Why Apple and Google’s Virus Alert Apps Had Limited Success

Sarah Cavey, a real estate agent in Denver, was thrilled last fall when Colorado introduced an app to warn people of possible coronavirus exposures.

Based on software from Apple and Google, the state’s smartphone app uses Bluetooth signals to detect users who come into close contact. If a user later tests positive, the person can anonymously notify other app users whom the person may have crossed paths with in restaurants, on trains or elsewhere.

Ms. Cavey immediately downloaded the app. But after testing positive for the virus in February, she was unable to get the special verification code she needed from the state to warn others, she said, even after calling Colorado’s health department three times.

“They advertise this app to make people feel good,” Ms. Cavey said, adding that she had since deleted the app, called CO Exposure Notifications, in frustration. “But it’s not really doing anything.”

announced last year that they were working together to create a smartphone-based system to help stem the virus, their collaboration seemed like a game changer. Human contact tracers were struggling to keep up with spiking virus caseloads, and the trillion-dollar rival companies — whose systems run 99 percent of the world’s smartphones — had the potential to quickly and automatically alert far more people.

Soon Austria, Switzerland and other nations introduced virus apps based on the Apple-Google software, as did some two dozen American states, including Alabama and Virginia. To date, the apps have been downloaded more than 90 million times, according to an analysis by Sensor Tower, an app research firm.

But some researchers say the companies’ product and policy choices limited the system’s usefulness, raising questions about the power of Big Tech to set global standards for public health tools.

Stephen Farrell and Doug Leith, computer science researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, wrote in a report in April on Ireland’s virus alert app.

CA Notify in December, about 65,000 people have used the system to alert other app users, the state said.

“Exposure notification technology has shown success,” said Dr. Christopher Longhurst, the chief information officer of UC San Diego Health, which manages California’s app. “Whether it’s hundreds of lives saved or dozens or a handful, if we save lives, that’s a big deal.”

In a joint statement, Apple and Google said: “We’re proud to collaborate with public health authorities and provide a resource — which many millions of people around the world have enabled — that has helped protect public health.”

Based in part on ideas developed by Singapore and by academics, Apple and Google’s system incorporated privacy protections that gave health agencies an alternative to more invasive apps. Unlike virus-tracing apps that continuously track users’ whereabouts, the Apple and Google software relies on Bluetooth signals, which can estimate the distance between smartphones without needing to know people’s locations. And it uses rotating ID codes — not real names — to log app users who come into close contact for 15 minutes or more.

said last year in a video promoting the country’s alert system, called Corona-Warn-App.

But the apps never received the large-scale efficacy testing typically done before governments introduce public health interventions like vaccines. And the software’s privacy features — which prevent government agencies from identifying app users — have made it difficult for researchers to determine whether the notifications helped hinder virus transmission, said Michael T. Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“The apps played virtually no role at all in our being able to investigate outbreaks that occurred here,” Dr. Osterholm said.

Some limitations emerged even before the apps were released. For one thing, some researchers note, exposure notification software inherently excludes certain vulnerable populations, such as elderly people who cannot afford smartphones. For another thing, they say, the apps may send out false alarms because the system is not set up to incorporate mitigation factors like whether users are vaccinated, wearing masks or sitting outside.

Proximity detection in virus alert apps can also be inconsistent. Last year, a study on Google’s system for Android phones conducted on a light-rail tram in Dublin reported that the metal walls, flooring and ceilings distorted Bluetooth signal strength to such a degree that the chance of accurate proximity detection would be “similar to that of triggering notifications by randomly selecting” passengers.

Kimbley Craig, the mayor of Salinas, Calif. Last December, when virus rates there were spiking, she said, she downloaded the state’s exposure notification app on her Android phone and soon after tested positive for Covid-19. But after she entered the verification code, she said, the system failed to send an alert to her partner, whom she lives with and who had also downloaded the app.

“If it doesn’t pick up a person in the same household, I don’t know what to tell you,” Mayor Craig said.

In a statement, Steph Hannon, Google’s senior director of product management for exposure notifications, said that there were “known challenges with using Bluetooth technology to approximate the precise distance between devices” and that the company was continuously working to improve accuracy.

The companies’ policies have also influenced usage trends. In certain U.S. states, for instance, iPhone users can activate the exposure notifications with one click — by simply turning on a feature on their settings — but Android users must download a separate app. As a result, about 9.6 million iPhone users in California had turned on the notifications as of May 10, the state said, far outstripping the 900,000 app downloads on Android phones.

Google said it had built its system for states to work on the widest range of devices and be deployed as quickly as possible.

Some public health experts acknowledged that the exposure alert system was an experiment in which they, and the tech giants, were learning and incorporating improvements as they went along.

One issue they discovered early on: To hinder false alarms, states verify positive test results before a person can send out exposure notifications. But local labs can sometimes take days to send test results to health agencies, limiting the ability of app users to quickly alert others.

In Alabama, for instance, the state’s GuideSafe virus alert app has been downloaded about 250,000 times, according to Sensor Tower. But state health officials said they had been able to confirm the positive test results of only 1,300 app users. That is a much lower number than health officials would have expected, they said, given that more than 10 percent of Alabamians have tested positive for the coronavirus.

“The app would be a lot more efficient if those processes were less manual and more automated,” said Dr. Scott Harris, who oversees the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Colorado, which automatically issues the verification codes to people who test positive, has reported higher usage rates. And in California, UC San Diego Health has set up a dedicated help line that app users can call if they did not receive their verification codes.

Dr. Longhurst, the medical center’s chief information officer, said the California app had proved useful as part of a larger statewide public health push that also involved mask-wearing and virus testing.

“It’s not a panacea,” he said. But “it can be an effective part of a pandemic response.”

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Belarus Plane Crisis Tightens Lukashenko’s Awkward Embrace of Putin

MOSCOW — He may be the Kremlin’s closest ally, but his loyalty remains in doubt.

When Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, the eccentric and brutal leader of Belarus, forced down a European passenger jet on Sunday to arrest a dissident, he ushered in a new and even more brittle phase in one of the post-Soviet region’s most convoluted and consequential relationships: the one between Mr. Lukashenko and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The two are increasingly leaning on each other in the face of conflict with the West, but they have sharply diverging interests. Mr. Lukashenko, who has ruled for 26 years, relies on his iron grip on his country to assure his survival. Mr. Putin wants to expand Russian influence in Belarus, undermining Mr. Lukashenko’s authority in the process.

Now, with a summit meeting with President Biden looming in June, Mr. Putin faces a choice over how much political capital to expend to continue supporting Mr. Lukashenko, whose commandeering of the Ryanair plane has complicated the Kremlin’s efforts to smooth relations with the West. Russian officials and pro-Kremlin news outlets have taken Mr. Lukashenko’s side in the furor, but Mr. Lukashenko’s leading Belarusian opponents believe that the Kremlin’s support is only skin deep.

“In the Russian Foreign Ministry, in the Kremlin, I think that people can’t stand Lukashenko,” Franak Viacorka, a senior adviser to the exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, said in a telephone interview. “But at the same time, since there’s not anyone more pro-Russian, they prefer to keep Lukashenko for now.”

Roman Protasevich — who had been on a Belarusian list of “terrorists” because he co-founded a social-media outlet that galvanized and organized last year’s protests.

On Monday, the Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told journalists in his regular daily briefing that he could not comment on the Ryanair incident. “It is up to the international authorities to assess the case,” he said.

It took another 24 hours for the Kremlin to formulate its final message; Belarus’s actions were “in line with international regulations,” Mr. Peskov said on Tuesday.

as directed by E.U. leaders who voiced outrage over what they called Mr. Lukashenko’s “hijacking.” But speaking in a marble-paneled hall of the Minsk House of Government, Mr. Lukashenko was defiant, claiming that a bomb threat against the plane had arrived from Switzerland.

“Don’t you cast blame on me!” Mr. Lukashenko thundered, jabbing his finger into the air. “I acted legally defending my people, and it will also be thus in the future.”

In Moscow, Mr. Lukashenko is widely seen as a frustrating and fickle partner. Despite his reliance on the Kremlin, for instance, he still has not recognized as valid the annexation of Crimea in 2014, which many Russians see as Mr. Putin’s crowning foreign policy achievement.

“It’s a pretty serious mistake to think that Moscow can snap its fingers to solve its problems in Minsk,” said Pavel Slunkin, a former Belarusian diplomat who resigned last year in protest against Mr. Lukashenko’s policies. “Lukashenko will try to avoid further dependence on Moscow in every possible way.”

Andrei Kortunov, the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a Moscow research institute co-founded by the Russian Foreign Ministry, likened Mr. Lukashenko to the Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad, another difficult Kremlin ally.

After Russia propped up Mr. Lukashenko in his hour of need last summer, long-sought benefits were expected to accrue to the Kremlin. Mr. Lukashenko could have signed an agreement for a Russian military base in Belarus or allowed Russian investment into major Belarusian enterprises on favorable terms. But despite three face-to-face meetings between Mr. Lukashenko and Mr. Putin since last September — a fourth is expected in the coming days — none of that materialized.

“You’d think: The regime was saved, and he should have paid,” Mr. Kortunov said of Mr. Lukashenko. “But we’re not seeing that.”

Continuing to prop up Mr. Lukashenko could be costly for Mr. Putin, Mr. Kortunov warned. As Mr. Putin prepares for a summit meeting with President Biden scheduled to take place in Geneva on June 16, Russian officials have telegraphed that they want to lower tensions with the United States. One factor is domestic politics: Amid protests and discontent over economic stagnation, the Kremlin faces a public disapproving of foreign adventurism.

“The social contract of, ‘We won’t give you sausage, but we’ll make Russia a great power’ — this no longer works,” Mr. Kortunov said, describing Mr. Putin’s approach. “He understands that he needs to change the agenda. He won’t win any more with foreign policy.”

Mr. Lukashenko’s opponents are now pushing for the United States and Europe to enact more sanctions against Belarus that would further isolate him and perhaps provoke a split in the elite. Ms. Tikhanovskaya, the opposition leader, spent nearly 40 minutes on the phone earlier this week with Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, her aide, Mr. Viacorka, said.

“When the Belarusian issue is discussed in the context of the Russian one, it becomes impossible to solve,” Mr. Viacorka said.

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Cable-Car Tragedy Shakes a Town Already Wounded by the Pandemic

STRESA, Italy — The sun shone brightly Sunday on Lago Maggiore, a spectacular alpine lake that traverses the Italian-Swiss border. Fabrizio Bertoletti, the owner of a small hotel with a restaurant perched atop Mottarone mountain, was feeling upbeat.

After months of off-and-on coronavirus restrictions, restaurants and hotels here were finally starting to open. Indoor dining is still banned but, he said, “it was a beautiful day and people weren’t going to complain even if they had to eat outside.”

On a terrace with breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains that cradle it, Mr. Bertoletti’s restaurant can seat about 70, and it was completely booked. The hotel and restaurant, aptly named “Eden,” sit just a few feet from the upper station of a cable car that links the summit to the lakeside town of Stresa, a popular vacation destination almost 5,000 feet below.

“We were feeling relieved, there was a sense of re-beginning. And then … ” Mr. Bertoletti’s voice trailed off.

a cable car carrying 15 passengers plunged to the ground. All but one died. The sole survivor, 5-year-old Eitan Biran, lost both of his parents, his 2-year-old brother and two great-grandparents.

“All the seasons of life were in that cabin,” said the Reverend Gian Luca Villa, Stresa’s parish priest.

It is an incomprehensible loss for the victims’ families, but people here cannot help noting that it is also another in a series of blows, stretching back more than a year, for a tourism-dependent area that has suffered greatly from the pandemic.

Borromeo family, and an annual music festival in the fall.

The lake, more than 30 miles long, lies on the boundary between the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, making it a favorite getaway for people from Milan and Turin, and it also draws many foreigners. The tourist season normally begins at Easter and lasts well into autumn, luring visitors with mild temperatures and colors of leaf-turning brilliance.

But last year, in March and April, Lombardy became the first part of Europe to be hit in full force by the new virus, which killed tens of thousands of people here.

The pandemic put a halt to most vacation plans, and several hotels around the lake never opened their doors. Proximity to Switzerland, which had less stringent coronavirus rules, penalized towns on the Italian side, said Gian Maria Vincenzi, the president of the local hoteliers’ association.

The cable car accident “is a tragedy within the tragedy of Covid, which nearly wiped out work,” he said.

Antonio Zacchera, whose family owns four hotels on Lago Maggiore, said that last year, two remained shuttered.

“About a quarter of our clients are Americans, and the fact that we were dependent on foreigners used to be an advantage,” he said. But with pandemic-induced travel restrictions, “it was a disadvantage this round.”

Like other hoteliers in the area, Mr. Zacchera made rooms available to the families of the cable-car victims. “Our first thoughts are with them,” he said.

The cable car was popular with tourists, but also with locals, who would ride to the top to get to the ski schools in winter, or just for the view. “You never thought anything bad could happen, until it does, and it’s a disaster,” said Alberto De Martini, the owner of the Enoteca Da Giannino in Stresa’s central square, as he sanitized his restaurant’s tables and chairs.

On Monday, the city commemorated the dead, ringing bells and shuttering stores for 14 minutes, one for each victim. Massimo Colla, the owner of the wine bar and bistro Al Buscion, said he kept it closed for the entire day. “When tragedy happens close to home, you feel it intensely,” he said. “It’s going to take time for the city to get over this.”

Father Villa, the priest, said that he had gathered the faithful in prayer soon after the crash and held other services on Monday. With the city, he has planned a commemorative mass on Wednesday, for the emergency workers and others who combed the mountainside searching, mostly in vain, for survivors among the dead. He said that 14 candles would be lit during the service and the victims would be named and remembered, one by one.

Marcella Severino, Stresa’s mayor of just eight months, said she was looking for a permanent way to commemorate the victims. “May 23 will be our September 11,” she said in an emotional interview in her office.

“Though citizens were in shock,” she said that locals had stepped up as best they could. Civil protection volunteers immediately arrived on the scene, along with the emergency workers. Hotel owners took in victims’ families, taxi drivers transported people without charge and local health authorities had provided psychologists.

“People come to Stresa because they feel safe,” Ms. Severino said — the town is small and tight-knit, with little crime. “Obviously, for the families of the victims, Stresa will become a nefarious name,” she said. “But I hope that they will remember how the city tried to be close to them.”

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Italian Cable Car Tragedy Shakes a Town Already Wounded by the Pandemic

STRESA, Italy — The sun shone brightly Sunday on Lago Maggiore, a spectacular alpine lake that traverses the Italian-Swiss border. Fabrizio Bertoletti, the owner of a small hotel with a restaurant perched atop Mottarone mountain, was feeling upbeat.

After months of off-and-on coronavirus restrictions, restaurants and hotels here were finally starting to open. Indoor dining is still banned but, he said, “it was a beautiful day and people weren’t going to complain even if they had to eat outside.”

On a terrace with breathtaking views of the lake and the mountains that cradle it, Mr. Bertoletti’s restaurant can seat about 70, and it was completely booked. The hotel and restaurant, aptly named “Eden,” sit just a few feet from the upper station of a cable car that links the summit to the lakeside town of Stresa, a popular vacation destination almost 5,000 feet below.

“We were feeling relieved, there was a sense of re-beginning. And then … ” Mr. Bertoletti’s voice trailed off.

a cable car carrying 15 passengers plunged to the ground. All but one died. The sole survivor, 5-year-old Eitan Biran, lost both of his parents, his 2-year-old brother and two great-grandparents.

“All the seasons of life were in that cabin,” said the Reverend Gian Luca Villa, Stresa’s parish priest.

It is an incomprehensible loss for the victims’ families, but people here cannot help noting that it is also another in a series of blows, stretching back more than a year, for a tourism-dependent area that has suffered greatly from the pandemic.

Borromeo family, and an annual music festival in the fall.

The lake, more than 30 miles long, lies on the boundary between the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, making it a favorite getaway for people from Milan and Turin, and it also draws many foreigners. The tourist season normally begins at Easter and lasts well into autumn, luring visitors with mild temperatures and colors of leaf-turning brilliance.

But last year, in March and April, Lombardy became the first part of Europe to be hit in full force by the new virus, which killed tens of thousands of people here.

The pandemic put a halt to most vacation plans, and several hotels around the lake never opened their doors. Proximity to Switzerland, which had less stringent coronavirus rules, penalized towns on the Italian side, said Gian Maria Vincenzi, the president of the local hoteliers’ association.

The cable car accident “is a tragedy within the tragedy of Covid, which nearly wiped out work,” he said.

Antonio Zacchera, whose family owns four hotels on Lago Maggiore, said that last year, two remained shuttered.

“About a quarter of our clients are Americans, and the fact that we were dependent on foreigners used to be an advantage,” he said. But with pandemic-induced travel restrictions, “it was a disadvantage this round.”

Like other hoteliers in the area, Mr. Zacchera made rooms available to the families of the cable-car victims. “Our first thoughts are with them,” he said.

The cable car was popular with tourists, but also with locals, who would ride to the top to get to the ski schools in winter, or just for the view. “You never thought anything bad could happen, until it does, and it’s a disaster,” said Alberto De Martini, the owner of the Enoteca Da Giannino in Stresa’s central square, as he sanitized his restaurant’s tables and chairs.

On Monday, the city commemorated the dead, ringing bells and shuttering stores for 14 minutes, one for each victim. Massimo Colla, the owner of the wine bar and bistro Al Buscion, said he kept it closed for the entire day. “When tragedy happens close to home, you feel it intensely,” he said. “It’s going to take time for the city to get over this.”

Father Villa, the priest, said that he had gathered the faithful in prayer soon after the crash and held other services on Monday. With the city, he has planned a commemorative mass on Wednesday, for the emergency workers and others who combed the mountainside searching, mostly in vain, for survivors among the dead. He said that 14 candles would be lit during the service and the victims would be named and remembered, one by one.

Marcella Severino, Stresa’s mayor of just eight months, said she was looking for a permanent way to commemorate the victims. “May 23 will be our September 11,” she said in an emotional interview in her office.

“Though citizens were in shock,” she said that locals had stepped up as best they could. Civil protection volunteers immediately arrived on the scene, along with the emergency workers. Hotel owners took in victims’ families, taxi drivers transported people without charge and local health authorities had provided psychologists.

“People come to Stresa because they feel safe,” Ms. Severino said — the town is small and tight-knit, with little crime. “Obviously, for the families of the victims, Stresa will become a nefarious name,” she said. “But I hope that they will remember how the city tried to be close to them.”

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Italy Wins 2020 Eurovision Song Contest

The Eurovision Song Contest, the first major global cultural event to be held in person since the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, ended in a triumph for Italy’s Maneskin, who won with a hard-rocking song called “Zitti E Buoni.”

The song received 524 points in voting from national juries and the public, beating France’s entrant, Barbara Pravi, by 25 points, and was cheered to victory by over 3,500 Dutch fans at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

“We just want to say to the whole Europe, to the whole world, rock ‘n’ roll never dies!” said Damiano David, the band’s lead singer, accepting the prize.

Maneskin, a rare rock winner in a contest whose previous winners include Abba and Celine Dion, beat 25 other acts, some unusual even for Eurovision standards, including a folk-techno act from Ukraine, a feminist Russian pop star and an Icelandic disco band.

The show will be seen by many around the world as a sign that major cultural events, featuring competitors from dozens of countries, can be held successfully if sufficient measures are put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus.

In the run up to Saturday’s event, contestants had to undergo regular coronavirus testing, adhere to social distancing rules and stay in their hotels if not attending rehearsals.

The measures were not enough to stop the pandemic from intruding entirely on the event. Last Saturday, a member of the Polish delegation tested positive for Covid-19. The following day so did a member of Iceland’s entry, the hotly tipped disco act Dadi Freyr and Gagnamagnid, who were staying at the same hotel.

This was Italy’s third win since the contest’s creation in 1956; its previous triumph was in 1990, with Toto Cutugno.

Testifying to the strength of the field, the lead kept changing as the votes from the various national juries came in, with Switzerland in the top spot by then, followed by France and Malta. But the popular vote upended the ranking, and Italy passed its competitors.

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What We Learned From the 2021 Eurovision Grand Final

Eurovision 2021 was an audacious experiment in overcoming the coronavirus — but it was about more than that. What else did it tell us?

Maneskin’s win with “Zitti E Buoni,” a song filled with off-color lines and lyrics about smoking, was not the only sign of a rock resurgence. Finland’s Blind Channel came in sixth with an angry nu-metal song called “Dark Side,” while The Black Mamba, representing Portugal, came in 12th with “Love Is On My Side,” a piece of classic 1970s rock music that wouldn’t have been out of place in Paul McCartney’s back catalog.

For the past few years, Spanish-language pop has surged in the American and European pop charts thanks to acts like Bad Bunny, Rosalía and C. Tangana. Is now the hour for French? On Saturday, Barbara Pravi came second for France with “Voilà” — a traditional slice of chanson that many critics compared to the songs of Édith Piaf. Third place went to Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears with “Tout l’Univers,” also in French.

James Newman, Britain’s entry, suffered the biggest embarrassment of the night — receiving no points from the judges, and none from the public either. It’s the first time Britain has finished with zero since 2003. Could it have something to do with Britain’s departure from the European Union?

But, also, maybe it doesn’t. Germany, the dominant force in European politics, — received only three votes on Saturday, coming in second-to-last. Spain’s entry won just six votes; the Netherlands, 11.

The voting process for Eurovision is convoluted and takes hours, involving juries spread across 39 nations — some nowhere near Europe, like Australia — as well as a separate vote by the public. But on Saturday, the ballot tally was a highlight of the contest. As the votes were announced, the lead switched several times between acts, with France and Switzerland seeming to be likely winners at first, before Iceland came into contention, and Italy stormed through with huge public support. It might be complicated, but perhaps other major prize ceremonies, like the Grammy Awards, should consider adopting such systems and getting the public involved, too.

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The Week in Business: A Ransom for Fuel

Good morning and happy Sunday. Here’s what you need to know in business and tech news for the week ahead. — Charlotte Cowles

Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

A cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline, one of the biggest fuel arteries in the United States, pushed the average price of gas above $3 per gallon for the first time since 2014. Fearing a shortage, panicked buyers lined up at the pump, which, of course, made the problem worse. To appease the hackers, who are believed to be part of a foreign organized crime group, Colonial Pipeline paid nearly $5 million in ransom — a capitulation that could embolden other criminals to take American companies hostage. The pipeline’s operators restored service late last week but said the supply chain would need several days to return to normal.

A new report from the Labor Department confirmed what you may have noticed: Prices for consumer goods like clothes, food and other household goods were up 4 percent in April from a year ago, blowing past forecasts. Economists are attributing the spike to pandemic-related issues like higher shipping and fuel costs, supply disruptions, rising demand and understaffing at factories and distribution centers. The Federal Reserve tried to assuage fears of inflation by insisting that the increase was temporary. But the news spooked the stock market all the same. And retail sales in April fell short of expectations, holding steady but showing a slowdown in growth after a blockbuster March.

address concerns from U.S. officials that it could be used for money laundering and other illegal purposes. The company is also moving the project to the United States from Switzerland after a stalled attempt to gain approval from Swiss regulators. In other crypto news, Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk, abruptly reversed his support for Bitcoin, tweeting that his company would no longer accept the cryptocurrency as payment because of the fossil fuels used in its mining and transactions. After his tweet, the price of Bitcoin dropped more than 10 percent.

Credit…Giacomo Bagnara

As part of an effort to get 70 percent of American adults at least partly vaccinated by July 4, federal and state governments are adding extra incentives. (In case keeping yourself and others safe, and the ability to go maskless, wasn’t a good enough reason.) The Biden administration has partnered with the ride-hailing companies Uber and Lyft to provide free transportation to vaccination sites nationwide starting May 24. West Virginia is working on a plan to offer $100 savings bonds to people ages 16 to 35 who get their shots. And those who receive the vaccine in Ohio will be entered into a lottery that awards a $1 million prize each week for five weeks, starting May 26.

Ellen DeGeneres will end her talk show next year after nearly two decades on the air. Her program has seen a steep decline in ratings after employees complained of a toxic workplace and accused producers of sexual harassment. The accusations looked particularly bad in light of Ms. DeGeneres’s tagline, “Be Kind,” which has become a branded juggernaut used to market merchandise to her fans. Although Ms. DeGeneres apologized publicly in September for the incidents, the show has since lost more than a million viewers, a 43 percent decline from about 2.6 million last season. It also saw a 20 percent decline in advertising revenue from September to February compared with the previous year.

In the battle to recruit workers in a tight job market, McDonald’s has become the latest fast-food company to raise hourly wages, following in the recent footsteps of chain restaurants including Chipotle and Olive Garden. But the McDonald’s pay increase applies only to its company-owned restaurants, which make up a small fraction of its business. About 95 percent of its U.S. restaurants are independently owned and set their own wages.

apply for a $50 monthly discount on high-speed internet services. Hearst Magazines sold the American edition of Marie Claire to a British publisher. And after more than a year of trying to figure out what to do with the embattled retailer Victoria’s Secret, the brand’s parent company has decided to split itself into two independent, publicly listed entities: Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works.

Join Andrew Ross Sorkin of The Times in conversation with Dame Ellen MacArthur and other economic experts to explore what it will take to transform the economy in the battle against climate change. May 20 at 1:30 p.m. E.T. RSVP here.

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Greece Opens Its Doors to International Tourists

The first signs of the tourism season creeping back to life were visible at Greece’s ports and airports on Saturday as the country officially opened its doors to international visitors.

After lifting quarantine requirements for dozens of countries last month, the Greek authorities expanded the eligibility to more nations on Friday and relaxed some restrictions. Travelers must present a certificate of vaccination, proof of recovery from Covid or a negative PCR test.

The first flights arriving at Athens International Airport came from France, Germany, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia and Switzerland, with most visitors heading for the Greek islands. Hundreds lined up for ferries at the country’s main port of Piraeus, near the capital, joining Greeks taking advantage of the ending of a ban on travel between the country’s regions.

Heraklion Airport on Crete was buzzing for the first time in months, with Germans, French and Israelis among the first arrivals, and the authorities said they expected 10,000 arrivals on the island over the next three days. Mykonos and Santorini, two of the country’s most popular summer destinations, welcomed just a handful of flights, as hotel occupancy remains set at around 30 percent for May. But hopes are high for the summer, with bookings for July close to 90 percent.

Two fire engines sprayed celebratory jets of water over aircraft arriving from Qatar on Friday while sounding their sirens. Boats similarly greeted the arrival of cruise ships to Crete.

The mood was upbeat on many islands, where a vaccination drive has been ramped up with the aim of inoculating hundreds of thousands of permanent residents by the end of June, in time for peak tourism season.

The country, having suffered heavy economic losses last year because of the pandemic, is determined to save its summer tourist season. Last month, when some restrictions were lifted, a third wave of coronavirus infections was in full force, and hospitals were facing high pressure.

About 14 percent of people in the country have been fully vaccinated, according to data from the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. The virus has sickened more than 373,000 people in Greece, and more than 11,300 have died.

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Why Vaccinating the World Against Covid-19 Will Be Hard

In delivering vaccines, pharmaceutical companies aided by monumental government investments have given humanity a miraculous shot at liberation from the worst pandemic in a century.

But wealthy countries have captured an overwhelming share of the benefit. Only 0.3 percent of the vaccine doses administered globally have been given in the 29 poorest countries, home to about 9 percent of the world’s population.

Vaccine manufacturers assert that a fix is already at hand as they aggressively expand production lines and contract with counterparts around the world to yield billions of additional doses. Each month, 400 million to 500 million doses of the vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are now being produced, according to an American official with knowledge of global supply.

But the world is nowhere close to having enough. About 11 billion shots are needed to vaccinate 70 percent of the world’s population, the rough threshold needed for herd immunity, researchers at Duke University estimate. Yet, so far, only a small fraction of that has been produced. While global production is difficult to measure, the analytics firm Airfinity estimates the total so far at 1.7 billion doses.

dangerous new variants emerge, requiring booster shots and reformulated vaccines, demand could dramatically increase, intensifying the imperative for every country to lock up supply for its own people.

The only way around the zero-sum competition for doses is to greatly expand the global supply of vaccines. On that point, nearly everyone agrees.

But what is the fastest way to make that happen? On that question, divisions remain stark, undermining collective efforts to end the pandemic.

Some health experts argue that the only way to avert catastrophe is to force drug giants to relax their grip on their secrets and enlist many more manufacturers in making vaccines. In place of the existing arrangement — in which drug companies set up partnerships on their terms, while setting the prices of their vaccines — world leaders could compel or persuade the industry to cooperate with more companies to yield additional doses at rates affordable to poor countries.

Those advocating such intervention have focused on two primary approaches: waiving patents to allow many more manufacturers to copy existing vaccines, and requiring the pharmaceutical companies to transfer their technology — that is, help other manufacturers learn to replicate their products.

more than 100 countries in asking the W.T.O. to partially set aside vaccine patents.

But the European Union has signaled its intent to oppose waivers and support only voluntary tech transfers, essentially taking the same position as the pharmaceutical industry, whose aggressive lobbying has heavily shaped the rules in its favor.

Some experts warn that revoking intellectual property rules could disrupt the industry, slowing its efforts to deliver vaccines — like reorganizing the fire department amid an inferno.

“We need them to scale up and deliver,” said Simon J. Evenett, an expert on trade and economic development at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. “We have this huge production ramp up. Nothing should get in the way to threaten it.”

Others counter that trusting the pharmaceutical industry to provide the world with vaccines helped create the current chasm between vaccine haves and have-nots.

The world should not put poorer countries “in this position of essentially having to go begging, or waiting for donations of small amounts of vaccine,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, senior scientific liaison to the Covid-19 Prevention Network. “The model of charity is, I think, an unacceptable model.”

halting vaccine exports a month ago. Now, as a wave of death ravages the largely unvaccinated Indian population, the government is drawing fire at home for having let go of doses.

poses universal risks by allowing variants to take hold, forcing the world into an endless cycle of pharmaceutical catch-up.

“It needs to be global leaders functioning as a unit, to say that vaccine is a form of global security,” said Dr. Rebecca Weintraub, a global health expert at Harvard Medical School. She suggested that the G7, the group of leading economies, could lead such a campaign and finance it when the members convene in England next month.

Pfizer expects to sell $26 billion worth of Covid vaccines this year; Moderna forecasts that its sales of Covid vaccines will exceed $19 billion for 2021.

History also challenges industry claims that blanket global patent rights are a requirement for the creation of new medicines. Until the mid-1990s, drug makers could patent their products only in the wealthiest markets, while negotiating licenses that allowed companies in other parts of the world to make generic versions.

Even in that era, drug companies continued to innovate. And they continued to prosper even with the later waivers on H.I.V. drugs.

“At the time, it rattled a lot of people, like ‘How could you do that? It’s going to destroy the pharmaceutical industry,’” recalled Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic. “It didn’t destroy them at all. They continue to make billions of dollars.”

Leaders in the wealthiest Western nations have endorsed more equitable distribution of vaccines for this latest scourge. But the imperative to ensure ample supplies for their own nations has won out as the virus killed hundreds of thousands of their own people, devastated economies, and sowed despair.

The drug companies have also promised more support for poorer nations. AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been the primary supply for Covax, and the company says it has sold its doses at a nonprofit price.

stumbled, falling short of production targets. And producing the new class of mRNA vaccines, like those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, is complicated.

Where pharmaceutical companies have struck deals with partners, the pace of production has frequently disappointed.

“Even with voluntary licensing and technology transfer, it’s not easy to make complex vaccines,” said Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

Much of the global capacity for vaccine manufacturing is already being used to produce other lifesaving inoculations, he added.

But other health experts accuse major pharmaceutical companies of exaggerating the manufacturing challenges to protect their monopoly power, and implying that developing countries lack the acumen to master sophisticated techniques is “an offensive and a racist notion,” said Matthew Kavanagh, director of the Global Health Policy and Politics Initiative at Georgetown University.

With no clear path forward, Ms. Okonjo-Iweala, the W.T.O. director-general, expressed hope that the Indian and South African patent-waiver proposal can be a starting point for dialogue.

“I believe we can come to a pragmatic outcome,” she said. “The disparity is just too much.”

Peter S. Goodman reported from London, Apoorva Mandavilli from New York, Rebecca Robbins from Bellingham, Wash., and Matina Stevis-Gridneff from Brussels. Noah Weiland contributed reporting from New York.

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