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In a Crucial South African Vaccine Trial, a Cautionary Tale

In a year that has seesawed between astonishing gains and brutal setbacks on Covid-19, few moments were as sobering as the revelation last month that a coronavirus variant in South Africa was dampening the effect of one of the world’s most potent vaccines.

That finding — from a South African trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot — exposed how quickly the virus had managed to dodge human antibodies, ending what some researchers have described as the world’s honeymoon period with Covid-19 vaccines and setting back hopes for containing the pandemic.

As countries adjust to that jarring turn of fortune, the story of how scientists uncovered the dangers of the variant in South Africa has put a spotlight on the global vaccine trials that were indispensable in warning the world.

“Historically, people might have thought a problem in a country like South Africa would stay in South Africa,” said Mark Feinberg, the chief executive of IAVI, a nonprofit scientific research group. “But we’ve seen how quickly variants are cropping up all around the world. Even wealthy countries have to pay a lot of attention to the evolving landscape all around the world.”

a recent lab study, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine protected hamsters exposed to the variant from becoming ill, even if the animals’ immune responses were somewhat weaker. The human trial in South Africa was too small to say definitively whether the vaccine prevented severe disease. But the finding that it provided minimal protection against milder cases was itself discouraging, given that the shot remains the backbone of many poorer countries’ rollouts.

announced the discovery of the variant a week later. The serendipitous placement of the trials gave scientists what they almost never have: an open-air laboratory for watching, in real time, as a vaccine and a variant faced off.

Since the Oxford results were announced last month, Dr. Koen said, volunteers have been trying to console her: “I’m getting a lot of messages of condolence, and ‘I’m sorry,’” she said.

So long as that vaccine and others prevent severe disease, even in cases of the variant, the world can live with the virus, scientists said. But the trial in South Africa nevertheless underscored the need to stamp out the virus before it mutates further. Without it, scientists said, the world could have been blind to what was coming.

“We would anticipate these variants are not the end of the story,” said Andrew Pollard, the Oxford scientist in charge of its trials. “For the virus to survive, once populations have good immunity against the current variants, it must continue to mutate.”

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President Biden Takes 1st Tentative Steps to Address Global Covid-19 Vaccine Shortage

WASHINGTON — President Biden, under intense pressure to donate excess coronavirus vaccines to needy nations, moved on Friday to address the global shortage in another way, partnering with Japan, India and Australia to expand global vaccine manufacturing capacity.

In a deal announced at the so-called Quad Summit, a virtual meeting of leaders of the four countries, the Biden administration committed to providing financial support to help Biological E, a major vaccine manufacturer in India, produce at least 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines by the end of 2022.

That would address an acute vaccine shortage in Southeast Asia and beyond without risking domestic political blowback from exporting doses in the coming months, as Americans clamor for their shots.

The United States has fallen far behind China, India and Russia in the race to marshal coronavirus vaccines as an instrument of diplomacy. At the same time, Mr. Biden is facing accusations of vaccine hoarding from global health advocates who want his administration to channel supplies to needy nations that are desperate for access.

sit idly in American manufacturing facilities.

“If we have a surplus, we’re going to share it with the rest of the world,” Mr. Biden said this week, adding, “We’re going to start off making sure Americans are taken care of first, but we’re then going to try and help the rest of the world.”

In fact, the president has a lot of work ahead of him domestically to make good on the promises he has made in recent days: that all states must make all adults eligible for vaccinations by May 1, that enough vaccine doses will exist by the end of May to inoculate every American adult, and that by July 4, if Americans continue to follow public health guidance, life should be returning to a semblance of normalcy.

Vaccine supply appears on track to fulfill those goals, but the president must still create the infrastructure to administer the doses and overcome reluctance in large sectors of the population to take them.

Still, Mr. Biden has also made restoring U.S. leadership a centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda after his predecessor frayed alliances and strained relationships with allies and global partners. His secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, said in a recent BBC interview that a global vaccination campaign would be part of that effort; Washington, he said, was “determined” to be an “international leader” on vaccinations.

according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authoritarian governments of China and Russia, which are less buffeted by domestic public opinion, are already using vaccines to expand their spheres of influence. While the Biden administration plans its strategy to counter China’s growing global clout, Beijing is burnishing its image by shipping vaccines to dozens of countries on several continents, including in Africa, Latin America and particularly in its Southeast Asian backyard.

Russia has supplied vaccines to Eastern European nations, including Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, at a time when Biden officials want to keep the European Union unified against Russian influence on the continent.

new variants emerging in the United States and around the world, public health experts say vaccinating people overseas is also necessary to protect Americans.

“It has to be sold to Americans as an essential strategy to make Americans safe and secure over the long term, and it has to be sold to a highly divided, toxic America,” said J. Stephen Morrison, a global health expert at the Centers for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that’s impossible. I think Americans are beginning to understand that in a world of variants, everything that happens outside our borders ups the urgency to move really fast.”

Mr. Blinken said as much to the BBC: “Until everyone in the world is vaccinated, then no one is really fully safe.”

The Quad Vaccine Partnership announced at the summit meeting on Friday involves different commitments from each of the nations, according to the White House.

Beyond assistance for the Indian vaccine manufacturer, the United States pledged at least $100 million to bolster vaccination capacity abroad and aid public health efforts. Japan, it said, is “in discussions” to provide loans for the Indian government to expand manufacturing of vaccines for export and will aid vaccination programs for developing countries. Australia will contribute $77 million to provide vaccines and delivery support with a focus on Southeast Asia.

The four countries will also form aQuad Vaccine Experts Group oftop scientists and government officials who will work to address manufacturing hurdles and financing plans.

secure an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

The administration has said those efforts are aimed at having enough vaccine for children, booster doses to confront new variants and unforeseen events. But Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters on Friday that the deal between Johnson & Johnson and Merck would also “help expand capacity and ultimately benefits the world.”

In addition to resisting a push to give away excess doses, Mr. Biden has drawn criticism from liberal Democrats by blocking a request by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver to an international intellectual property agreement that would give poorer countries easier access to generic versions of coronavirus vaccines and treatments.

“I understand why we should be prioritizing our supply with Americans — it was paid for by American taxpayers, President Biden is president of America,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a liberal Democrat from California. “But there is no reason we have to prioritize the profits of pharmaceutical companies over the dignity of people in other countries.”

donation of $4 billion to Covax, the international vaccine initiative backed by the World Health Organization. David Bryden, the director of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, a nonprofit aimed at supporting health workers in low- and middle-income countries, said money was also desperately needed to help train and pay those workers to administer vaccines overseas.

President George W. Bush responded to the AIDS crisis in Africa in the 2000s with a huge investment of public health funding. More than a decade later, Mr. Bush and the United States remain venerated across much of the continent for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, which the government says spent $85 billion and saved 20 million lives.

Michael Gerson, a former White House speechwriter under Mr. Bush and a policy adviser who helped devise the Pepfar program, said that its effect had been both moral and strategic, and that the program had earned the United States “a tremendous amount of good will” in Africa.

“I think the principle here should be that the people who need it most should get it no matter where they live,” he said. “It doesn’t make much moral sense to give a healthy American 24-year-old the vaccine before a frontline worker in Liberia.”

But, he added, “that’s very hard for an American politician to explain.”

Ana Swanson contributed reporting

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Biden Takes First Tentative Steps to Address Global Vaccine Shortage

WASHINGTON — President Biden, under intense pressure to donate excess coronavirus vaccines to needy nations, moved on Friday to address the global shortage in another way, partnering with Japan, India and Australia to expand global vaccine manufacturing capacity.

In a deal announced at the so-called Quad Summit, a virtual meeting of leaders of the four countries, the Biden administration committed to providing financial support to help Biological E, a major vaccine manufacturer in India, produce at least 1 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines by the end of 2022.

That would address an acute vaccine shortage in Southeast Asia and beyond without risking domestic political blowback from exporting doses in the coming months, as Americans clamor for their shots.

The United States has fallen far behind China, India and Russia in the race to marshal coronavirus vaccines as an instrument of diplomacy. At the same time, Mr. Biden is facing accusations of vaccine hoarding from global health advocates who want his administration to channel supplies to needy nations that are desperate for access.

sit idly in American manufacturing facilities.

“If we have a surplus, we’re going to share it with the rest of the world,” Mr. Biden said this week, adding, “We’re going to start off making sure Americans are taken care of first, but we’re then going to try and help the rest of the world.”

In fact, the president has a lot of work ahead of him domestically to make good on the promises he has made in recent days: that all states must make all adults eligible for vaccinations by May 1, that enough vaccine doses will exist by the end of May to inoculate every American adult, and that by July 4, if Americans continue to follow public health guidance, life should be returning to a semblance of normalcy.

Vaccine supply appears on track to fulfill those goals, but the president must still create the infrastructure to administer the doses and overcome reluctance in large sectors of the population to take them.

Still, Mr. Biden has also made restoring U.S. leadership a centerpiece of his foreign policy agenda after his predecessor frayed alliances and strained relationships with allies and global partners. His secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, said in a recent BBC interview that a global vaccination campaign would be part of that effort; Washington, he said, was “determined” to be an “international leader” on vaccinations.

according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authoritarian governments of China and Russia, which are less buffeted by domestic public opinion, are already using vaccines to expand their spheres of influence. While the Biden administration plans its strategy to counter China’s growing global clout, Beijing is burnishing its image by shipping vaccines to dozens of countries on several continents, including in Africa, Latin America and particularly in its Southeast Asian backyard.

Russia has supplied vaccines to Eastern European nations, including Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, at a time when Biden officials want to keep the European Union unified against Russian influence on the continent.

new variants emerging in the United States and around the world, public health experts say vaccinating people overseas is also necessary to protect Americans.

“It has to be sold to Americans as an essential strategy to make Americans safe and secure over the long term, and it has to be sold to a highly divided, toxic America,” said J. Stephen Morrison, a global health expert at the Centers for Strategic and International Studies. “I don’t think that’s impossible. I think Americans are beginning to understand that in a world of variants, everything that happens outside our borders ups the urgency to move really fast.”

Mr. Blinken said as much to the BBC: “Until everyone in the world is vaccinated, then no one is really fully safe.”

The Quad Vaccine Partnership announced at the summit meeting on Friday involves different commitments from each of the nations, according to the White House.

Beyond assistance for the Indian vaccine manufacturer, the United States pledged at least $100 million to bolster vaccination capacity abroad and aid public health efforts. Japan, it said, is “in discussions” to provide loans for the Indian government to expand manufacturing of vaccines for export and will aid vaccination programs for developing countries. Australia will contribute $77 million to provide vaccines and delivery support with a focus on Southeast Asia.

The four countries will also form aQuad Vaccine Experts Group oftop scientists and government officials who will work to address manufacturing hurdles and financing plans.

secure an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

The administration has said those efforts are aimed at having enough vaccine for children, booster doses to confront new variants and unforeseen events. But Jeffrey D. Zients, Mr. Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, told reporters on Friday that the deal between Johnson & Johnson and Merck would also “help expand capacity and ultimately benefits the world.”

In addition to resisting a push to give away excess doses, Mr. Biden has drawn criticism from liberal Democrats by blocking a request by India and South Africa for a temporary waiver to an international intellectual property agreement that would give poorer countries easier access to generic versions of coronavirus vaccines and treatments.

“I understand why we should be prioritizing our supply with Americans — it was paid for by American taxpayers, President Biden is president of America,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a liberal Democrat from California. “But there is no reason we have to prioritize the profits of pharmaceutical companies over the dignity of people in other countries.”

donation of $4 billion to Covax, the international vaccine initiative backed by the World Health Organization. David Bryden, the director of the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, a nonprofit aimed at supporting health workers in low- and middle-income countries, said money was also desperately needed to help train and pay those workers to administer vaccines overseas.

President George W. Bush responded to the AIDS crisis in Africa in the 2000s with a huge investment of public health funding. More than a decade later, Mr. Bush and the United States remain venerated across much of the continent for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or Pepfar, which the government says spent $85 billion and saved 20 million lives.

Michael Gerson, a former White House speechwriter under Mr. Bush and a policy adviser who helped devise the Pepfar program, said that its effect had been both moral and strategic, and that the program had earned the United States “a tremendous amount of good will” in Africa.

“I think the principle here should be that the people who need it most should get it no matter where they live,” he said. “It doesn’t make much moral sense to give a healthy American 24-year-old the vaccine before a frontline worker in Liberia.”

But, he added, “that’s very hard for an American politician to explain.”

Ana Swanson contributed reporting

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Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, King of the Zulu Nation, Dies at 72

JOHANNESBURG — Goodwill Zwelithini ka Bhekuzulu, the king of South Africa’s Zulu nation, who shepherded his people from the apartheid era into a modern democratic society, died on Friday in the eastern coastal city of Durban. He was 72.

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the king’s prime minister, announced the death, at Inkosi Albert Luthuli hospital. He did not state a cause. King Zwelithini was admitted there last month to be treated for diabetes.

Born on July 14, 1948, he was the eighth monarch of the Zulu nation, South Africa’s largest ethnic group, and a direct descendant of the Zulu warrior kings who fought against colonial rule. The eldest son of King Cyprian Bhekuzulu ka Solomon and his second wife, Queen Thomozile Jezangani ka Ndwandwe, he was educated at the Bekezulu College of Chiefs and then privately tutored at the Khethomthandayo royal palace.

He was crowned in 1971, three years after the death of his father; subsequent assassination attempts had forced him into hiding. When he was able to take the throne, his role was largely ceremonial as head of a quasi-independent homeland under the apartheid government.

murdered in his home in Johannesburg in November, and five people have been charged.

King Zwelithini is survived by six wives and 26 children.

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The Status of the Pandemic, in Three Charts

Public discussion of “herd immunity” often treats it like an on-off switch: When the U.S. reaches herd immunity, the crisis will be over; until then, the country has little immunity from Covid-19.

But that’s not right.

Herd immunity is more like a light dimmer. The more people develop immunity — either from having been infected or from being vaccinated — the less easily the virus will spread.

Nearly 30 percent of Americans have now had the virus, according to Youyang Gu, a data scientist. (That includes many people who have never taken a Covid test.) About 18 percent have received at least one vaccine shot. There is some overlap between these two groups, which means that about 40 percent of Americans now have some protection from Covid.

Had these people been exposed to the virus a year ago, they could have become infected — and then spread Covid to others. Today, many are protected.

Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in The Washington Post. “After millions of infections and the start of a vaccination campaign, the virus is finally, slowly, starting to run out of new people to infect.”

The pandemic is still a long way from over. And the situation may worsen again, because of a combination of risky behavior and new virus variants. Experts are particularly worried about some states’ rush to lift mask mandates and restrictions on indoor gatherings. For now, however, the virus trends are improving, thanks largely to the rising level of immunity.

When I last gave you an overview of the U.S. situation — two weeks ago — I highlighted a mix of positive trends (declining nursing home deaths and encouraging vaccine news) and negative ones (rising caseloads and falling vaccination numbers). Since then, the good news has largely continued, and the bad news has not. Below is a new update, with help from three charts.

When the number of new cases began rising last month, it was reasonable to wonder if the more contagious virus variants were on the verge of sparking a nationwide surge. They have not. In retrospect, the February increase looks like a blip:

three million doses a day, from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer. At that point, three million daily shots will be a more sensible goal.

How quickly the Biden administration and state governments can get there will help determine how many lives are saved and how quickly normal life returns.

I recommend you keep two different ideas about the variants in mind at the same time: First, one or more of the variants could create terrible problems — by being highly contagious, by reinfecting people who already had Covid or by causing even more severe symptoms. A British study released yesterday, for instance, found that the B.1.1.7 variant increases the risk of death in unvaccinated people.

But — here’s the second idea — the overall evidence on the variants has been more encouraging so far than many people expected. The vaccines are virtually eliminating hospitalizations and death in people who contract a variant. Reinfection does not seem to be widespread. And even if the variants are more contagious, they have not caused the kind of surges that seemed possible a couple of weeks ago.

In Florida, where B.1.1.7 has spread widely, “there’s no sign of any increase in cases,” Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research wrote. In South Africa, where the B.1.351 variant was first detected, cases are nonetheless plunging:

The Financial Times has reported. Rising vaccinations are also helping. So did the restrictions that South Africa imposed in late December and January, including “a ban on alcohol sales, the closing of all land borders and most beaches, and an extended curfew,” Bloomberg explained.

100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which may be used to inoculate children once the F.D.A. allows it.

  • The Biden administration has loosened its guidelines for nursing home visits. The advice recommends outdoor visits, but says that “responsible indoor visitation” should be allowed.

  • destroyed the Japanese village of Kesen. Residents have realized that the emptiness is forever.

    From Opinion: If American democracy is to survive, the filibuster must go, The Times’s editorial board argues.

    Lives Lived: In 1994, thieves stole “The Scream,” Edvard Munch’s masterpiece, from the National Gallery in Oslo. Three months later, it was returned, thanks largely to the efforts of a Scotland Yard detective named Charles Hill. Hill died at 73.

    flying cat for more than $500,000. A short video by the artist Beeple went for almost $7 million. Anyone can still view or share the clips. So what’s the point of owning them?

    It may not make sense to everyone — and has elements of a financial bubble. It mostly comes down to very expensive bragging rights, as well as the potential of reselling it for more money.

    These rights are known as NFTs, short for “nonfungible tokens.” “It seems crazy to do that for something purely digital that can be easily copied and shared across the internet,” Erin Griffith, a Times tech reporter who has written about the trend, told us. “But the popularity of NFTs shows that people are willing to pay for special, scarce collector’s items.”

    The technology has made it easier for artists, musicians and sports franchises to make money from digital goods. The N.B.A. recently introduced a series of NFTs, Top Shot, that turn highlight clips into trading cards. In music, the latest album by Kings of Leon is an NFT.

    play online.

    Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Pops (three letters).

    If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.


    Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

    P.S. The Senate confirmed Janet Reno as the nation’s first female attorney general 28 years ago today. The Times’s story quoted a certain Delaware senator praising her: “President Clinton — albeit not the first time at bat — has hit a home run.”

    You can see today’s print front page here.

    Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about parallels between Diana and Meghan. On “Sway,” Spike Lee discusses his films.

    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.

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    Two variants may account for half of New York City’s virus cases, health officials said.

    He and his colleagues have found two subtypes of the B.1.526 variant: one with the E484K mutation seen in South Africa and Brazil, which is thought to help the virus partially dodge the vaccines; and another with a mutation called S477N, which may affect how tightly the virus binds to human cells.

    City officials said that despite the E484K mutation, they still had no evidence that the B.1.526 variant was partially evading vaccine protection. “Our preliminary analysis does not show that this new strain causes more severe illness or reduces the effectiveness of vaccines,” said Dr. Jay Varma, an adviser to Mr. de Blasio.

    Earlier this year, experts had said the city’s capacity for genetic analysis was inadequate to understand the dynamics of New York’s outbreak. The United States’ overall ability to track variants is much less robust than in Britain, and federal health officials have expressed significant concern that variants may spread here undetected. New York has been increasing the number of samples it analyzes in recent weeks.

    Nationally, epidemiologists have been sounding alarms about B.1.1.7, which is on track to be the dominant form of the virus in this country by the end of March. That variant is believed to have contributed to steep case increases and full hospitals in Britain and elsewhere.

    “What we’ve seen in Europe when we hit that 50 percent mark, you’ll see cases surge,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. He urged the public not to let up on health measures and to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.

    Dr. Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the City University of New York, said Wednesday that while he was worried about the new variants, more questions than answers remain about how they will impact the spread of the virus in New York City.

    “It’s anybody’s guess, given the vaccine, the competition among the variants and everything we are trying to do to keep the virus low,” he said.

    “The same things we always do have the ability to reduce the impact of the virus,” he added, urging continued vigilance and precautions. “If there is an exposure that gets past those defenses, there is potential that it could more easily take hold, or last longer. But if we keep doing everything we have been doing to prevent spread, we should be able to manage the variants too.”

    Apoorva Mandavilli contributed reporting.

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    U.S. Risks a ‘Fourth Wave’ Fueled by Variants and Eased Restrictions, Fauci Warns

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been warning about it since January: A more contagious and possibly deadlier variant of the coronavirus, first found in Britain, is likely to become predominant in the United States, perhaps leading to a wrenching surge in cases and deaths.

    The first part of that warning seems to be coming true: The variant, known as B.1.1.7, is doubling its share of all new U.S. cases about every 10 days.

    But the second part is harder to make out, at least so far. The steep fall in new cases from the January peak halted in mid-February, but the trend since then has been roughly steady or only slightly downward, rather than a feared “fourth wave.”

    Experts are not sure why. The accelerating pace of vaccinations and the remaining virus-control measures in much of the country might be balancing out the spread of the more contagious variant, so that total cases neither rise nor fall very much. But it is difficult to know how long that equilibrium might last, or whether the next clear turn in the trend will be upward or downward.

    New York Times database. That is the lowest seven-day average since October and about 10 percent below the average on Feb. 21, when the steep decline slowed. Still, the figure is close to the peak level of the surge last summer. Death reports are also falling but remain high, regularly topping 2,000 a day.

    In an interview Sunday on the CBS program “Face the Nation,” Dr. Fauci said that over the past week and a half, the decline in cases had stalled. “We’re plateauing at quite a high level — 60 to 70,000 new infections per day is quite high,” he said.

    This trend is particularly worrisome, he said, because in the United States over the past year, when the daily level of new infections plateaued at a high level, surges in cases followed. And recently in Europe, infection levels were declining, then plateaued and “over the last week or so, they’ve had about a 9 percent increase in cases,” Dr. Fauci said.

    Experts say they need more data to understand why the United States has not yet seen a surge in cases as the fearsome B.1.1.7 variant has spread so rapidly, already accounting for more than one-fifth of new cases.

    William Hanage, a Harvard epidemiologist, said there could be several reasons B.1.1.7 has not started ravaging the United States the way it consumed Britain, including more widespread vaccination, improving weather and the patchwork of pandemic restrictions across the states.

    Florida, Mr. Hanage and other experts say, is an interesting example, because infections have not surged even though restrictions are looser than in other states and the variant makes up at least an estimated 30 percent of cases, the highest proportion in the nation.

    Dr. Fauci said on Sunday that a variant first identified in New York is “not widespread yet, but it seems to be spreading pretty efficiently through the New York City metropolitan area and beyond.”

    He said there is evidence that the variant may partly elude protection conferred by vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments, although the variant does not evade vaccines and treatments as much as one first identified in South Africa.

    The best way to prevent further spread is to “get people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible and, above all, maintain the public health measures that we talk about so often: the masking, the physical distancing, and the avoiding of congregate settings, particularly indoors.” Dr. Fauci said. “That’s what you can do to prevent the spread of a worrisome variant.”

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    For Planet Earth, No Tourism is a Curse and a Blessing

    For the planet, the year without tourists was a curse and a blessing.

    With flights canceled, cruise ships mothballed and vacations largely scrapped, carbon emissions plummeted. Wildlife that usually kept a low profile amid a crush of tourists in vacation hot spots suddenly emerged. And a lack of cruise ships in places like Alaska meant that humpback whales could hear each other’s calls without the din of engines.

    That’s the good news. On the flip side, the disappearance of travelers wreaked its own strange havoc, not only on those who make their living in the tourism industry, but on wildlife itself, especially in developing countries. Many governments pay for conservation and enforcement through fees associated with tourism. As that revenue dried up, budgets were cut, resulting in increased poaching and illegal fishing in some areas. Illicit logging rose too, presenting a double-whammy for the environment. Because trees absorb and store carbon, cutting them down not only hurt wildlife habitats, but contributed to climate change.

    “We have seen many financial hits to the protection of nature,” said Joe Walston, executive vice president of global conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “But even where that hasn’t happened, in a lot of places people haven’t been able to get into the field to do their jobs because of Covid.”

    From the rise in rhino poaching in Botswana to the waning of noise pollution in Alaska, the lack of tourism has had a profound effect around the world. The question moving forward is which impacts will remain, and which will vanish, in the recovery.

    more than 10 percent, as state and local governments imposed lockdowns and people stayed home, according to a report in January by the Rhodium Group, a research and consulting firm.

    The most dramatic results came from the transportation sector, which posted a 14.7 percent decrease. It’s impossible to tease out how much of that drop is from lost tourism versus business travel. And there is every expectation that as the pandemic loosens its grip, tourism will resume — likely with a vengeance.

    Still, the pandemic helped push American emissions below 1990 levels for the first time. Globally, carbon dioxide emissions fell 7 percent, or 2.6 billion metric tons, according to new data from international climate researchers. In terms of output, that is about double the annual emissions of Japan.

    “It’s a lot and it’s a little,” said Jason Smerdon, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “Historically, it’s a lot. It’s the largest single reduction percent-wise over the last 100 years. But when you think about the 7 percent in the context of what we need to do to mitigate climate change, it’s a little.”

    United Nations Environment Program cautioned that global greenhouse gases would need to drop 7.6 percent every year between 2020 and 2030. That would keep the world on its trajectory of meeting the temperature goals set under the Paris Agreement, the 2016 accord signed by nearly 200 nations.

    “The 7 percent drop last year is on par with what we would need to do year after year,” Dr. Smerdon said. “Of course we wouldn’t want to do it the same way. A global pandemic and locking ourselves in our apartments is not the way to go about this.”

    Interestingly, the drop in other types of air pollution during the pandemic muddied the climate picture. Industrial aerosols, made up of soot, sulfates, nitrates and mineral dust, reflect sunlight back into space, thus cooling the planet. While their reduction was good for respiratory health, it had the effect of offsetting some of the climate benefits of cascading carbon emissions.

    For the climate activist Bill McKibben, one of the first to sound the alarm about global warming in his 1989 book, “The End of Nature,” the pandemic underscored that the climate crisis won’t be averted one plane ride or gallon of gas at a time.

    “We’ve come through this pandemic year when our lives changed more than any of us imagined they ever would,” Mr. McKibben said during a Zoom webinar hosted in February by the nonprofit Green Mountain Club of Vermont.

    “Everybody stopped flying; everybody stopped commuting,” he added. “Everybody just stayed at home. And emissions did go down, but they didn’t go down that much, maybe 10 percent with that incredible shift in our lifestyles. It means that most of the damage is located in the guts of our systems and we need to reach in and rip out the coal and gas and oil and stick in the efficiency, conservation and sun and wind.”

    herd of Great Orme Kashmiri goats was spotted ambling through empty streets in Llandudno, a coastal town in northern Wales. And hundreds of monkeys — normally fed by tourists — were involved in a disturbing brawl outside of Bangkok, apparently fighting over food scraps.

    In meaningful ways, however, the pandemic revealed that wildlife will regroup if given the chance. In Thailand, where tourism plummeted after authorities banned international flights, leatherback turtles laid their eggs on the usually mobbed Phuket Beach. It was the first time nests were seen there in years, as the endangered sea turtles, the largest in the world, prefer to nest in seclusion.

    Similarly, in Koh Samui, Thailand’s second largest island, hawksbill turtles took over beaches that in 2018 hosted nearly three million tourists. The hatchlings were documented emerging from their nests and furiously moving their flippers toward the sea.

    For Petch Manopawitr, a marine conservation manager of the Wildlife Conservation Society Thailand, the sightings were proof that natural landscapes can recover quickly. “Both Ko Samui and Phuket have been overrun with tourists for so many years,” he said in a phone interview. “Many people had written off the turtles and thought they would not return. After Covid, there is talk about sustainability and how it needs to be embedded in tourism, and not just a niche market but all kinds of tourism.”

    In addition to the sea turtles, elephants, leaf monkeys and dugongs (related to manatees) all made cameos in unlikely places in Thailand. “Dugongs are more visible because there is less boat traffic,” Mr. Manopawitr said. “The area that we were surprised to see dugongs was the eastern province of Bangkok. We didn’t know dugongs still existed there.”

    He and other conservationists believe that countries in the cross hairs of international tourism need to mitigate the myriad effects on the natural world, from plastic pollution to trampled parks.

    he told Bloomberg News, is to set the stage so that “nature can rehabilitate itself.”

    increased poaching of leopards and tigers in India, an uptick in the smuggling of falcons in Pakistan, and a surge in trafficking of rhino horns in South Africa and Botswana.

    Jim Sano, the World Wildlife Fund’s vice president for travel, tourism and conservation, said that in sub-Saharan Africa, the presence of tourists was a powerful deterrent. “It’s not only the game guards,” he said. “It’s the travelers wandering around with the guides that are omnipresent in these game areas. If the guides see poachers with automatic weapons, they report it.”

    In the Republic of Congo, the Wildlife Conservation Society has noticed an increase in trapping and hunting in and around protected areas. Emma J. Stokes, regional director of the Central Africa program for the organization, said that in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park, monkeys and forest antelopes were being targeted for bushmeat.

    Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Dr. Fournet, a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell University, observed a threefold decrease in ambient noise in Glacier Bay between 2019 and 2020. “That’s a really big drop in noise,” she said, “and all of that is associated with the cessation of these cruise ships.”

    Sound Science Research Collective, a marine conservation nonprofit, had her team lower a hydrophone in the North Pass, a popular whale-watching destination. “In previous years,” she said, “you wouldn’t have been able to hear anything — just boats. This year we heard whales producing feeding calls, whales producing contact calls. We heard sound types that I have never heard before.”

    Maya’s Legacy Whale Watching, insist that their presence on the water benefits whales since the captains make recreational boaters aware of whale activity and radio them to slow down. Whale-watching companies also donate to conservation groups and report sightings to researchers.

    “During the pandemic, there was a huge increase in the number of recreational boats out there,” said Mr. Friedman, who is also president of the Pacific Whale Watch Association. “It was similar to R.V.s. People decided to buy an R.V. or a boat. The majority of the time, boaters are not aware that the whales are present unless we let them know.”

    Two years ago, in a move to protect Puget Sound’s tiny population of Southern Resident killer whales, which number just 75, Washington’s Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law reducing boat speeds to 7 knots within a half nautical mile of the whales and increasing a buffer zone around them, among other things.

    Many cheered the protections. But environmental activists like Catherine W. Kilduff, a senior attorney in the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity, believe they did not go far enough. She wants the respite from noise that whales enjoyed during the pandemic to continue.

    “The best tourism is whale-watching from shore,” she said.

    Debates like this are likely to continue as the world emerges from the pandemic and leisure travel resumes. Already, conservationists and business leaders are sharing their visions for a more sustainable future.

    laid out a plan to become carbon neutral by spending $1 billion over 10 years on an assortment of strategies. Only 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions are traced to aviation, but a 2019 study suggested that could triple by midcentury.

    In the meantime, climate change activists are calling on the flying public to use their carbon budgets judiciously.

    Tom L. Green, a senior climate policy adviser with the David Suzuki Foundation, an environmental organization in Canada, said tourists might consider booking a flight only once every few years, saving their carbon footprint (and money) for a special journey. “Instead of taking many short trips, we could occasionally go away for a month or more and really get to know a place,” he said.

    For Mr. Walston of the Wildlife Conservation Society, tourists would be wise to put more effort into booking their next resort or cruise, looking at the operator’s commitment to sustainability.

    “My hope is not that we stop traveling to some of these wonderful places, because they will continue to inspire us to conserve nature globally,” he said. “But I would encourage anyone to do their homework. Spend as much time choosing a tour group or guide as a restaurant. The important thing is to build back the kind of tourism that supports nature.”

    Lisa W. Foderaro is a former reporter for The New York Times whose work has also appeared in National Geographic and Audubon Magazine.

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