U.S. Secretary of State Blinken Visiting Ukraine

LONDON — When Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrives in Ukraine early Thursday, he will encounter an all too familiar scene: a country struggling to defend itself from without and reconstruct itself from within.

It is little changed from the days when Mr. Blinken was a White House staffer in the Obama administration — and a warning that solutions might be years away still.

Mr. Blinken is the first senior Biden administration official to visit Kyiv, and his task when he meets with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, will be to reassure him of American support against Russia’s ongoing aggression, which flared last month when Moscow built up more than 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s eastern border.

Russia began withdrawing those forces in late April but still has many of them and all their equipment in place. Moscow also continues to back a pro-Russian insurgency in a war in Ukraine’s east that has killed more than 13,000 people, according to the United Nations.

seeking evidence related to Mr. Giuliani’s role in the removal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in April 2019.

Although that saga is unlikely to be on the official agenda or to affect U.S. policy, it is a vivid reminder of the power of anti-reform figures in the country. Ukrainian associates of Mr. Giuliani pressed Mr. Giuliani to oust the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, because they viewed her as a threat to their business interests, American diplomats testified during the impeachment hearings in 2019.

Though Mr. Blinken is no stranger to Ukraine, having visited repeatedly during the Obama years, he will be joined by one of the government’s top experts and strongest defenders of the country, Victoria J. Nuland, who last week was confirmed as the State Department’s under secretary for political affairs, its No. 3 position.

As the department’s top official for Europe and Eurasia in the Obama administration, Ms. Nuland became a loathed figure in the Kremlin over her ardent support for Ukraine’s 2014 revolution. Russian officials bitterly recall how Ms. Nuland passed out food to protesters in Kyiv before they toppled Ukraine’s Russian-backed president, Viktor F. Yanukovych.

Ms. Nuland’s visit with Mr. Blinken comes a few weeks before President Biden is likely to meet with Mr. Putin during a trip to Europe. For now, Mr. Taylor said, that meeting in June serves as “a hostage” that may be preventing the Russian leader from sending troops across Ukraine’s border, though analysts remain divided about Mr. Putin’s motives in ordering the buildup. Some believe he may be simply trying to intimidate Mr. Zelensky and put Mr. Biden off balance.

Combat has been taking place within Ukraine for seven years, as government forces battle separatists armed and funded by the Kremlin, and a European-led peace process is deadlocked.

Mr. Biden himself has had extensive experience in Ukraine, having led the Obama administration’s actions there as vice president. On Tuesday, he said his “hope and expectation” was that he will meet with Mr. Putin during his trip to Europe, a meeting at which Ukraine is sure to be a central topic of discussion.

With an eye on Russia’s threats and meddling, Ukrainian officials have said they are eager for more security aid from the Biden administration, but it is far from clear whether that will be forthcoming.

Asked last week whether Mr. Blinken might come bearing such offers, Philip T. Reeker, the State Department’s acting assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, pointed to $408 million in existing U.S. support, and said only, “I’m sure that will come up in our conversation.” Strong support exists in Congress for increasing that funding, Mr. Taylor noted.

During his visit, Mr. Blinken is expected to try to assess how much confidence to place in Mr. Zelensky, a former comedic actor elected in April 2019 with no political experience.

Just last month, President Volodymyr Zelensky donned a helmet and flak jacket to visit his soldiers in trenches at the front, showing defiance to the Russian military buildup. Praise and warm words of support flowed in from Ukraine’s Western allies.

In a statement, the State Department said Mr. Blinken would “reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. But he will also encourage continued progress in Ukraine’s institutional reform agenda, particularly anti-corruption action, with is key to securing Ukraine’s democratic institutions, economic prosperity and Euro-Atlantic future.”

In Kyiv, independent analysts have praised the tough-love policy.

“Biden is an opportunity Ukraine can use or lose,” Sergiy Sydorenko, editor of European Pravda, an online news outlet, said in an interview. “By the look of it, Biden really cares for democracy, and having a democratic Ukraine is vital for developments in the wider region, including Russia. But Biden’s support is not guaranteed.”

Anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine have been a mixed bag.

Earlier in his tenure, Mr. Zelensky’s political party and allies passed a law privatizing former collective farmland, a step toward unwinding corruption schemes in agriculture. He also formed an anti-corruption court, and this year, his government sanctioned oligarchs with ties to Russia.

But for Western donor nations that prop up the Ukrainian budget, a critical aspect of Mr. Zelensky’s presidency has been his relationship with an oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky, whom Ukraine’s own banking regulators accuse of embezzlement. Mr. Kolomoisky denies the allegations.

In March, the Biden administration sanctioned Mr. Kolomoisky and members of his family, and the U.S. authorities have frozen or seized his commercial real estate assets, including an office tower in Cleveland.

Two years ago, a freshly installed Mr. Zelensky was put through the mangle of American politics. A hangover still lingers.

In a phone call in July 2019, while withholding military aid, President Trump asked him for the “favor” of investigating Mr. Biden, a political adversary, and members of his family. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Biden of wrongdoing when he was vice president in the Obama administration.

Untangling this situation became an early headache for Mr. Zelensky in the first months of his presidency.

With seemingly little choice and his country at war and in need of the military assistance, Mr. Zelensky leaned toward helping in the scheme to discredit Mr. Biden. But Mr. Zelensky’s plans to publicly announce the investigation in September in a CNN interview, something that would have sealed his support for Mr. Trump’s position, never came to fruition. By then, a C.I.A. whistle-blower’s warning about the scheme became public and Mr. Zelensky was spared the need to pick a side.

Mr. Zelensky insisted that he had tried to remain neutral throughout, and his aides note that he never publicly endorsed Mr. Trump’s dirt-digging effort.

They say they see no reason for Mr. Biden to hold a grudge.

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting from Kyiv.

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Indian Official at G7 Talks in London Self-Isolates Over Covid Exposure Fears

LONDON — India’s foreign minister, visiting London for a gathering of ministers from the world’s top industrial powers, said on Wednesday that he was self-isolating after coming into contact with people who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the foreign minister, said on Twitter that he had been made aware of a possible exposure to positive coronavirus cases. “As a measure of abundant caution,” he said, he had decided to take part in the events virtually.

The event, held before a summit of leaders from the coterie of nations known as the Group of 7, has been heralded as the first major in-person diplomatic gathering since the pandemic began. Other members of India’s delegation were also isolating.

It comes as India is experiencing a devastating surge in coronavirus cases, and the news that the country’s delegation was self-isolating offered a telling reminder that while some nations with robust vaccination campaigns are moving to fully reopen, others remain in the throes of the pandemic.

according to the BBC. “As I understand it, what has happened is the individuals concerned are all isolating now.”

The Indian delegation had yet to attend central events being held at Lancaster House in London, but did participate in other meetings, including with Priti Patel, Britain’s home secretary.

received a vaccine dose. On the top of the agenda were discussions about cooperation between the two nations on coronavirus relief efforts. A surge in coronavirus cases has devastated India in recent weeks, with record numbers of daily new infections reported this week, and a lagging vaccine rollout worsening the problem.

Mr. Blinken also met with Dr. Jaishankar on Monday evening. The two delegations sat socially distanced and masked across from each other, according to reporters traveling with the secretary of state, and later gave brief remarks to the news media.

Dr. Jaishankar was also scheduled to attend a G7 dinner on Tuesday night with Mr. Blinken and other foreign ministers. It is unclear whether he attended.

Travel from India into Britain was recently restricted amid the surge in cases, with travel allowed only for British citizens and residents coming from India. Those who are allowed in must enter a mandatory hotel quarantine upon arrival. However, government guidelines offer exemptions to some of the measures for representatives of foreign countries who are traveling to the country on official business.

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Blinken and G-7 Allies Turn Their Focus to ‘Democratic Values’

LONDON — The Group of 7 was created to help coordinate economic policy among the world’s top industrial powers. In the four decades since, it has acted to combat energy shortages, global poverty and financial crises.

But as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken meets with fellow Group of 7 foreign ministers in London this week, a key item on the agenda will be what Mr. Blinken called, in remarks to the press on Monday, “defending democratic values and open societies.”

Implicitly, that defense is against China and, to a lesser extent, Russia. While the economic and public tasks of recovering from the coronavirus remain paramount, Mr. Blinken is also employing the Group of 7 — composed of the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan — to coordinate with allies in an emerging global competition between democracy and the authoritarian visions of Moscow and Beijing.

One twist in the meeting this week is the presence of nations that are not formal Group of 7 members: India, South Korea, Australia and South Africa. Also in attendance is Brunei, the current chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations.

Ash Jain, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Mr. Jain noted the way the group is now emphasizing common values over shared economic interests. “The G-7 is being rebranded as a group of like-minded democracies, as opposed to a group of ‘highly industrialized nations.’ They’re changing the emphasis,” he said.

Many of the countries represented at the meeting do big business with China and Russia, complicating efforts to align them against those nations. China’s pattern of economic coercion was one specific topic of conversation on Tuesday, participants said.

was expelled in 2014 from what was then the Group of 8 after its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Nor is it likely a coincidence that the expanded guest list matches, with the additions of South Africa and Brunei, a group of 10 countries and the European Union, collectively short-handed as the “D-10” by proponents of organizing them in a new world body. Those proponents include Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, the host of this week’s gathering and architect of its guest list.

Mr. Johnson has also invited India, Australia and South Korea to send their heads of state to this summer’s Group of 7 summit in Cornwall, citing his “ambition to work with a group of like-minded democracies to advance shared interests and tackle common challenges.”

President Biden has similarly suggested that the world is grouping into competing camps, divided by the openness of their political systems. In his address to Congress last week, Mr. Biden said that “America’s adversaries, the autocrats of the world, are betting” that the nation’s battered democracy cannot be restored.

also committed to holding a “Summit for Democracy” during his first year in office, and officials say planning for such an event is underway. Asked in a Tuesday interview with The Financial Times which countries might be invited to such a summit, Mr. Blinken did not answer directly.

And Wednesday’s agenda for the gathering includes a session on open societies, including issues of media freedom and disinformation. Other sessions over the two days include Syria, Russia and its neighbors Ukraine and Belarus, Myanmar, and Afghanistan.

interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” broadcast the night before, Mr. Blinken made clear how the United States views China’s rise.

Jeremy Shapiro, a former State Department official in the Obama administration who is now research director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that informally expanding the Group of 7 is far easier than constructing a new body.

“It is always a pain, from a governmental perspective, to invent a new forum, because you need to have an endless discussion about who’s in and who’s out, and how it works, and its relationship to the U.N.,” Mr. Shapiro said.

He added that the Group of 7, whose mission had grown nebulous in recent years, may have acquired a new sense of purpose as it tries to organize a post-Trump democratic world in the face of Chinese and Russian threats.

“You would be hard-pressed to look back the past five years or more since they kicked out Russia to name a single thing the G-7 has done of interest,” Mr. Shapiro said. “It didn’t have much to do.”

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North Korea Warns Biden Against ‘Hostile Policy’

SEOUL — North Korea said on Sunday that President Biden had made “a big blunder” by calling its nuclear arsenal a threat last week, and it warned that the United States would face “a very grave situation” if it maintained what it called a “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang.

The statement, attributed to a senior official, was one of three that the North released on Sunday directed at the United States and its ally South Korea. They included warnings that the North might respond to the Biden administration’s recent statements about the country with unspecified “corresponding measures.”

Mr. Biden made a brief reference to North Korea in his speech before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, saying that its nuclear program and Iran’s presented “serious threats to American security and the security of the world.” He said the United States and its allies would deal with them “through diplomacy as well as stern deterrence.”

“It is certain that the U.S. chief executive made a big blunder,” Kwon Jong-gun, a senior official at North Korea’s Foreign Ministry​, said in a statement published by the North’s state news media. He said Mr. Biden’s remark “clearly reflects his intent to keep enforcing the hostile policy toward” North Korea.

ended in 2019 with no agreement on dismantling the North’s nuclear weapons facilities or easing American-led sanctions imposed on the North.

On March 25, North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles, its first such test in a year. Analysts have since warned that the North could carry out more tests or other provocations in an attempt to bolster its leverage in any talks with the Biden administration.

The administration, which has been conducting a North Korea policy review, recently indicated that it would pursue a strategy somewhere between Mr. Trump’s direct outreach to Mr. Kim, in which he strove for a single, sweeping deal, and the “strategic patience” approach of former President Barack Obama, which sought to compel the North to negotiate through sanctions and other forms of pressure. Both approaches failed​, and North Korea has kept expanding its arsenal.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Friday that the administration “will not focus on achieving a grand bargain, nor will it rely on strategic patience.” She said it would seek “a calibrated, practical approach that is open to and will explore diplomacy” with North Korea and would try to “make practical progress that increases the security​”​ of the United States and its allies.

a statement ​last week ​by Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, who called North Korea “one of the most repressive and totalitarian states in the world.” Mr. Price cited “shoot-to-kill orders at the North Korea-China border” that American officials say the North has imposed since the emergence of Covid-19.

Also on Sunday, Mr. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, denounced South Korea for failing to stop a group of activists from using balloons to send propaganda leaflets across the countries’ border into the North.

Such launches, a tactic often used by defectors from North Korea campaigning against the Kim regime, were banned by South Korea in March, on the grounds that they needlessly provoked Pyongyang and endangered South Koreans living near the border. The North cited the propaganda launches last year when it blew up an office building on its soil where officials from both Koreas had worked together.

Park Sang-hak, who leads a defectors’ group in Seoul, said on Friday that his organization had defied the launch ban earlier in the week, releasing 10 large balloons carrying a half million leaflets. He accused ​the South Korean government of “gagging” the defectors and denying North Koreans the right to know how their leaders were seen by the outside world.

Ms. Kim, who serves as her brother’s spokeswoman on inter-Korean issues, called the defectors “human wastes” in her statement Sunday, characterizing the launch as “a serious provocation” and warning that the North would “look into corresponding action.”

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The Bureaucrat From Buffalo Who Pushed Somalia to the Brink

NAIROBI, Kenya — During his years as an administrator at the Department of Transportation in upstate New York, the Somali refugee turned American citizen took classes in political science, imbibing democratic values he hoped to one day export back to his homeland.

That dream came true for Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in 2017, when he returned to Somalia and was elected president in a surprise victory that evinced high hopes he might reform — even transform — his dysfunctional, war-weary country.

But those aspirations have crumbled since Mr. Mohamed failed to hold elections when his four-year term ended in February, then moved to extend his rule by two years — a step many Somalis viewed as a naked power grab.

A furious political dispute turned violent on Sunday when a series of gunfights broke out between rival military factions in the capital, Mogadishu, evoking fears that Somalia, after years of modest yet gradual progress, could descend into the kind of clan-based bloodshed that ripped it apart in the 1990s.

young Somalis determined to find a better future and progress in the fight against insurgents with Al Shabab, one of the world’s best organized and funded Al Qaeda affiliates.

Mr. Mohamed did not respond to a request for an interview or to questions sent to his aides.

Popularly known as “Farmaajo” — a derivation of the Italian word for cheese and purportedly his father’s favorite food — Mr. Mohamed was once the bearer of many Somalis’ hopes.

Mr. Mohamed was widely seen as less corrupt, more reform-oriented and less manipulated by foreign interests than the other 24 candidates.

“This is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation,” Mr. Mohamed told supporters shortly after winning the election.

Mr. Mohamed came to the United States in 1985 as a junior diplomat at the Somali Embassy and, as his country tumbled into conflict, decided to stay. A family friend said he first applied for political asylum in Canada, where his mother and siblings lived, and later obtained a Canadian passport.

But in the early 1990s, Mr. Mohamed, newly married, moved back to the United States where his family eventually settled in Grand Island, next to Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

back at his desk at the Department of Transportation in Buffalo, where he enforced nondiscrimination and affirmative action policies.

The great hopes many Somalis invested in Mr. Mohamed in 2017, when he won the presidency against all expectations, stemmed partly from his public image as a calm and bespectacled, if somewhat uncharismatic, technocrat. But disappointment soon set in.

human rights groups, United Nations and Western officials.

Mr. Yasin, a former journalist with Al Jazeera, had become a conduit for unofficial Qatari funds that were used to help get Mr. Mohamed elected, and which he used to solidify his political base while in power, the officials said — part of a wider proxy battle for influence between rival oil-wealthy Persian Gulf states in the strategically located country.

Some in Mr. Mohamed’s inner circle, including Colonel Sheikh, grew disillusioned and quit. “I said to myself: ‘These people are bad news,’” he said.

In 2019, Mr. Mohamed gave up his American citizenship. He didn’t explain the decision, but officials familiar with the matter pointed to one possible factor.

At the time Mr. Mohamed surrendered his passport, his finances had come under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service in the United States, said three Western officials familiar with the matter, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter about a foreign head of state.

cutting ties with neighboring Kenya in December as part of a long-running diplomatic dispute.

allying with the autocratic president of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, whose military has trained thousands of Somali troops, Western and Somali officials say.

“It comes as cash and it’s uncounted,” Abdirizak Mohamed, a former interior minister and now opposition lawmaker, said of the Qatari funds. “It’s an open secret.”

Now Mr. Mohamed is confined to Villa Somalia, the presidential compound in central Mogadishu, as military units loyal to his most powerful opponents — a coalition of presidential candidates and the leaders of two of Somalia’s five regional states — camp on a major junction a few hundred yards away.

Worried residents say they don’t know whether the president’s latest concession will offer a genuine opportunity for new talks, or a pause before rival fighters open fire again.

“I feel a lot of fear,” said Zahra Qorane Omar, a community organizer, by phone from Mogadishu. “We’ve gone through enough suffering. The bullet is not what this city or its people deserve.”

Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.

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Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. to Reveal New Guidance on Outdoor Mask-Wearing

have already dropped mask mandates and fully reopened indoor and outdoor venues, even for large sporting events. New York still has mask requirements.

On Tuesday morning, the health and human services secretary Xavier Becerra said on “CBS This Morning” that he hoped the new guidelines would incentivize people to get vaccinated.

“The message is clear: You’re vaccinated, guess what, you get to return to a more normal lifestyle,” he said. “If you’re not vaccinated, you’re still a danger, and you’re still in danger as well, so get vaccinated.”

A growing body of research indicates that the risk of spreading the virus is far lower outdoors than indoors. Viral particles disperse quickly outdoors, experts say, meaning brief encounters with a passing walker or jogger pose very little risk of transmission.

“That biker who whizzes by without a mask poses no danger to us, at least from a respiratory virus perspective,” Dr. Paul Sax, an infectious disease specialist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, wrote in a blog post for The New England Journal of Medicine.

A recent systematic review of studies that examined the transmission of the coronavirus and other respiratory viruses among unvaccinated individuals concluded that fewer than 10 percent of infections occurred outdoors and that the odds for indoor transmission were 18.7 times higher than outdoors. (The odds of superspreading events were 33 times higher indoors.)

But the paper’s author said that the low odds of transmission outdoors could simply reflect the fact that people had spent little time outside. In cases where transmission occurred outdoors, there was often also prolonged or frequent contact with another individual or a group of people, or an indoor component to an outdoor gathering, said Dr. Nooshin Razani, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco.

“It does happen: You can get infected outdoors,” she said. “It usually has to do with how long you’re with someone and how often you see them, and if you’re wearing a mask and if you’re close to each other.”

The C.D.C. currently recommends that vaccinated people should wear masks and maintain six feet of distance from others in public, including while taking public transportation such as buses, trains or planes and while in transportation hubs. It also recommends they continue to avoid crowds, large gatherings and poorly ventilated spaces.

Kevin Draper contributed reporting.

United States › United StatesOn Apr. 26 14-day change
New cases 47,430* –20%
New deaths 479 –2%

*New Jersey removed many cases

World › WorldOn Apr. 26 14-day change
New cases 357,449 +13%
New deaths 7,523 +3%
U.S. vaccinations › Where states are reporting vaccines givenFully vaccinated At least one dose

Other trackers:

Coronavirus patients in New Delhi waited on the street on Sunday to receive oxygen from a Sikh house of worship.
Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

As a second wave of the pandemic rages in India, which logged more than 300,000 new coronavirus cases for the sixth consecutive day on Tuesday, countries around the world are trying to help. But their efforts to send oxygen and other critical aid are unlikely to plug enough holes in India’s sinking health care system to end its deadly catastrophe.

The Indian health ministry reported more than 320,000 new cases and 2,771 deaths on Tuesday. Both figures represented slight declines from the previous day’s record highs, but experts said this was not a sign that the outbreak was easing. With enormous funeral pyres spilling into parking lots and city parks, there are signs that India’s reported overall toll of nearly 198,000 deaths could be a vast undercount.

Australia and the Philippines said on Tuesday they would pause commercial flights from India, joining Britain, Canada, Singapore and several other nations that have restricted travel from the country. Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, said his government would donate ventilators and protective equipment to help India contain the outbreak.

The emergency in India, where a worrying virus variant is spreading rapidly, is driving a new global surge in the pandemic. It also carries implications for countries relying on India for the AstraZeneca vaccine, millions of doses of which are manufactured there.

“It’s a desperate situation out there,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan, the founder and director of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, adding that donations would be welcome but might make only a “dent on the problem.”

Scientists fear that part of the problem is the emergence of a virus variant known as the “double mutant,” B.1.617, because it contains genetic mutations found in two other difficult-to-control versions of the coronavirus. One of the mutations is present in the highly contagious variant that ripped through California earlier this year. The other is similar to one found in the variant dominant in South Africa and is believed to make the virus more resistant to vaccines.

Still, scientists caution that it is too early to know with certainty how pernicious the variant emerging in India is.

Earlier this year, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi acted as if the coronavirus battle had been won, holding huge campaign rallies and permitting thousands to gather for a Hindu religious festival.

Now, Mr. Modi is striking a far more sober tone. He said in a nationwide radio address on Sunday that India has been “shaken” by a “storm.” And countries, companies and powerful members of the diaspora have pledged to pitch in.

Patients are suffocating in the capital, New Delhi, and other cities because hospitals’ oxygen supplies have run out. Frantic relatives have appealed on social media for leads on intensive-care-unit beds and experimental drugs. The government has extended New Delhi’s lockdown by another week.

India’s Supreme Court last week ordered the government to come up with a “national plan” for distributing oxygen supplies.

Mr. Modi appears to be looking to the rest of the world to help India quell the wave. Britain, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have promised oxygen generators or ventilators. The United States has pledged raw material for coronavirus vaccines and intends to share up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with other nations, so long as the doses clear a safety review conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, officials said Monday. Indian-American businessmen have pledged millions in cash from the companies they lead.

At a news conference on Monday, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the World Health Organization, called the situation in India “beyond heartbreaking.” He said the organization had deployed 2,600 staff members to India to provide vaccination help.

The world’s seven-day average of new cases has remained well above 750,000 for the past week, according to a New York Times database, higher than the peak average during the last global surge in January. Despite more than one billion shots having been administered globally, far too small a percentage of the world’s nearly eight billion people has been vaccinated to slow the virus’s spread.

A Sputnik V vaccine production line in Saint Petersburg, Russia in February.
Credit…Emile Ducke for The New York Times

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s health authority said late Monday that it would not recommend importing Sputnik V, the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Russia.

The need for vaccines is urgent in Brazil: The country has been battered by one of the world’s worst outbreaks, driven by the highly contagious P. 1 virus variant.

But the health authority, Anvisa, said that questions remained about the Russian vaccine’s development, safety and manufacturing. All five of Anvisa’s directors voted against importing the vaccine.

Data about Sputnik V’s efficacy was “uncertain,” Gustavo Mendes Lima Santos, Anvisa’s manager of medicine and biological products, said in a lengthy late-night presentation. He noted that “crucial questions” had gone unanswered, including those about potential adverse events.

Russia is using Sputnik V in its own mass vaccination campaign, and the vaccine has been approved for emergency use in dozens of countries. A peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet in February said the vaccine had an efficacy rate of 91.6 percent.

Brazil’s decision prompted a response at the highest level of the Russian government, which has been energetically promoting Sputnik V in Latin America at a time when the United States has limited its vaccine exports to reserve doses for its own citizens.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said on Tuesday that the Russian government would try to win over the Brazilian regulators’ minds about the vaccine’s safety. “Contacts will continue,” Mr. Peskov said on a conference call with journalists. “If data is missing, it will be provided. There should be no doubt in this.”

The official Sputnik V Twitter account have also pushed back, with a post in Portuguese on Monday saying that the vaccine’s developers had shared “all the necessary information and documentation” with Anvisa. In another tweet, it said Anvisa’s decision “was of a political nature” and had “nothing to do with access to information or science.” It alleged that the United States had persuaded Brazil to deny approval.

Anvisa officials were under immense pressure to deliver a decision on Sputnik V, because Brazilian states had contracts to buy almost 30 million doses. The Supreme Court ordered Anvisa to make a decision.

“The days of yes to the vaccine and to treatments are celebrated,” Alex Machado, an Anvisa director, said. “There will inevitably be days of no.”

Gov. Camilo Santana of Ceará, one of the states with a Sputnik V contract, said on Twitter that he respected Anvisa’s decision but found it strange, given that Sputnik V is being used in other countries. “I will keep fighting for this authorization, in a safe manner, following all the rules,” he said.

The Gamaleya Research Institute, part of Russia’s Ministry of Health, developed the vaccine, also known as Gam-Covid-Vac. The shot has been entangled in politics and propaganda, with President Vladimir V. Putin announcing its approval even before late-stage trials had begun.

Ana Carolina Moreira Marino Araújo, the general manager of the Anvisa department that inspects vaccine development, said at the meeting that Brazilian officials could not perform a full inspection of the Russian facilities.

She said officials who were in Russia last week were denied access to the Gamaleya Institute and inspected only two factories, finding problems in one of them. She also said Russian officials had tried to cancel the agency’s visit.

“At this moment, the inherent risk in manufacturing couldn’t be overcome,” Ms. Araújo concluded.

Thailand’s prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arriving at the Government House in Bangkok last month.
Credit…Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

With Thailand struggling to bring its worst coronavirus outbreak under control, Bangkok made it compulsory for residents to wear masks in public beginning on Monday. One of the first to break the new rule?

The country’s prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who was seen maskless at a government meeting in a photo published on his official Facebook page.

As a first-time offender, he agreed to pay a fine of about $190. Bangkok’s governor, Aswin Kwanmuang, came around with top police officials on Monday to help collect it.

“I informed the prime minister this was a violation of the rules,” the governor wrote on Facebook. The photograph was removed from the prime minister’s Facebook page.

For Mr. Prayuth, the gaffe is the least of his pandemic problems. His government has struggled to curb transmissions and been slow to obtain vaccines. As infections ticked upward earlier this month, he decided to let Thais continue to travel widely during a major holiday.

“Whatever will be will be,” he said then. “The government will have to try to cope with that later.”

Now, his government is scrambling to procure vaccines from a stretched global supply and rushing to set up field hospitals at sports stadiums and other locations as many hospitals report being near capacity. Only 0.3 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.

On Tuesday, the government reported 15 deaths, its highest daily total since the pandemic began, and more than 2,000 new cases for the fifth day in a row. That brings Thailand’s total for the pandemic to nearly 60,000 cases and 163 deaths, according to the government.

The numbers are low by global standards; Thailand was among the world’s leaders in containing the virus last year. Nearly 90 percent of its cases have come since Jan. 1.

Many provinces have imposed their own restrictions, including Bangkok, which has ordered the closure of more than 30 types of businesses, such as fitness centers, cinemas, bars and massage parlors. Restaurants, malls and department stores can continue operating but with restrictions.

Nearly two-thirds of Thailand’s provinces have imposed fines for failing to wear a mask in public. The maximum penalty is about $635.

Global Roundup

Walking near the Acropolis in Athens last month.
Credit…Byron Smith for The New York Times

Greece lifted quarantine requirements on Monday for arrivals from seven more countries, including Russia and Australia, continuing an easing of rules for foreign visitors before a formal reopening to tourists on May 15.

Last week, Greece ended quarantine restrictions for visitors from European Union member states as well as the United States, Britain, Serbia and the United Arab Emirates. The steps were similar to those put in place in March for arrivals from Israel, which has been far ahead of most of the world in vaccinations.

Greece is also stopping restrictions this week for visitors from New Zealand, South Korea, Thailand, Rwanda and Singapore.

Greece had previously required arrivals to quarantine themselves for seven days. It is waiving that rule for passengers from the listed countries as long as they produce a vaccination certificate or the results of a negative PCR test conducted within 72 hours of their arrival.

After heavy economic losses in 2020, the Greek authorities are determined to save this year’s summer tourist season despite experiencing a severe third wave of coronavirus infections. Health officials have said the infection rate is stabilizing, though slowly. Greek health officials have reported more than 334,000 infections and more than 10,000 deaths from the virus, according to a New York Times database.

A new concern is the appearance of the coronavirus variant that is believed to be fueling the worsening outbreak in India. On Sunday, health officials recorded the second case of that variant in Greece, found in a 33-year-old foreign woman who had traveled to Dubai in early April.

Greece’s high infection rate remains a worry for some governments. The U.S. State Department has advised against travel to Greece, citing a “very high level” of coronavirus cases. Greek health officials have expanded testing in recent weeks as they gradually lift lockdown restrictions, with bars and restaurants scheduled to reopen on May 3 after a six-month hiatus.

In other updates from around the world:

The entrance of the Hilton Times Square. A new proposal would give the City Council the ability to approve all new hotel development in New York City.
Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

New York City leaders, led by Mayor Bill de Blasio, are closing in on a plan to drastically restrict hotel development, a move that the mayor’s own experts fear could endanger the city’s post-pandemic recovery.

It came days after the mayor announced a $30 million advertising campaign to draw tourists to the city again.

Before the pandemic, in 2019, 67 million tourists flocked to the city. About 23 million visited last year, and much of the city’s recovery hinges on bringing those visitors back.

But building hotels would become more challenging under the special approval process envisioned by Mr. de Blasio, said Moses Gates, vice president of housing and neighborhood planning at the Regional Plan Association, an influential nonprofit planning group.

Before the pandemic decimated the hotel sector, there were nearly 128,000 hotel rooms in New York City, and hotels had annual occupancy rates that averaged between 85 and 90 percent, which the city says “were among the highest of any urban market in the United States.”

Now, roughly 30 percent of those rooms have closed. New York City’s occupancy rate this month stood at 53 percent, excluding the closed hotels, according to STR, which tracks the hospitality industry.

Having a drink or two after the shot will not make any of the vaccines less effective.
Credit…Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

After a long year and a lot of anticipation, getting the vaccine can be cause for celebration, which for some might mean pouring a drink and toasting to their new immunity. But can alcohol interfere with your immune response?

The short answer is that it depends on how much you drink.

There is no evidence that having a drink or two can render any of the current Covid vaccines less effective. Some studies have even found that over the longer term, small or moderate amounts of alcohol might actually benefit the immune system by reducing inflammation.

Heavy alcohol consumption, on the other hand, particularly over the long term, can suppress the immune system and potentially interfere with your vaccine response, experts say. Since it can take weeks after a Covid shot for the body to generate protective levels of antibodies against the novel coronavirus, anything that interferes with the immune response would be cause for concern.

Health care workers prepared doses of a Covid-19 vaccine in Buffalo, W.Va., last month. Gov. Jim Justice announced a plan to give savings bonds to young people who get vaccinated.
Credit…Stephen Zenner/Getty Images

West Virginia will give $100 savings bonds to 16- to 35-year-olds who get a Covid-19 vaccine, Gov. Jim Justice said on Monday.

There are roughly 380,000 West Virginians in that age group, many of whom have already gotten at least one shot, but Mr. Justice said he hoped the money would motivate the rest to get inoculated, as “they’re not taking the vaccines as fast as we’d like them to take them.”

The state will use federal funds from the CARES Act to pay for the bonds, Mr. Justice, a Republican, said at a news conference, adding that he had “vetted this every way that we possibly can” to ensure that the unconventional use of the funds was allowed.

The bonds will be also be available to anyone in that age group who has already been vaccinated, Mr. Justice said.

West Virginia has the 16th highest rate of new coronavirus cases per person among U.S. states and ranks 12th in hospitalizations, according to a New York Times database.

Mr. Justice said the state needed to stop the virus “dead in its tracks,” and that if it did, “these masks go away, the hospitalizations go away, the death toll and the body bags start to absolutely become minimal.”

Earlier this year, at the start of the country’s vaccination effort, West Virginia had stood out for its success in vaccinating its residents. At one point, it had administered second doses to more of its population than any other state; it was also behind only Alaska for the percent of its residents that had received a first dose.

But now West Virginia is fallen behind, ahead of only nine states for the portion of its residents that have had a first dose, according to a New York Times database tracking vaccines.

Mr. Justice said that young West Virginians could “always stand an extra dose of patriotism.” He urged them to “accept that wonderful savings bond” — which will allow the recipient to retrieve the $100, plus interest, at a later date — adding, “I hope that you keep it for a long, long, long time.”

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Biden Administration Hopes to Learn Fate of U.S. Hostage in Syria

Other partners, like the Vatican, also failed to secure Mr. Tice’s release. The Trump administration had even talked to an unidentified Hollywood actor about reaching out to the Syrian government. While some Trump administration officials thought Moscow could intervene, Russia was also ultimately unhelpful.

Two other Americans who had been held by the Syrian government have been released. Kevin Patrick Dawes, a freelance photographer, was released in 2016 after nearly four years in captivity. Sam Goodwin was freed in 2019 after being held for two months. Both men were held for far shorter times than Mr. Tice. Mr. Dawes said he was brutally beaten, while Mr. Goodwin said he could hear “others being tortured around me every day.”

Discovering the fate of Mr. Tice remained elusive to administration officials, including Robert C. O’Brien, the former hostage negotiator who rose to be Mr. Trump’s national security adviser in the fall of 2019. Mr. O’Brien, who had lost his own son in an accident, pushed to get Mr. Tice home.

In March 2020, Mr. Trump wrote a letter to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria asking for Mr. Tice’s release and proposing a direct dialogue.

Following up, the Trump administration in August 2020 dispatched two senior officials to Syria: Mr. Carstens, the hostage czar, and Kashyap Patel, who held senior White House, Pentagon and intelligence posts. Besides securing Mr. Tice’s release, the Americans had also hoped to cut a deal to free Majd Kamalmaz, a Syrian-American.

A retired Army lieutenant colonel who has held senior State Department posts, Mr. Carstens has been deeply involved in the Tice case, and he and Mr. Patel met with Mr. Mamlouk.

Mr. Mamlouk told them he wanted American troops out of Syria and relations between the two countries normalized before Syria would allow any progress on the Tice case. Still, the spy chief never acknowledged that the Syrians were holding Mr. Tice, continuing a pattern of almost nine years.

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U.S. to Send Virus-Ravaged India Materials for Vaccines

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration, under increasing pressure to address a devastating surge of the coronavirus in India, said on Sunday that it had partially lifted a ban on the export of raw materials for vaccines and would also supply India with therapeutics, rapid diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective gear.

“Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, the United States is determined to help India in its time of need,” Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said in a statement on Sunday.

The announcement, an abrupt shift for the administration, came after Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, held a call earlier in the day with Ajit Doval, his counterpart in India, and as the Indian government reported more than 349,000 new infections, a world record for a single day. Ms. Horne said the United States had “identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine,” the Indian-produced version of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The situation in India is dire. The country is witnessing perhaps the worst crisis any nation has suffered since the pandemic began, with hospitals overflowing and desperate people dying in line waiting to see doctors — and mounting evidence that the actual death toll is far higher than officially reported. Officials say they are running desperately low on supplies, including oxygen and protective gear, as a deadly new variant is thought to be behind a rise in cases.

New York Times database — even though India is producing two vaccines on its own soil.

Yet even as horrifying images of strained hospitals and orange flames from mass cremation sites circulated around the world last week, administration officials had pushed back as pressure mounted for the United States to broaden its effort to combat the surge in India. For Mr. Biden, the crisis in India amounts to a clash of competing forces. The president came into office vowing to restore America’s place as a leader in global health, and he has repeatedly said the pandemic does not stop at the nation’s borders.

But he is also grappling with the legacy of his predecessor’s “America First” approach, and he must weigh his instincts to help the world against the threat of a political backlash for giving vaccines away before every American has had a chance to get a shot. As of Sunday, 28.5 percent of Americans were fully vaccinated, and 42.2 percent had had at least one dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“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,” Mr. Biden said last month, after he committed to providing financial support to help Biological E, a major vaccine manufacturer in India, produce at least one billion doses of coronavirus vaccines by the end of 2022.

But Mr. Biden’s commitments have gone only so far. India and South Africa have asked the World Trade Organization 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. The administration is blocking that request.

Canada and Mexico.

Tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are sitting stockpiled in the United States, and Mr. Biden said last week that he was considering sharing more. But the vaccine was manufactured at the Emergent BioSolutions plant in Baltimore, where production has been halted amid concerns about possible contamination.

“We’re looking at what is going to be done with some of the vaccines that we are not using,” the president said on Wednesday. “We’ve got to make sure they are safe to be sent.”

The statement on Sunday did not mention the possibility of the United States directly sending vaccines to India. But in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said the United States would consider sending some doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine there.

“I don’t want to be speaking for policy right now with you, but, I mean, that’s something that certainly is going to be actively considered,” Dr. Fauci said.

India is home to the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker. But vaccine production has lagged behind the needs of India’s 1.3 billion people. Adar Poonawalla, the institute’s chief executive, appealed to Mr. Biden in mid-April over Twitter.

would not lift its ban, Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, told reporters that “the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people.”

The resistance was met with criticism from Indian politicians and health experts.

“By stockpiling vaccines & blocking the export of crucial raw materials needed for vaccine production, the United States is undermining the strategic Indo-US partnership,” Milind Deora, a politician from Mumbai, one of the hardest-hit cities, said on Twitter.

In addition to assisting India with protective gear and raw materials, Ms. Horne said on Sunday that the United States would deploy a team of public health advisers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Jeffrey Gettleman contributed reporting from New Delhi, and Chris Cameron from Washington.

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U.S. to Send India Vaccine Materials and Other Aid

Under pressure from vaccine makers in India who say they need supplies to combat a surge in coronavirus cases, the Biden administration said on Sunday that it had partially lifted a ban against the export of raw materials needed to make vaccines.

“The United States has identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield vaccine that will immediately be made available for India,” Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the national security counsel, said in a statement on Sunday. Covishield is the India-produced version of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

The announcement came after Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, held a call earlier in the day with Ajit Doval, his counterpart in India, and a day after the Indian government reported more than 346,000 new infections, a world record. Government officials in India say they are running desperately low on supplies, including oxygen and protective gear. A new variant, B.1.617, is thought to be at least partly the cause of the catastrophic rise in cases.

Previously, Biden administration officials had pushed back as pressure mounted for the United States to broaden its effort to combat the surge in India, even as horrifying images of strained hospitals and orange flames from mass cremation sites circulated around the world.

would not lift its ban on exporting raw materials, Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, told reporters that “the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people.”

The resistance was met with criticism from Indian politicians and health experts.

“By stockpiling vaccines & blocking the export of crucial raw materials needed for vaccine production, the United States is undermining the strategic Indo-US partnership,” Milind Deora, a politician from Mumbai, one of the hardest-hit cities, said on Twitter.

appealed to Mr. Biden less than two weeks ago to “lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up.” His company this week faced criticism in India for the high price of its vaccines.

manufactured at a troubled Baltimore factory operated by Emergent BioSolutions. On April 16, the factory halted operations at the request of the Food and Drug Administration after the discovery that some doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine also made there had been contaminated with components from the AstraZeneca vaccine, and vice versa.

Canadian and Mexican officials said that they had received assurances from AstraZeneca that the millions of doses they received were safe. Some of the doses have been distributed to the public in both countries, the officials said.

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