2015, and before that in 2004.

“If in another two or three years, the same conditions reappear, then we can say, ‘Ah, Taiwan has definitely entered an era of major water shortages,’” said You Jiing-yun, a civil engineering professor at National Taiwan University. “Right now, it’s wait and see.”

according to the company, or more than 10 percent of the supply from two local reservoirs, Baoshan and Baoshan Second Reservoir. TSMC recycled more than 86 percent of the water from its manufacturing processes that year, it said, and conserved 3.6 million tons more than it did the year before by increasing recycling and adopting other new measures. But that amount is still small next to the 63 million tons it consumed in 2019 across its Taiwan facilities.

government figures show. Most Western Europeans use less than that, though Americans use more, according to World Bank data.

Mr. Wang of the Water Resources Agency said: “Adjusting water prices has a big effect on society’s more vulnerable groups, so when making adjustments, we are extremely cautious.” Taiwan’s premier said last month that the government would look into imposing extra fees on 1,800 water-intensive factories.

Lee Hong-yuan, a hydraulic engineering professor who previously served as Taiwan’s interior minister, also blames a bureaucratic morass that makes it hard to build new wastewater recycling plants and to modernize the pipeline network.

“Other small countries are all extremely flexible,” Mr. Lee said, but “we have a big country’s operating logic.” He believes this is because Taiwan’s government was set up decades ago, after the Chinese civil war, with the goal of ruling the whole of China. It has since shed that ambition, but not the bureaucracy.

Taiwan’s southwest is both an agricultural heartland and a rising center of industry. TSMC’s most advanced chip facilities are in the southern city of Tainan.

The nearby Tsengwen Reservoir has shrunk to a marshy stream in some parts. Along a scenic strip known as Lovers’ Park, the floor of the reservoir has become a vast moonscape. The water volume is around 11.6 percent of capacity, according to government data.

In farming towns near Tainan, many growers said they were content to be living on the government’s dime, at least for now. They clear the weeds from their fallowed fields. They drink tea with friends and go on long bike rides.

But they are also reckoning with their futures. The Taiwanese public appears to have decided that rice farming is less important, both for the island and the world, than semiconductors. The heavens — or larger economic forces, at least — seem to be telling the farmers it is time to find other work.

“Fertilizer is getting more expensive. Pesticide is getting more expensive,” said Hsieh Tsai-shan, 74, a rice grower. “Being a farmer is truly the worst.”

Serene farmland surrounds the village of Jingliao, which became a popular tourist spot after appearing in a documentary about farmers’ changing lives.

There is only one cow left in town. It spends its days pulling visitors, not plowing fields.

“Around here, 70 counts as young,” said Yang Kuei-chuan, 69, a rice farmer.

Both of Mr. Yang’s sons work for industrial companies.

“If Taiwan didn’t have any industry and relied on agriculture, we all might have starved to death by now,” Mr. Yang said.

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Biden Backs Taiwan, but Some Call for a Clearer Warning to China

WASHINGTON — If anything can tip the global power struggle between China and the United States into an actual military conflict, many experts and administration officials say, it is the fate of Taiwan.

Beijing has increased its military harassment of what it considers a rogue territory, including menacing flights by 15 Chinese warplanes near its shores over recent days. In response, Biden administration officials are trying to calibrate a policy that protects the democratic, technology-rich island without inciting an armed conflict that would be disastrous for all.

Under a longstanding — and famously convoluted — policy derived from America’s “one China” stance that supports Taiwan without recognizing it as independent, the United States provides political and military support for Taiwan, but does not explicitly promise to defend it from a Chinese attack.

As China’s power and ambition grow, however, and Beijing assesses Washington to be weakened and distracted, a debate is underway whether the United States should make a clearer commitment to the island’s defense, in part to reduce the risk of a miscalculation by China that could lead to unwanted war.

foreign policy challenge seizing the Biden administration as it devises its wider Asia strategy. At the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, which is reviewing its military posture in Asia, officials are re-evaluating core tenets of American strategy for a new and more dangerous phase of competition with China.

American officials warn that China is growing more capable of invading the island democracy of nearly 24 million people, situated about 100 miles off the coast of mainland China, whose status has obsessed Beijing since Chinese nationalists retreated and formed a government there after the country’s 1949 Communist revolution.

Last month, the military commander for the Indo-Pacific region, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, described what he sees as a risk that China could try to reclaim Taiwan by force within the next six years.

The United States has long avoided saying how it would respond to such an attack. While Washington supports Taiwan with diplomatic contacts, arms sales, firm language and even occasional military maneuvers, there are no guarantees. No statement, doctrine or security agreement compels the United States to come to Taiwan’s rescue. A 1979 congressional law states only that “any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means” would be of “grave concern to the United States.”

The result is known as “strategic ambiguity,” a careful balance intended both to avoid provoking Beijing or emboldening Taiwan into a formal declaration of independence that could lead to a Chinese invasion.

essay in the September issue of Foreign Affairs magazine that declared that strategic ambiguity had “run its course.”

“The time has come for the United States to introduce a policy of strategic clarity: one that makes explicit that the United States would respond to any Chinese use of force against Taiwan,” Mr. Haass wrote with his colleague David Sacks.

Mr. Haass and Mr. Sacks added that the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, may question America’s willingness to defend its alliances after four years under President Donald J. Trump, who railed against “endless wars” and openly questioned the United States’ relationships and security commitments. While more hawkish-sounding, a clearer pledge would be safer, they argued.

“Such a policy would lower the chances of Chinese miscalculation, which is the likeliest catalyst for war in the Taiwan Strait,” Mr. Haass and Mr. Sacks wrote.

remarks in February at an event hosted by The Washington Post, Robert M. Gates, a former defense secretary and C.I.A. director who served under presidents of both parties, including Mr. Bush and Barack Obama, called Taiwan the facet of U.S.-China relations that concerned him the most.

Mr. Gates said that it might be “time to abandon our longtime strategy of strategic ambiguity toward Taiwan.”

The notion gained another unlikely adherent when former Representative Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and longtime dove on military issues, argued in an opinion essay in The Hill newspaper last month that on human rights grounds, the United States must guarantee that a thriving Asian democracy be protected from “forcible absorption into an unashamedly brutal regime that exemplifies the denial of fundamental human rights.”

Mr. Frank cited China’s “imperviousness to any other consideration” than force as reason to “save 23 million Taiwanese from losing their basic human rights.”

Though of limited value in territorial terms, Taiwan in recent years has also gained a greater strategic importance as one of the world’s leading producers of semiconductors — the high-tech equivalent of oil in the emerging supercomputing showdown between the United States and China, which faces microchip supply shortages.

sent dozens of warplanes over the Taiwan Strait days after Mr. Biden’s inauguration in January, the State Department released a statement declaring America’s “rock solid” commitment to the island. Mr. Biden raised the subject of Taiwan during his phone call in February with Mr. Xi, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and the national security adviser Jake Sullivan raised their concerns about the island during their meeting last month in Anchorage with two top Chinese officials.

“I think people are bending over backward to say to China, ‘Do not miscalculate — we strongly support Taiwan,’” said Bonnie Glaser, the director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Ms. Glaser said she had been surprised at the Biden team’s early approach toward Taiwan, which so far has maintained the Trump administration’s amplified political support for the island, a posture some critics called overly provocative. She noted that Mr. Blinken had recently urged Paraguay’s president in a phone call to maintain his country’s formal ties with Taiwan, despite pressure from Beijing, and that the U.S. ambassador to Palau, an archipelago state in the Western Pacific, recently joined a diplomatic delegation from that country to Taiwan.

“That is just really outside of normal diplomatic practice,” Ms. Glaser said. “I think that was quite unexpected.”

But Ms. Glaser does not support a more explicit U.S. commitment to Taiwan’s defense. Like many other analysts and American officials, she fears that such a change in policy might provoke China.

“Maybe then Xi is backed into a corner. This could really cause China to make the decision to invade,” she warned.

billions of dollars in arms sales under the Trump administration that featured fighter jets and air-to-ground missiles allowing Taiwanese planes to strike China. Such equipment is meant to diminish Taiwan’s need for an American intervention should it come under attack.

But Mr. Colby and others say the United States must develop a more credible military deterrent in the Pacific region to match recent advances by China’s military.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, H.R. McMaster, a national security adviser for Mr. Trump, said the current ambiguity was sufficient.

“The message to China ought to be, ‘Hey, you can assume that the United States won’t respond’ — but that was the assumption made in June of 1950, as well, when North Korea invaded South Korea,” Mr. McMaster said.

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Fatigue Outpaces Progress as France Enters Yet Another Lockdown

PARIS — At the Montparnasse train station in Paris, the contrast couldn’t have been sharper.

About a year ago, faced with the first national lockdown against a raging coronavirus epidemic, Parisians desperately jammed into trains in an exodus that turned Montparnasse into a place of fear and anxiety, and the capital into a ghost town.

But on Friday morning, a day before the start of the third national lockdown, foot traffic was relatively light inside Montparnasse station and others in Paris. The mood was one of deep fatigue ahead of restrictions that, once again, will severely limit travel across France, confine people’s movements in their communities and shut down schools.

“There is a bit of weariness,” said Muriel Sallandre, who was catching a train to visit her parents in western France but was planning to return to Paris in a few days. “The absence of perspective, being dependent on the government’s messages — all that is ultimately a little depressing.”

Many French rushed to buy train tickets immediately after the announcement of a new lockdown on Wednesday evening. So the capital’s stations will likely get more crowded over the weekend, as travelers planning to spend the latest lockdown outside Paris mix with those traveling to visit relatives for Easter. Some Parisians also left the capital after restrictions were imposed in the capital region a couple of weeks ago.

painfully slow.

announced yet another national lockdown after months of resisting advice from epidemiologists and pressure from political rivals. Mr. Macron had bet unsuccessfully that, despite rising infections and new powerful variants, a national lockdown could be avoided if enough people got vaccinated at a steady pace.

AstraZeneca, which ran into production shortages and said its contracts required it to fulfill orders to Britain first.

Its vaccine, which France and other European countries bet heavily on to lead them out of the pandemic, has also been plagued by worries about rare but sometimes fatal side effects that led them briefly to suspend its use. Some nations are still not giving it out or are restricting who gets it.

Among the French, the mood has grown darker as other nations, especially Britain and the United States, have bounced back from a disastrous handling of the epidemic with successful inoculation campaigns. Just 13 percent of France’s population has had at least one vaccine shot, compared to 47 percent of Britons and 30 percent of Americans.

poll released Thursday showed that a majority of French people were skeptical of the new lockdown’s ultimate effects. In findings that reflected the population’s fatigue, 70 percent of French respondents said they approved of the new national lockdown, but 46 percent said that they planned to flout the measures.

opened psychological wounds and left them in deep economic uncertainty, two-thirds of those surveyed said they would break the new rules.

In a country that is acutely sensitive to its rank in the global pecking order, France’s frequent mishandling of the epidemic and subsequent vaccination campaign has led to widespread hand-wringing. Last year, France found itself dependent on China and other nations for the masks, test kits and other basic tools to fight the outbreak.

This time, the country finds itself entirely dependent on outside help for its vaccines — a crushing blow to the nation that produced Louis Pasteur and enjoys a long history of medical breakthroughs.

China and Russia have deployed their own vaccines in their quest for global influence, France has been relegated to the position of bystander.

In late January, the Pasteur Institute announced that it would abandon research on its vaccine candidate after disappointing trial results, just a month after Sanofi, France’s biggest pharmaceutical company, said that its own vaccine was unlikely to be ready before the end of 2021, at best.

“It’s a sign of decline of the country and this decline is unacceptable,” François Bayrou, recently named commissioner for long-term government planning by Mr. Macron, said in a radio interview in January.

The problems with the vaccines have left many French of all age groups deeply skeptical and pessimistic.

“I’m still waiting to see, but I think that believing in a return to normal is an illusion,’’ said Victor Cormier, 22, a student.

Andrée Girard, 61, a retiree, said she had been unable to book an appointment to get vaccinated. She didn’t believe the new restrictions would curb the epidemic for good and feared that France was stuck in a “stop and go” pattern for the foreseeable future.

Referring to Mr. Macron’s pledge in his Wednesday announcement that France would start reopening in mid-May, Ms. Girard said, “I’m skeptical about a light at the end of the tunnel. They’ve been making promises for the past year that haven’t been kept.’’

“I don’t believe it, I don’t believe it anymore,’’ she said. “I don’t know if we’ll get back our old life.’’

Gaëlle Fournier contributed reporting.

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Shut Out on Vaccines, Tiny San Marino Turns to Old Friend: Russia

SAN MARINO — On the ground floor of the only hospital in San Marino, a tiny, independent republic perched high above the surrounding Italian countryside, nurses prepared Covid-19 vaccine doses from glass vials labeled in Cyrillic script, flicked needles and sought to put nervous residents at ease.

“Have you started speaking Russian since you got your first shot?” one nurse asked, coaxing a smile from Erica Stranieri, 32, as he injected Russia’s Sputnik vaccine into her arm.

San Marino, an ancient enclave within northern Italy, topped with crenelated medieval battlements on a mountain near the Adriatic coast, is best known — to the extent it is known at all — as one of the smallest countries on Earth.

the Sputnik vaccine, which has not been authorized by European or Italian drug regulators. For San Marino, it seemed like the natural thing to do.

Beslan school siege of 2004. At the national university is a bust of the first person in space, the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.

San Marino did not back sanctions against Russia over the invasion of Crimea. In 2019, Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, visited San Marino without stopping in Italy.

“Politically there is a strong link,” said Sergio Rabini, 62, the director of the San Marino hospital, who was himself hospitalized with Covid in October. He walked past the Covid ward, still packed with patients intubated in intensive care, and down to the vaccination center.

“Here’s Sputnik,” he said, holding up one of the thawing vials. He said it wasn’t the first time his country hadn’t followed the lead of Italian or European regulatory agencies.

gain influence in Europe, exploiting rifts between the European Union, which has had a disastrously slow vaccine rollout, and some member states. This week, Slovakia’s prime minister resigned amid an uproar over his secretly arranging a delivery of Sputnik.

to 26 percent of its people, more than double the E.U. average. Officials say hundreds of Italians have tried to make vaccination appointments there, and some even showed up, hoping in vain to get vaccinated by the foreign state next door.

“We asked Italy for help and didn’t get any,” Denisa Grassi, a 42-year-old teacher, said after receiving her shot. “Now it’s the Italians who ask us.”

Some Italians see in San Marino’s embrace of Sputnik only its latest provocative pandemic behavior. In November, when Italy imposed a 6 p.m. curfew on eateries, San Marino kept its bars and restaurants open until midnight, luring Italians and their euros across the invisible border to what Italian officials worried was a hilltop viral breeding ground.

“It was mostly young people who took advantage to go out at night,” said Aldo Bacciocchi, 50, whose restaurant, Ristorante Bolognese, was recently featured on Russian television. Now, San Marino’s restaurants must close by 6 p.m., and Mr. Bacciocchi said that business was lousy and that he didn’t see a way back to normalcy unless people got vaccinated. His mother, 77, was scheduled to receive her second dose of Sputnik on Friday.

“It’s not that we prefer it,” he said. “It’s that it’s there.”

A shade of that normalcy returned to the center of San Marino on Thursday, for the biannual installation of the country’s two heads of state, known as Captains Regent.

Throughout the morning and early afternoon, military marching bands wearing helmets festooned with feathers snaked up and down the sloping stone streets, past luxury watch and jewelry shops, the “Torture Museum,” souvenir traps and a multitude of stores selling guns, crossbows and swords, a legacy of San Marino’s medieval armory industry and relaxed gun laws.

Dignitaries took advantage of pauses in the procession to sip aperitifs at sunlit cafes, until the cannons blasted again and the march resumed. Guards escorted the incoming and outgoing Captains Regent — wearing black velvet cloaks, blue-and-white ribbons, satin gloves, black tights, black velvet hats edged with white ermine fur, and lace scarves — into various grand marble and stone buildings.

Bishops and ambassadors and men in top hats joined the procession, and so did some local residents wearing ghost masks, silently protesting the coronavirus lockdown measures.

“San Marino is not Europe, and we’re not getting any help,” said Massimiliano Carlini, 58, the protest organizer, referring to the lack of funds directed to struggling businesses. Himself a vaccine skeptic, he wasn’t sure inoculations would help, though he welcomed Russia’s involvement. “Sputnik is the only one I think people should be taking.”

Among the protesters was Matteo Nardi, the nurse who had vaccinated Ms. Stranieri. An Italian by nationality, he wondered why Italy, struggling with vaccine shortages, didn’t offer Sputnik, too.

“I mean,” he said, “why not?”

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Toyota sales surge, but G.M. and Ford’s rebounds are weaker.

General Motors reported a modest rise in car sales in North America for the first quarter, but its operations continue to be hampered by a shortage of computer chips.

The automaker said on Thursday that it sold 642,250 cars and light trucks in the first three months of the year, up just 4 percent even though sales a year ago slowed sharply as the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

By contrast, Toyota Motor showed a strong rebound in sales compared with a year ago. The Japanese company reported sales in North America jumped 22 percent in the first three months of 2021, to 603,066 cars and light trucks. Its March sales were a record high for that month.

G.M. has had to halt or slow production at a handful of plants and has resorted to making some vehicles without parts containing computer chips, with the intention of installing those components later when the supply improves.

In a statement, G.M. said that it hoped its strategy for building cars without some components would help it “quickly meet strong expected customer demand during the year.”

That approach to building cars “underscores the dire nature” of the semiconductor shortage, an analyst at CFRA Research, Garrett Nelson, said in a report. “One of the key questions is how much better the U.S. auto sales recovery can get from here.”

The chip shortage is reflected in G.M.’s unusually low inventory of 334,628 vehicles. That is about 76,000 less than at the end of the fourth quarter, and half the number of vehicles its dealers held in stock a year ago.

G.M.’s sluggish sales were confined to its Chevrolet brand, whose sales fell 2 percent in the first quarter. That includes a 13 percent decline in sales of its full-size Silverado pickup truck, a critical profit maker for the company. The Buick, Cadillac and G.M.C. brands reported strong sales in the quarter.

Toyota also reported a drop in sales of its full-size pickup, the Tundra. But the decline was more than offset by big increases in sales of its RAV4, Highlander and 4Runner sport-utility vehicles and cars from its Lexus luxury brand.

Also on Thursday, Honda Motor reported its first-quarter sales in North America increased 16 percent, to 347,091 vehicles.

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Merkel’s Latest Pandemic Challenge: Leading as a Lame Duck

BERLIN — What a difference a year makes.

In late March 2020, Chancellor Angela Merkel was winning praise the world over for her ability to explain the science behind the coronavirus pandemic and galvanize Germany’s state leaders to line up behind a nationwide strategy founded in testing and contact-tracing that held the number of deaths at bay.

Today, Ms. Merkel finds herself apologizing to the public for a confusing, ever-changing set of regulations and pitted against state leaders eager to give a lockdown-weary public a break, even as a dangerous third wave of the virus sweeps the country. Making matters worse, the national vaccination campaign remains bogged down in bureaucracy and hampered by a lack of supply.

With only months left until Ms. Merkel’s fourth and final term ends — Germans vote on a new government on Sept. 26 — the woman who became known as the crisis chancellor for her ability to remain coolheaded and solution-oriented under pressure appears to have met her greatest challenge yet: governing as a lame duck.

The highly analytical style of politics that has served her well in the past — reading the polls and plotting a strategy centered on what will win support in the next round of voting — has been stymied as a result. That weakness has not only left a vacuum in the chancellery, but also set the country adrift at a time when it needs strong leadership and clear communication, analysts say.

Politbarometer survey.

“We are seeing a massive loss of trust in the government from people, and Merkel didn’t want to accept that,” said Uwe Jun, a professor of political science at the University of Trier. “With her apology she wanted to send the signal that she is still in charge, that she can be trusted and that she wants to keep working to get the country through this pandemic.”

European Union’s medical authority and the World Health Organization say that cases of cerebral venous thrombosis, blood clots in the brain that lead to hemorrhages, are so rare they do not consider them grounds to alter administration of the shot.

according to The New York Times database.

“As much as people don’t want to hear it, what we need is a lockdown to limit the number of new infections,” Dr. Ralf Bartenschlager, a molecular virologist at Heidelberg University, said at a panel discussion of the Association of German Virologists.

While the government’s communication in the first wave of the pandemic was consistent and clear, in recent weeks that clarity has given way to a patchwork of restrictions based on rising and falling numbers that people are struggling to follow.

“How we get there is always a discussion,” said Dr. Bartenschlager said. “Where we have problems is in communicating this to people.”

In her interview on Sunday, Ms. Merkel threatened to centralize power in the chancellery if state leaders ignored the need for more restrictions on movement.

Under Germany’s postwar system of decentralized government — set up by the Allies as a response to Hitler’s rule — the bar is set high for such a move, making it difficult for the chancellor to impose a nationwide lockdown without the governors’ support. But Parliament could support such a move by revising a law governing public health in a pandemic.

Even members of the opposition have said they would support strengthening the chancellor ‘s hand in this circumstance.

“The tug of war over competencies between state and federal leaders is blocking consequent action,” said Janosch Dahmen, an emergency doctor who now sits in Parliament as a lawmaker for the opposition Greens. “The problem will be that it could take weeks or months to debate, but we need to do it right now.”

The chancellor is scheduled to meet with state leaders again on April 12, although medical experts are warning that if the country does not act more quickly, intensive care wards could fill beyond capacity.

Using her weekly podcast to send Easter greetings, the chancellor urged Germans to stay home, take advantage of free testing offered by many states and hold out hope for more vaccines.

“It should be a quiet Easter, one in a small circle, with very reduced contacts. I urge you to refrain from all non-mandatory travel and that we all consistently follow all the rules,” Ms. Merkel said. “Together we will defeat this virus.”

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Even Suez Canal Blockage Can’t Hold Back Red-Hot Global Trade

A resurgent global economy, led by the U.S., will likely drive world trade higher this year, despite a series of acute disruptions to already strained supply chains, including last week’s blockage of the Suez Canal.

Surveys of manufacturers around the world that were released Thursday vividly depicted the current pressures on the globe-spanning supply chains that deliver to consumers everything from computers to lawn chairs.

In those surveys, factories recorded a near-universal complaint: Securing enough raw materials and other inputs to meet rising demand from customers is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive. Some manufacturers are reporting record high export orders.

But there were few signs the pickup in factory output that began in mid-2020 and has been driven by trade is coming to an end.

Pent-up demand around the world after a year of Covid-19 restrictions has been so high that shippers are running low on containers in which to ship goods by sea. But despite those shortages, the World Trade Organization expects flows of goods across borders to increase by 8% this year, more than reversing the 5.3% drop seen in 2020 as the pandemic hit factory output and shipping.

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Trump Aide Peter Navarro Doled Out Millions in Pandemic Contracts, Inquiry Finds

The Trump administration was so slow to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic that a top aide to President Donald J. Trump took matters into his own hands.

That aide, Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s deputy assistant and trade adviser, personally steered hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for pandemic supplies to politically connected or novice companies, a preliminary investigation by House Democrats has found.

Mr. Navarro sounded an early alarm about supply shortages, according to emails and other documents released by a House committee overseeing the federal coronavirus response. In a memo dated March 1, 2020, he complained that “movement has been slow.”

After that, documents show, he prodded the Federal Emergency Management Agency to award a $96 million sole-source contract for respirators to AirBoss Defense Group, a defense industry supplier, telling a company executive “everything you requested is OK,” even though no contract had been signed.

Eastman Kodak Company, best known for its photography business, which then entered into a letter of intent in June 2020 to collaborate on the domestic manufacture of pharmaceutical agents, even though the company had no experience in that field.

Mr. Navarro also pushed for the Trump administration to award a $354 million contract to Phlow, a brand-new company in Richmond, Va., to manufacture generic medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients — an effort aimed at building up an American manufacturing base for products that were needed to treat Covid-19 but were made overseas. The Democrats’ investigation found that Mr. Navarro had been introduced to Phlow’s chief executive in November 2019.

“My head is going to explode if this contract does not get immediately approved,” Mr. Navarro wrote to top federal health officials in March 2020. “This is a travesty. I need PHLOW noticed by Monday morning. This is being screwed up. Let’s move this now. We need to flip the switch and they can’t move until you do. FULL funding as we discussed.”

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Macron Returns France to Lockdown as Vaccinations Lag

PARIS — After more than a year of lockdowns and months of a sputtering vaccination campaign, Europe’s efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic suffered another setback on Wednesday as President Emmanuel Macron of France announced the start of a third national lockdown in a desperate move to halt a new deadly wave.

With infections surging, hospitals swelling with patients and the virus now reaching into classrooms, Mr. Macron effectively abandoned a gamble to keep France open in the hope that a steady pace of vaccinations would make a lockdown unnecessary. He said that restrictions currently covering areas with about one-third of the country’s population would be extended nationwide, and that schools would be closed for three weeks.

As the tally of coronavirus deaths relentlessly pushed close to the 100,000 mark, Mr. Macron gave in to scientists and opposition politicians who had been pressing for a lockdown in recent weeks, and joined the list of European nations already hunkering down before the virus.

disarray of the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Both political opponents and some scientists said he had “lost his gamble.’’

For Mr. Macron, the timing of Wednesday’s announcement was particularly significant: the introduction of yet more restrictions a year after France’s first lockdown and a year before presidential elections in which voters are expected to judge his presidency on his handling of the pandemic.

Bruno Cautrès, a political scientist at the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po in Paris, said that the handling of the coronavirus crisis had become a political challenge for Mr. Macron, who has long promised to make government effective and who had “taken personal responsibility’’ in opposing a third national lockdown.

data from The New York Times.

Despite the worsening situation, Mr. Macron has argued that his gamble in January had not been wrong because his decision had not led to the explosion of cases that had been predicted.

told a French newspaper last Sunday.

Antoine Flahault, the director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, said that the French government had generally followed the advice of scientists until late January. But, on Jan. 29, Mr. Macron rejected the advice of his own scientific council — a government body that the president had set up last year to advise him on coronavirus issues and that had pressed for a strict four-week lockdown to prevent a third wave of contaminations.

Mr. Flahault said that despite the government’s decision to keep things open, no new measures were put in place to prevent the resurgence that followed.

“For the entire month of February, there’s going to be an absence of goals, an absence of real strategy,’’ he said.

The government responded to the worsening situation in mid-March by measures that were described in the news media as a third “lockdown’’ but that Mr. Macron’s government tried to portray in other terms. Among restrictions that affected a third of the French population, businesses considered nonessential were forced to close, people had their outdoor activities limited to within six miles of their homes, and travel to and from affected regions was banned.

Le Monde. “It’s not an inaccessible subject for an intellect like his and given the significant time he’s devoted to it for several months.’’

Le Monde related how people close to Mr. Macron “were impressed by the mastery of the head of state, who has kept up with numerous research studies on the subject of the coronavirus.’’ According to the article, Mr. Macron was now capable of “challenging” his own health minister and experts.

“Emmanuel Macron wanted to instill a rather heroic narrative about himself,’’ said Mr. Cautrès, the political scientist. “He is the one who faces all the storms, all the difficulties.’’

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A 3rd National Lockdown Seems Likely in France as Hospitals Are Overwhelmed

PARIS — More than a year after the government in France ordered its first national lockdown to fight back the Covid-19 pandemic, the authorities now seem to have little choice but to do the same again, as infections rise sharply across the country and hospitals in Paris are overflowing.

President Emmanuel Macron will address the country at 8 p.m. on Wednesday and is expected to announce new restrictions, possibly bringing in a third national lockdown, which he has long tried to avoid.

France on Tuesday reported more than 5,000 people in intensive care units for the first time since last April, with bed shortages in hospitals in the most affected areas becoming acute. And the slow vaccine rollout has not prevented an outburst of infections, as an average of about 37,000 daily new cases have been reported over the past week.

“The outlook is worse than frightening,” Jean-Michel Constantin, the head of the intensive care unit at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, told RMC radio on Monday.

New restrictions were introduced on the regional level in mid-March in an attempt to stave off a third wave of infections, affecting about a third of the population, including the Paris region. The rules forced businesses that are considered nonessential to close, ordered residents to limit their outdoor activities to places within six miles of their homes and banned travel to or from regions where infections were rising.

But as infections nonetheless stubbornly rose, pressure has been building on Mr. Macron to implement tougher measures.

Writing in Le Journal du Dimanche, 41 doctors from the Paris region warned that hospitals may soon become so stretched that they will have to choose which patients to try to save.

“All indicators show that the current measures are and will be insufficient to quickly reverse the alarming curve of contaminations,” they wrote.

in the same newspaper, said that he would “look at the effectiveness of the containment measures in the coming days, and we’ll take others if they are necessary.”

In late January, Mr. Macron made a calculated gamble of resisting a new national lockdown, hoping that his government could tighten restrictions just enough to fight back a rise in infections.

That strategy seemed to be working until mid-March, when infections rose sharply and the vaccination campaign failed to gather speed, amid the disarray of the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The health authorities on Tuesday said that about 8.3 million people had received at least a first shot of the coronavirus vaccine, or about 12 percent of the total population. The government plans to vaccinate 10 million people by mid-April and 30 million by the summer.

But France still lags behind some other Western countries in its vaccine rollout. Britain has vaccinated 46 percent of its population and the United States 29 percent, according to data from The New York Times.

Many doctors and epidemiologists are calling for a lockdown comparable to that of early 2020, when the authorities enforced some of the strictest Covid-19 restrictions in Europe, ordering people to stay inside except for a few exceptions. Schools, which France has kept open since last June, unlike many of its neighbors, could also be forced to close as the virus is increasingly spreading in classrooms.

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