concerts and other events partly but safely returning; resumption of international travel and some tourism; businesses reopened without putting workers at undue risk.

All of that is why, Drs. Hassoun and Herlitz wrote, vaccine documents “may be inevitable.”

Some countries require proof of vaccination — for example, against yellow fever — to enter. So do schools and day-care facilities in many American states.

higher rates. In Western countries, those communities tend to be white and well-off.

This evokes an uncomfortable image: professional-class white people disproportionately allowed into shops, baseball games and restaurants, with people of color and members of the working classes disproportionately kept out. If workplaces require proof of vaccination, it could tilt employment as well.

“If vaccines become a passport to doing different things, we’re going to see the communities that have been already hardest hit by Covid being left behind,” said Nicole A. Errett, a University of Washington public health expert.

said that they hope to set a policy this summer for accepting vaccine passports.

urging governments to wait for international standards on the passports before opening up travel, lest uneven standards lead to unsafe practices or geopolitical gamesmanship.

“A challenge since the beginning has been getting countries to do what’s best for the world instead of what’s best for people inside of their borders,” Dr. Errett said.

Witness the maneuvering within the European Union, whose 27 countries share long borders but have starkly different economic needs and vaccination rates.

Southern European states like Spain and Greece, which rely on tourism, are pushing for the bloc to adopt the documents. German and French officials have expressed reservations, at least for now. Their countries have lower vaccination rates, meaning that travel restrictions would put their residents at a relative disadvantage.

When Britain’s foreign secretary speculated recently that proof of vaccination might be required for pubs and stores, a lawmaker in his own party, Mark Harper, retorted, “I don’t think you want to require people to have to have a particular medical procedure before they can go about their day-to-day life.”

California’s vaccine struggle, over whether to tighten school requirements after measles and whooping cough outbreaks highlighted the state’s low immunization rates, offers a worrying preview.

one-third of Americans, in one poll, predominantly Republicans — are merely hesitant. The push to achieve herd immunity will depend on that third.

One problem: There is no agreement on the primary purpose of a vaccine passport program.

Governments typically talk about them as a way to open up economies. Individuals, as a way to re-enter normal life. Public health experts, as a way to reduce transmissions.

Those goals align, but imperfectly. At some point, the authorities have to prioritize.

Dr. Errett ticked through implementation questions, broadly unknown, that could force an answer. Would you need two doses to get the document or just one? Do Russian- or Chinese-made vaccines qualify? What are the rules for religious or medical opt-outs? Are some activities restricted to card-carriers until herd immunity, just until infections fall below a certain line — or forever?

“We need to be cognizant of the costs and benefits,” she said, and not just to adjust as we go, but for “the precedent we’re setting.”

“We pandemic people,” she said, “have been saying it since the beginning: We don’t expect this to be the last pandemic that we see.”

Matina Stevis-Gridneff contributed reporting from Brussels.

View Source