20,000 White Crosses: Marking Covid’s Toll in Central and Eastern Europe

PRAGUE — More than 20,000 white crosses have appeared painted on the cobblestones of a medieval square in central Prague, each representing a victim of Covid-19 — an effort highlighting the ravages of a pandemic that has in recent weeks battered Eastern and Central Europe.

Like many countries in the region, the Czech Republic weathered the first wave of the coronavirus early last year far better than Italy and many other nations in Western Europe. But it has since suffered one of the world’s highest Covid death rates and has struggled over the past month to contain a new wave of infections.

Hungary — whose far-right populist leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, last year boasted of his government’s response to the pandemic — is also experiencing record death rates, with over 4,000 fatalities this past month.

The Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia and other countries in the region lifted pandemic restrictions last summer after successful initial efforts to the contain the virus. But with cases and deaths climbing in recent weeks, they are now scrambling to reverse the damage.

Serbia, Europe’s best vaccinator after Britain, has seen infection rates spike sharply in recent weeks, prompting the authorities to impose new partial lockdowns.

the European Union’s stumbling efforts to order and distribute vaccines, the Czech government has sought to get its infection and death rate down by imposing some of Europe’s toughest restrictions.

After a three-week lockdown with shops and schools closed, obligatory testing of employees by companies and restrictions on movement, the number of Covid-10 patients entering hospital has started to drop. That has slowly eased the burden on hospitals that were last month at the limit of their capacity, and Czech hospitals now report that 12 percent of beds in their intensive care unit are unoccupied.

Petr Smejkal, the chief epidemiologist at Prague’s Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, blamed what he described as a series of misjudgments by the authorities for his country’s bleak record.

“Firstly, we missed the beginning of the second wave and failed to contain the surge of infections at the end of the summer,” he said. “Secondly, we relaxed restrictions before Christmas, and thirdly, we insufficiently tracked the British mutation at the beginning of January.”

“Sadly, the government did not listen to its experts,” he added.

The Hungarian government had been particularly resistant to the advice of experts who called for greater vigilance in response to the crisis. It has instead sought public opinion on the issue of reopening via an online questionnaire.

A report by Politico this month found that Hungary, despite having Russian, Chinese and Western vaccines, had one of the lowest coronavirus inoculation rates in the European Union.

vaccines and medical equipment.

“Obviously, it would be much more effective to involve the municipalities” in the vaccine rollout, Mr. Karacsony said. “But they won’t do it, because they don’t want the opposition to capitalize on it.”

Hana de Goeij reported from Prague, and Benjamin Novak from Budapest. Andrew Higgins contributed reporting from Warsaw.

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Arrests Shake Up a Soccer Scene in Serbia Ruled by Gangsters and ‘Gravediggers’

BELGRADE — Shortly after arresting a man suspected of leading a criminal gang last month in connection with a series of killings involving beheadings and torture, Serbian police officers raided what they believe was the band’s secret lair: a bunkerlike room in the bowels of a stadium used by Partizan Belgrade, a storied soccer team in the Serbian capital.

The room, located in a defunct restaurant under the stands, has been sealed off as a crime scene after investigators hunting for evidence of ties between soccer hooligans and organized crime found weapons there.

The wall outside is daubed in white and black paint with the name that the Partizan fans use for themselves: “the Gravediggers.”

The name is well deserved. Serbian soccer fans, at least those who in prepandemic days used to cram into the rowdy south stands of Partizan’s stadium and the equally anarchic north side of the arena used by its Belgrade archrivals, Red Star, have long had a reputation for extraordinary violence.

Partizan vice president who went public with accusations of government collusion with the arrested gang leader, has been savaged daily in tabloid newspapers supporting Mr. Vucic.

Ms. Brnabic denied the campaign was orchestrated by the government.

Also smeared by the tabloids has been Krik, a highly respected group of investigative journalists that has reported for years on links between government officials and Mr. Belivuk’s gang.

Stevan Dojcinovic, Krik’s editor in chief, said that organized crime in Serbia — and government officials — had long been tied to the “brutal force of nature” provided by soccer hooligans.

“Politicians have always been afraid of our hooligans. No matter who is in power they always form a partnership with them,” he said.

The difficulties of partnering with the hooligans, however, was made evident by the demise of Serbia’s former president, Slobodan Milosevic. Under his rule in the 1990s, hooligans flooded into the ranks of state-sponsored paramilitary groups that spread mayhem in Bosnia and Kosovo after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

That Mr. Milosevic, for whom Mr. Vucic served as information minister and whose security services worked closely with hooligans and criminals, was in serious trouble became clear when Red Star’s ultras started chanting “Slobodan Kill Yourself!” at games. (His parents had both died in suicides.)

Mr. Milosevic lost power in 2000 after the ultras led students and other protesters in storming the Parliament building in Belgrade.

When Yugoslavia, of which Serbia was then a part, began to unravel in the late 1980s, an early sign of impending war came in May 1990 when Red Star traveled for a game in Zagreb, the capital of the neighboring Yugoslav republic of Croatia. The game was suspended after rival fans staged a violent melee and set fire to the stadium.

Among the Red Star supporters who had traveled to Zagreb for the match was Mr. Vucic, who later boasted that he “often fought” at games.

Mr. Poledica, the chief of the soccer players’ association, said: “Our politicians always fear the stadium and its terrible power. They know that any dissatisfaction in the stadium can quickly spread to the street. They want to control it.”

He added that he did not know why the authorities had turned against Mr. Belivuk but speculated that Mr. Belivuk and his followers had gone too far. “Everyone knew they were violent, that they beat people and made threats. But cutting off heads?”

Mr. Belivuk’s lawyer, Dejan Lazarevic, said that his client had not yet been formally charged and that there was no evidence to support the accusations of murder, kidnapping and other serious crimes made against him by officials.

Mr. Vuletic, the professor, said that Mr. Belivuk and a hoodlum known as “Sale the Mute,” who has since been killed, first took control of the south part of Partizan’s stadium soon after Mr. Vucic became prime minister in 2014, and began beating up anyone chanting insults against him.

Suspicions that Mr. Belivuk had powerful friends in the government, or at least law-enforcement, have been growing since 2016, when he was arrested on murder charges but then released after DNA and other evidence against him either disappeared or had to be discarded because of tampering.

Krik, the investigative reporting group, later published photographs showing a member of Serbia’s gendarmerie, a police force, attending soccer games with Mr. Belivuk. At the time, the officer was in a relationship with a senior official responsible for the Interior Ministry.

This partnership with the government, said Mr. Dojcinovic, the Krik editor, broke down last year for unknown reasons, possibly because of an internal rift in Mr. Vucic’s governing Serbian Progressive Party, some of whose members have been caught up in the investigation into Mr. Belivuk.

Among those taken in for questioning by the police in connection with the case is Slavisa Kozeka, the president of the Football Association of Serbia. Mr. Kozeka, a senior official in the governing party, was earlier an activist in a far-right nationalist outfit that was led for years by a convicted war criminal.

All the bad publicity has infuriated peaceable Partizan fans like Vladimir Trikic. Walking around the central Belgrade district of Dorcol, he showed off murals of artists, theater directors and poets who have cheered on the club. Partizan, though closely tied to the former Yugoslav Army, he said, has “always been a team for intellectuals.”

For ordinary Partizan fans, Mr. Belivuk was never really a supporter but an impostor sent by Mr. Vucic to control and discredit his own team’s bitter rivals.

At a Partizan game in Belgrade last week, held before mostly empty stands because of the pandemic, Zoran Krivokapic was one of a handful of fans who managed to get into the stadium. He said that he had attended every home game for 47 years and blamed the rise and fall of Mr. Belivuk on what he said was a personal vendetta against Partizan by Mr. Vucic, the president.

“He wants to destroy Partizan and let Red Star rise,” he said.

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Britain’s ‘One-Jab’ Strategy

The global leaders in Covid-19 vaccination rates are Israel and the United Arab Emirates. After them come a handful of countries that have each given between 30 and 45 shots for every 100 residents, including the United States, Britain, Bahrain, Chile and Serbia.

maximized the number of people who receive one “jab,” as the British call it — and has delayed the second jab, often for about three months.

Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist who led the committee that advised the British government on vaccination, has described the strategy this way: “I think it’s the right public health response, which is to show that you try and vaccinate as many people as possible, as soon as possible. Better to protect everybody a bit rather than to vaccinate fewer people to give them an extra 10 percent protection.”

Dr. Robert Wachter of the University of California, San Francisco, has written, “According to most vaccine experts, delaying shot #2 by a few months is unlikely to materially diminish the ultimate effectiveness of two shots.”

In Britain, the daily number of new Covid cases has fallen by more than 90 percent since peaking in early January. The decline is larger than in virtually any other country. (In the U.S., new cases have fallen 79 percent since January.) Given that the contagious B.1.1.7 variant was first discovered in Britain and is now the country’s dominant virus form, “Britain’s free-fall in cases is all the more impressive,” Wachter told me. “Clearly their vaccination strategy has been highly effective.”

British deaths have also plummeted in recent weeks:

lives saved; it also reduces the chances of future outbreaks: The fewer people who have Covid, the fewer who can infect somebody else. That’s especially important when more contagious variants are circulating. Worldwide, the number of confirmed new cases has risen 21 percent over the past month.

about 2.5 million shots a day, up from about 800,000 in mid-January. But the federal government will soon be receiving closer to four million shots a day from the vaccine makers. A big question is whether the Biden administration and state governments will be able to continue increasing the pace at which people are getting shots in their arms.

  • For countries where vaccine programs have only just begun, as in much of South America, Africa and Asia, the British approach may be worth mimicking.

  • Finally, keep in mind that one of Britain’s main vaccines has been AstraZeneca’s — the same one that some other European countries have stopped using this week, out of concern over blood clots. But there is no sign of an increase in clots in Britain. “If the choice is potentially being exposed to Covid-19, or getting the vaccine & being protected, choose the vaccine,” Devi Sridhar, a professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, wrote yesterday.

  • All of this comes with the usual caveat: If the data changes, the lessons should change, too. Based on the current evidence, though, Britain appears to have landed on the most effective vaccination strategy — which is yet another sign of how powerful the vaccines are.

    The latest: A delay of millions of doses ordered from India will most likely slow Britain’s vaccination campaign in coming weeks.

    The Times’s editorial board argues: “Nothing greases the gears of government quite like pork.” Many top Democrats and Republicans support restoring earmarks.

    Modern Love: A woman’s online shopping habit wasn’t really about the clothes.

    Neigh: A horse retreat in New Mexico offers life-changing “attunement.” But what is it?

    Lives Lived: Dick Hoyt finished more than a thousand road races, but he didn’t run them alone. His partner was always his son Rick, a quadriplegic with cerebral palsy, whom he pushed in a wheelchair. Hoyt died at 80.

    debating whether to keep the measure.

    The old guidelines, from the Association of Art Museum Directors, allowed museums to sell items if they no longer fit an institution’s mission and if the proceeds went to buy other art, not to pay staff salaries or other bills.

    Museums that favor keeping the new arrangement say it’s necessary for their long-term survival. “It’s misinformed to think that every museum has a board full of billionaires,” said Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum. During the pandemic, the Brooklyn Museum has raised nearly $35 million at auction sales.

    Last month, even the Met — the largest museum in the U.S. — said it might sell items to help underwrite the salaries of staffers involved in collection care.

    Those opposed to the continuation of these sales argue that they undermine museums’ mission. “If you want to flip paintings, there are many other types of institutions where you can do that,” Erik Neil of the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Va., told The Times. “And they are called commercial galleries.”

    Time,” one of the company’s first feature-length documentaries, and the Op-Doc “Alone.”

    You can see today’s print front page here.

    Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about Gov. Andrew Cuomo. On “Still Processing,” Jenna Wortham and Wesley Morris discuss a toxic racial slur.

    Lalena Fisher, Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at themorning@nytimes.com.

    Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.

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    Covid-19 Live Updates: States Aim to Expand Vaccine Eligibility Before Biden’s Deadline

    vaccine production and distribution ramp up and more states begin to heed a call from President Biden to expand access to all adults by May.

    States are also racing to stay ahead of the growing number of virus variants, some of which are more contagious and possibly even more deadly. At least three states — Maine, Virginia and Wisconsin — and Washington, D.C., have said that they will expand eligibility to their general population by May 1, the deadline that Mr. Biden set last week. At least six other states — including Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio, Michigan, Montana and Utah — hope to do so this month or next.

    In Mississippi and Alaska, everyone age 16 or older is eligible, and Arizona and Michigan have made the vaccines available to all adults in some counties.

    Mr. Biden said last week that he was directing the federal government to secure an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. With three vaccines now in use, Mr. Biden has said that the United States will have secured enough doses by the end of May for shots to be available for all adults.


    50+ or 55+

    60+ or 65+

    Eligible only in some counties


    Restaurant workers

    Eligible only in some counties


    High-risk adults

    Over a certain age

    Eligible only in some counties

    Several states have already been expanding eligibility for vaccinations. In Ohio, vaccines will open to anyone 40 and up as of Friday, and to more residents with certain medical conditions. Indiana extended access to people 45 and older, effective immediately.

    Coloradans age 50 and up will be eligible for a shot on Friday, along with anyone 16 years and older with certain medical conditions. Wisconsin said on Tuesday that residents 16 years and up with certain medical conditions would be eligible a week earlier than initially planned.

    On Monday, Texans age 50 and older and Georgians over 55 became eligible for vaccines.

    In New York State, residents 60 and older are eligible to receive a vaccine, and more frontline workers will become eligible on Wednesday, including government employees, building services workers and employees of nonprofit groups. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has yet to announce how or when the state will open eligibility to all adults.

    Since vaccinations began in December, the federal government has delivered nearly 143 million vaccine doses to states and territories, and more than 77 percent have been administered, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The country is averaging about 2.4 million shots a day, compared with well under one million a day in January.

    As of Tuesday, 65 percent of the country’s older population had received at least one vaccine dose, according to C.D.C. data, with 37 percent fully vaccinated.

    Virus-related cases, deaths and hospitalizations are significantly down from the peak levels reported in January. But progress has slowed noticeably since the start of this month, with continued drops in some states offset by persistent outbreaks in other parts of the country, especially the Northeast.

    Public health leaders like Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, have warned Americans not to let their guard down prematurely, noting that the amount of new cases remains high, at around 55,000 per day.

    Serbia’s largest vaccination center this month at the Belgrade Fair, a sprawling exhibition complex in the Serbian capital.
    Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

    Stained for years by its brutal role in the horrific Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, Serbia is now basking in the glow of success in a good campaign: the quest to get its people vaccinated.

    Serbia has raced ahead of the far richer and usually better-organized countries in Europe to offer all adult citizens not only free inoculations, but also a smorgasbord of five vaccines to choose from.

    The country’s unusual surfeit of vaccines has been a public relations triumph for the increasingly authoritarian government of President Aleksandar Vucic. It has burnished his own and his country’s image, weakened his already beleaguered opponents and added a new twist to the complex geopolitics of vaccines.

    Serbia, with a population under seven million, placed bets across the board, sealing initial deals for more than 11 million doses with Russia and China, whose products have not been approved by European regulators, as well as with Western drug companies.

    It reached its first vaccine deal, covering 2.2 million doses, with Pfizer in August and quickly followed up with contracts for millions more from Russia and China.

    As a result, Serbia has become the best vaccinator in Europe after Britain, data collected by OurWorldInData shows. It had administered 29.5 doses for every 100 people as of last week compared with just 10.5 in Germany, a country long viewed as a model of efficiency and good governance, and 10.7 in France.

    Serbia’s prime minister, Ana Brnabic, attributed her country’s success to its decision to “treat this as a health issue, not a political issue. We negotiated with all, regardless of whether East or West.”

    Serbia’s readiness to embrace non-Western vaccines so far shunned by the European Union could backfire if they turn out to be duds. Sinopharm, unlike Western vaccine makers, has not published detailed data from Phase 3 trials. Data it has released suggest that its product is less effective than Western coronavirus vaccines.

    Many Serbians, apparently reassured by the vaccination drive, have also lowered their guard against the risk of infection. The daily number of new cases has more than doubled since early February, prompting the government to order all businesses other than food stores and pharmacies to close last weekend.

    More than 150 million students and educators are using Google Classroom app.
    Credit…Friedemann Vogel/EPA, via Shutterstock

    After a tough year of toggling between remote and in-person schooling, many students, teachers and their families feel burned out from pandemic learning. But companies that market digital learning tools to schools are enjoying a windfall.

    Venture and equity financing for education technology start-ups has more than doubled, surging to $12.6 billion worldwide last year from $4.8 billion in 2019, according to a report from CB Insights, a firm that tracks start-ups and venture capital.

    Yet as more districts reopen for in-person instruction, the billions of dollars that schools and venture capitalists have sunk into education technology are about to get tested.

    “There’s definitely going to be a shakeout over the next year,” said Matthew Gross, the chief executive of Newsela, a popular reading lesson app for schools.

    A number of ed-tech start-ups reporting record growth had sizable school audiences before the pandemic. Then last spring, as school districts switched to remote learning, many education apps hit on a common pandemic growth strategy: They temporarily made their premium services free to teachers for the rest of the school year.

    “What unfolded from there was massive adoption,” said Tory Patterson, a managing director at Owl Ventures, a venture capital firm that invests in education start-ups like Newsela. Once the school year ended, he said, ed-tech start-ups began trying to convert school districts into paying customers, and “we saw pretty broad-based uptake of those offers.”

    Some consumer tech giants that provided free services to schools also reaped benefits, gaining audience share and getting millions of students accustomed to using their product.

    The worldwide audience for Google Classroom, Google’s free class assignment and grading app, has skyrocketed to more than 150 million students and educators, up from 40 million early last year. And Zoom Video Communications says it has provided free services during the pandemic to more than 125,000 schools in 25 countries.

    Whether tools that teachers have come to rely on for remote learning can maintain their popularity will now hinge on how useful the apps are in the classroom.

    GLOBAL ROUNDUP

    Casting a ballot at a polling station in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on Wednesday.
    Credit…Sem Van Der Wal/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

    As Dutch voters go to the polls for parliamentary elections this week, the pandemic has changed the usual dynamic.

    To help maintain social distancing, the voting process was spread over three days, ending on Wednesday. Voters over 70 were encouraged to vote by mail. And campaigning mainly took place on television, making it hard for voters to spontaneously confront politicians as is typical practice.

    Coronavirus cases are again surging in the Netherlands, prompting the authorities to warn of a third wave. Last year, it took the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte until November to get the country’s testing capabilities in order, and the vaccination process is also going slowly.

    Yet during the campaigning, more localized issues managed to overshadow the government’s handling of the coronavirus.

    The prime minister and his cabinet resigned in January over a scandal involving the tax authorities’ hunting down people, mostly poor, who had made administrative mistakes in their child benefits requests. Many were brought to financial ruin as a result.

    Broader policies put forward by Mr. Rutte, who has been in power since 2010, were also a focus on the campaign trail. While his party is ahead in the polls, it has lost some support in recent weeks.

    Neighboring Germany is also entering a packed election season, with national and state votes coming in a year that will bring to an end the 16-year chancellorship of Angela Merkel.

    In other developments around the world:

    Andrea Maikovich-Fong, a psychologist in Denver, said she worried about how some clients would adjust as the world begins to reopen.
    Credit…Stephen Speranza for The New York Times

    When the pandemic narrowed the world, Jonathan Hirshon stopped traveling, eating out, going to cocktail parties and commuting to the office.

    What a relief.

    Mr. Hirshon experiences severe social anxiety. Even as he grieved the pandemic’s toll, he found lockdown life to be a respite.

    Now, with public life about to resume, he finds himself with decidedly mixed feelings — “anticipation, dread and hope.”

    Mr. Hirshon, a 54-year-old public relations consultant, is one of numerous people who find the everyday grind not only wearing, but also emotionally unsettling. That includes people with clinical diagnoses of anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, and also some run-of-the-mill introverts.

    A new survey from the American Psychological Association found that while 47 percent of people have seen their stress rise over the pandemic, about 43 percent reported no change in stress and 7 percent said they felt less stress.

    Mental health experts said that this portion of the population found lockdown measures protective, a sort of permission to glide into more predictable spaces, schedules, routines and relationships. And experts say that while the lockdown periods have blessed the “avoidance” of social situations, the circumstances are poised to change.

    “I am very worried about many of my socially anxious patients,” said Andrea Maikovich-Fong, a psychologist in Denver. That anxiety, she said, “is going to come back with a vengeance when the world opens up.”

    A protest over masks and Covid vaccines outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta on Saturday.
    Credit…Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

    Former President Donald J. Trump recommended in a nationally televised interview on Tuesday evening that Americans who are reluctant to be vaccinated against the coronavirus should go ahead with inoculations.

    Mr. Trump and his wife, Melania, were vaccinated in January. And vaccine proponents have called on him to speak out in favor of the shots to his supporters — many of whom remain reluctant, polls show.

    Speaking to Maria Bartiromo on “Fox News Primetime,” Mr. Trump said, “I would recommend it, and I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it — and a lot of those people voted for me frankly.”

    He added: “It is a safe vaccine, and it is something that works.”

    While there are degrees of opposition to coronavirus vaccination among a number of groups, polling suggests that the opinions break substantially along partisan lines.

    A third of Republicans said in a CBS News poll that they would not be vaccinated — compared with 10 percent of Democrats — and another 20 percent of Republicans said they were unsure. Other polls have found similar trends.

    Mr. Trump encouraged attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., late last month to get vaccinated.

    Still, Mr. Trump — whose tenure during the pandemic was often marked by railing against recommendations from medical experts — said on Tuesday that “we have our freedoms and we have to live by that, and I agree with that also.”

    With President Biden’s administration readying television and internet advertising and other efforts to promote vaccination, the challenge for the White House is complicated by perceptions of Mr. Trump’s stance on the vaccine.

    Asked about the issue on Monday at the White House, Mr. Biden said Mr. Trump’s help promoting vaccination was less important than getting trusted community figures on board.

    “I discussed it with my team, and they say the thing that has more impact than anything Trump would say to the MAGA folks is what the local doctor, what the local preachers, what the local people in the community say,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Mr. Trump’s supporters and campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”

    Grace Sundstrom, a senior in Des Moines, wrote her college essay about correspondence she had with Alden, a nursing home resident.
    Credit…via Grace Sundstrom

    This year perhaps more than ever, the college essay has served as a canvas for high school seniors to reflect on a turbulent and, for many, sorrowful year. It has been a psychiatrist’s couch, a road map to a more hopeful future, a chance to pour out intimate feelings about loneliness and injustice.

    In response to a request from The New York Times, more than 900 seniors submitted the personal essays they wrote for their college applications. Reading them is like a taking a trip through two of the biggest news events of recent decades: the devastation wrought by the coronavirus, and the rise of a new civil rights movement.

    In the wake of the high-profile deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers, students shared how they had wrestled with racism in their own lives. Many dipped their feet into the politics of protest.

    And in the midst of the most far-reaching pandemic in a century, they described the isolation and loss that have pervaded every aspect of their lives since schools suddenly shut down a year ago. They sought to articulate how they have managed while cut off from friends and activities.

    The coronavirus was the most common theme in the essays submitted to The Times, appearing in 393 essays, more than 40 percent. Next was the value of family, coming up in 351 essays, but often in the context of other issues, like the pandemic and race. Racial justice and protest figured in 342 essays.

    Family was not the only eternal verity to appear. Love came up in 286 essays; science in 128; art in 110; music in 109; and honor in 32. Personal tragedy also loomed large, with 30 essays about cancer alone.

    Some students resisted the lure of current events and wrote quirky essays about captaining a fishing boat on Cape Cod or hosting dinner parties. A few wrote poetry. Perhaps surprisingly, politics and the 2020 election were not of great interest.

    After his wife died from Covid-19 complications, John Lancos joined social media groups that offered support for people who had lost loved ones in the pandemic.
    Credit…Desiree Rios for The New York Times

    Pamela Addison is, in her own words, “one of the shyest people in this world.” Certainly not the sort of person who would submit an opinion essay to a newspaper, start a support group for strangers or ask a U.S. senator to vote for $1.9 trillion legislation.

    But in the past five months, she has done all of those things.

    Her husband, Martin Addison, a 44-year-old health care worker in New Jersey, died from the coronavirus in April after a month of illness. The last time she saw him was when he was loaded into an ambulance. At 37, Ms. Addison was left to care for a 2-year-old daughter and an infant son, and to make ends meet on her own.

    “Seeing the impact my story has had on people — it has been very therapeutic and healing for me,” she said. “And knowing that I’m doing it to honor my husband gives me the greatest joy, because I’m doing it for him.”

    With the United States’ coronavirus death toll — over 530,000 people — come thousands of stories like hers. Many people who have lost loved ones, or whose lives have been upended by long-haul symptoms, have turned to political action.

    There are Marjorie Roberts, who got sick while managing a hospital gift shop in Atlanta and now has lung scarring; Mary Wilson-Snipes, still on oxygen more than two months after coming home from the hospital; and John Lancos, who lost his wife of 41 years on April 23.

    In January, they and dozens of others participated in an advocacy training session over Zoom, run by a group called Covid Survivors for Change. This month, the group organized virtual meetings with the offices of 16 senators, and more than 50 group members lobbied for the coronavirus relief package.

    The immediate purpose of the training session was to teach people how to do things like lobby a senator. The longer-term purpose was to confront the problem of numbers.

    Numbers are dehumanizing, as activists like to say. In sufficient quantities — 535,227, for instance — they are also numbing. This is why converting numbers into people is so often the job of activists seeking policy change after tragedy.

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    As Vaccinations Speed Along in Serbia, the Country Basks in the Glow of a Successful Campaign

    BELGRADE — Stained for years by its brutal role in the horrific Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, Serbia is now basking in the glow of success in a good war: the battle to get its people vaccinated.

    Serbia has raced ahead of the far richer and usually better-organized countries in Europe to offer all adult citizens not only free inoculations but a smorgasbord of five different vaccines to choose from.

    By contrast, the European Union has stumbled badly in providing shots, with a disjointed procurement and distribution strategy that bet big on the AstraZeneca vaccine. That strategy hit a roadblock this week after key members of the bloc, including Germany and France, suspended inoculations with the vaccine over concerns it might increase the risk of blood clots, compounding delivery problems that stemmed from a production shortfall the company announced in January.

    Serbia’s unusual surfeit of vaccines has been a public relations triumph for the increasingly authoritarian government of President Aleksandar Vucic. It has burnished his own as well as his country’s image, weakened his already beleaguered opponents and added a new twist to the complex geopolitics of vaccines.

    OurWorldInData shows. It has administered 29.5 doses for every 100 people as of last week compared with just 10.5 in Germany, a country long viewed in this part of the world as a model of efficiency and good governance, and 10.7 in France.

    Serbia’s prime minister, Ana Brnabic, attributed her country’s success to its decision to “treat this as a health issue, not a political issue. We negotiated with all, regardless of whether East or West.”

    applied to join the European Union more than a decade ago, still wants to join the bloc but added that “regulations in the E.U. are very strict. In pandemic times we need to be more flexible.”

    The European Medicines Agency, which regulates what vaccines can be used in the bloc, started reviewing the Sputnik vaccine for use less than two weeks ago — more than three months after Serbia placed an initial order with Moscow for a million doses, and two months after rolling them out for general use. The agency has not yet even started reviewing Chinese vaccines.

    Mr. Vucic announced last week that Serbia would become the first European country to start producing China’s Sinopharm vaccine. A new vaccine factory, financed by China and the United Arab Emirates, will start production in the fall, he said.

    Serbia’s readiness to embrace non-Western vaccines so far shunned by the European Union could backfire if they turn out to be duds. Sinopharm, unlike Western vaccine makers, has not published detailed data from Phase 3 trials. Data it has released suggest its product is less effective than Western vaccines.

    fill out a form online and select whether they don’t care what brand they get or if they prefer either Pfizer-BioNTech, Sputnik V, Sinopharm, AstraZeneca or Moderna.

    Not all these vaccines, however, are equally available and appointments for a shot depend on the chosen option. Those wanting Moderna’s vaccine will be waiting a long time: it has not yet arrived in Serbia. The health ministry in Serbia had no immediate comment Tuesday on whether it would follow Germany and others and pause inoculations with AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

    On a recent day at the country’s biggest vaccination center, at the Belgrade Fair, a sprawling exhibition complex in the Serbian capital, more than 7,000 people turned up for appointments.

    Nearly all received China’s Sinopharm vaccine, which, according to clinical trials, has an efficacy rate of 79 percent, lower than that of Western and Russian vaccines.


    50+ or 55+

    60+ or 65+

    Eligible only in some counties


    Restaurant workers

    Eligible only in some counties


    High-risk adults

    Over a certain age

    Eligible only in some counties

    There were also a few booths offering the Pfizer vaccine and Russia’s Sputnik V but supplies of the Chinese offering were clearly far more plentiful.

    What is available on any given day, said Dragana Milosevic, a doctor supervising the injections, varies depending on deliveries from a central government-run stockpile.

    “I never expected it to be so easy,” said Biljana Stankovic, a 37-year-old molecular biologist, who, waiting to be called into a vaccination booth, said she did not care what she was given. She added that she did not share Mr. Vucic’s political views but “I’m glad and surprised that everything is so well organized.”

    With the exception of Hungary, the only other European nation to embrace Sputnik V, European countries have tied themselves in knots over whether to use non-Western vaccines.

    In Slovakia, the health minister was forced to resign last week over his decision to place an order for Sputnik V, which some fellow ministers denounced as a “tool of hybrid war.” Hungary has been widely accused of breaking European Union ranks and cozying up to Moscow by using Sputnik.

    Serbia has taken delight in showing up the European Union not only at home but in the other states created by the collapse of Yugoslavia. Kosovo, which put its vaccine hopes in help from the European bloc, has so far received no vaccines, other than those provided by Serbia, which started a vaccination program in ethnic Serb enclaves but was ordered to stop by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian government.

    Bosnia has also received small deliveries of vaccines from Serbia, as has North Macedonia (formerly Macedonia), another troubled new state created after Yugoslavia fell apart.

    The European Union vaccines travails have exasperated Serbians who believe their future lies with Europe, not Russia or China. “It failed at the most critical time,” said Zoran Radovanovic, a retired professor of epidemiology.

    He said he loathed the direction Mr. Vucic has taken the country by limiting media freedom and harassing critics. But, Mr. Radovanovic added: “Unlike so many other promises and false statements by Vucic, this is not just propaganda. Vaccines are something real. We have them.”

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    At Kosovo Monastery, Nationalist Clamor Disturbs the Peace

    The local mayor, Bashkim Ramosaj, an ally of Mr. Haradinaj, has resisted giving the monastery back any land, defying a 2016 ruling by Kosovo’s Constitutional Court that the territory claimed by Father Sava must be returned. The mayor, who declined to be interviewed, told local media outlets that he would rather go to jail than obey the ruling and surrender territory.

    The land, 60 acres of farmland and forest outside the monastery walls, belonged to the church until 1946, when it was seized by Yugoslavia’s socialist government.

    In the 1990s, the remnants of a crumbling Yugoslav state returned the land following the rise to power of Slobodan Milosevic, an atheist communist functionary who had metamorphosed into a champion of Serbian nationalism and the Serb Orthodox Church.

    While the ethnic Albanians who took shelter in the monastery during the war quietly support the monks, the abbot said, their political leaders often view the land dispute “as a continuation of their war against Serbia, as if we are Milosevic proxies, which we are not.”

    The court ruling that confirmed the monastery’s land claim, he added, “was not a Milosevic decision but a decision by the highest court of Kosovo.”

    The foot-dragging on implementing the court’s ruling has increasingly exasperated the United States, which sent warplanes to attack Mr. Milosevic’s troops in Kosovo in 1999 and broke his grip on the territory.

    The monastery’s case over its land, Philip S. Kosnett, the American ambassador, warned in a recent statement, “is not about ethnicity, politics, or religion; it is about property rights and respect for the law.”

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