In India, a Second Wave of Covid-19 Prompts a New Exodus

NEW DELHI — As dawn broke over Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, Kaleem Ansari sat among a crowd of thousands outside the central rail station waiting for his train to pull in. Mr. Ansari, a factory worker, carried old clothes in his backpack and 200 rupees — not quite $3 — in his pocket.

His factory, which makes sandals, had just closed. Mumbai was locking down as a second wave of the coronavirus rippled through India. Mr. Ansari, originally from a small village nearly a thousand miles away, had been in Mumbai a year ago when it first went into lockdown, and he had vowed not to suffer through another one.

“I remember what happened last time,” he said. “I just have to get out of here.”

Cities in India are once again locking down to fight Covid-19 — and workers are once again pouring out and heading back home to rural areas, which health experts fear could accelerate the spread of the virus and devastate poorly equipped villages, as it did last time. Thousands are fleeing hot spots in cities as India hits another record, with more than 184,000 daily new infections reported on Wednesday. Bus stations are packed. Crowds are growing at railway stations.

And in at least some of their destinations, according to local officials and migrants who have already made the journey, they are arriving in places hardly ready to test arrivals and quarantine the sick.

one of the world’s toughest national lockdowns, eliminating millions of jobs virtually overnight. That lockdown fueled the most disruptive migration across the Indian subcontinent since it was split in two between India and Pakistan in 1947. Tens of millions of lowly paid migrant workers and their families fled cities by train, bus, cargo truck, bicycle, even by blistered feet to reach home villages hundreds of miles away, where the cost of living was cheaper and they could help and be helped by loved ones.

Hundreds died on the sweltering highways. Even more died back home. The migration also played a significant role in spreading the virus, as local officials in remote districts reported that they were swamped with the sick.

iron frames on which the bodies are placed have melted. In Chhattisgarh, a rural state in central India, morgues have overflowed with decomposing corpses.

With the virus closing in, many people have decided to flee.

“I didn’t want to get sick all alone,” said Ajay Kumar, a vendor of mobile phone covers, who left Bangalore this past weekend for a village in Jharkhand State. “In Bangalore, the cases are increasing. And my wife said, ‘Business is not so good. Why don’t you come back?’”

“At least we are together,” Mr. Kumar said.

The full scope of India’s ability to monitor the migration is not clear. But in some places, the sudden rush of migrants appears to be taking local officials by surprise. The lack of preparations seems to mirror the larger sense that this country, whether because of fatigue or familiarity, has been more nonchalant during this second wave than it was during the first one.

Covid-19 positivity rate recently hit 30 percent — are simply stepping off trains or buses and walking into their communities, said Nafees Ahmad Sheikh, a cafe worker who left Mumbai last week, and two other recent arrivals.

Mr. Sheikh left after rumors of an impending lockdown began spreading. He said that the train he took had been packed with migrant workers and with people traveling for a short festival period. Some migrant workers had locked themselves in the train’s bathroom to avoid paying for the tickets because they had run out of money.

“The rich can deal with another lockdown, but what will the poor do?” Mr. Sheikh said. He said he would rather die in his home village than in a city “that treats us like disposable items.”

Some officials said that migrants arriving at railway stations were subjected to temperature checks and that those who were symptomatic were sent for further testing or to quarantine centers. But one official said that few of the centers were actually functioning because many of the contractors who set them up last year still have not been paid and did not want to get involved again.

Chanchal Kumar, an official in the office of Bihar’s chief minister, said that infections “started increasing after workers started coming back.”

“Each passing day, we are trying to minimize the damage,” he said.

India’s central government is sending mixed messages. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has an enormous bully pulpit, last year asked Indians to stay indoors. The roads cleared and a stunning hush descended over the nation of 1.4 billion. When Mr. Modi asked people to stand on their porches and bang pots and pans in solidarity with health care workers, they did that as well.

So far, only about 8 percent have been vaccinated. Only this week did the government authorize the use of imported shots. Until then, the government had been relying on two domestically produced vaccines in rapidly dwindling supply.

Few of the migrants are talking about vaccines. They just want to get home.

At Mumbai’s central train station on Wednesday morning, Mr. Ansari waited anxiously for his train. This time, the city had not yet shut off public transportation.

Last time it did. Mr. Ansari said that he had run out of money and had been constantly beaten by the police when he ventured out to look for food. He went down to eating one small bowl of rice a day, he said, and feared that he would starve.

“I don’t even like talking about what happened last time,” he said. “Nobody cares about us, either here or there.”

Karan Deep Singh contributed reporting.

View Source

Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. Calls for Pause on Johnson & Johnson Vaccine, Complicating Rollout

Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine after six recipients in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination.

All six recipients were women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman died and a second woman in Nebraska has been hospitalized in critical condition.

Nearly seven million people in the United States have received Johnson & Johnson shots so far, and roughly nine million more doses have been shipped out to the states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, and Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the C.D.C., said in a joint statement. “Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare.”

On a media call later on Tuesday morning, Dr. Marks said that “on an individual basis, a provider and patient can make a determination whether or not to receive the vaccine” manufactured by Johnson & Johnson.

While the move was framed as a recommendation to health practitioners in the states, the federal government is expected to pause administration of the vaccine at all federally run vaccination sites. Federal officials expect that state health officials will take that as a strong signal to do the same. Within two hours of the announcement, Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio, a Republican, advised all health providers in his state to temporarily stop giving Johnson & Johnson shots. In New York, the health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said the state would halt the use of the vaccine statewide while federal officials evaluate the safety risks. Appointments for Johnson & Johnson’s shot on Tuesday at state mass sites would be honored with Pfizer doses, Dr. Zucker said.

The authorities in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, Georgia, Indiana, Texas and Virginia also said that they would follow the call from federal health agencies.

Scientists with the F.D.A. and C.D.C. will jointly examine possible links between the vaccine and the disorder and determine whether the F.D.A. should continue to authorize use of the vaccine for all adults or limit the authorization.

In the media call, federal health officials tried to reassure recipients of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine while at the same time describing symptoms that they should watch out if they received a shot within the past month.

Dr. Schuchat said that the risk of dangerous blood clots is “very low” for people who received the vaccine more than a month ago.

“For people who recently got the vaccine within the last couple of weeks, they should be aware, to look for any symptoms. If you receive the vaccine and develop severe headaches, abdominal pain, leg pain or shortness of breath, you should contact your health care provider and seek medical treatment,” she said. She emphasized that an emergency meeting of the C.D.C.’s outside advisory committee, which has been scheduled for Wednesday, to discuss how to handle the vaccine in the future is made up of independent experts.

Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said she expects the pause in distributing and administrating the vaccine will last for “a matter of days” while officials investigate the cases. Officials also stressed that no serious safety problems have emerged with either of the other two federally authorized vaccines, developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

The move could substantially complicate the nation’s vaccination efforts at a time when many states are confronting a surge in new cases and seeking to address vaccine hesitancy. Regulators in Europe and elsewhere are concerned about a similar issue with another coronavirus vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University researchers. That concern has driven up some resistance to all vaccines, even though the AstraZeneca version has not been authorized for emergency use in the United States.

The vast majority of the nation’s vaccine supply comes from two other manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, which together deliver more than 23 million doses a week of their two-shot vaccines. There have been no significant safety concerns about either of those vaccines.

But while shipments of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been much more limited, the Biden administration had still been counting on using hundreds of thousands of doses every week. In addition to requiring only a single dose, the vaccine is easier to ship and store than the other two, which must be stored at extremely low temperatures.

Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said Tuesday the pause “will not have a significant impact” the Biden administration’s plans to deliver enough vaccine to be able to inoculate all 260 million adults in the United States by the end of May. With the Johnson & Johnson setback, federal officials expect there will only be enough to cover fewer than 230 million adults. But a certain percentage of the population is expected to refuse shots, so the supply may cover all the demand.

Mr. Zients said the administration will still “reach every adult who wants to be vaccinated” by the May 31 target.

Federal officials are concerned that doctors may not be trained to look for the rare disorder if recipients of the vaccine develop symptoms of it. The federal health agencies said Tuesday morning that “treatment of this specific type of blood clot is different from the treatment that might typically be administered” for blood clots.

“Usually, an anticoagulant drug called heparin is used to treat blood clots. In this setting, administration of heparin may be dangerous, and alternative treatments need to be given,” the statement said.

In a news release, Johnson & Johnson said: “We are aware that thromboembolic events including those with thrombocytopenia have been reported with Covid-19 vaccines. At present, no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events and the Janssen Covid-19 vaccine.” Janssen is the name of Johnson & Johnson’s division that developed the vaccine.

In the United States alone, 300,000 to 600,000 people a year develop blood clots, according to C.D.C. data. But the particular blood clotting disorder that the vaccine recipients developed, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, is extremely rare.

All of the women developed the condition within about two weeks of vaccination, and government experts are concerned that an immune system response triggered by the vaccine was the cause. Federal officials said there was broad agreement about the need to pause use of the vaccine while the cases are investigated.

The decision is a fresh blow to Johnson & Johnson. Late last month, the company discovered that workers at a Baltimore plant run by its subcontractor had accidentally contaminated a batch of vaccine, forcing the firm to throw out the equivalent of 13 million to 15 million doses. That plant was supposed to take over supply of the vaccine to the United States from Johnson & Johnson’s Dutch plants, which were certified by federal regulators earlier this year.

The Baltimore plant’s certification by the F.D.A. has now been delayed while inspectors investigate quality control issues, sharply reducing the supply of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The sudden drop in available doses led to widespread complaints from governors and state health officials who had been expecting much bigger shipments of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine this week than they got.

A Kent State University student getting his Johnson & Johnson vaccination in Kent, Ohio, last week.
Credit…Phil Long/Associated Press

The authorities in Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Nebraska, Georgia, Indiana, Texas and Virginia said on Tuesday that they would follow the call from federal health agencies to pause the administration of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine after six women in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination.

CVS, the nation’s largest retail pharmacy chain, also said that it would immediately stop its use of Johnson & Johnson vaccinations and was emailing customers whose appointments would be canceled. A spokesman said that CVS would reschedule appointments “as soon as possible.”

Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio and the state’s chief health official said they were advising all state vaccine providers to temporarily halt use of the single-dose vaccine. New York’s health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said the state would stop using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention evaluate the safety risks.

Connecticut health officials said they told vaccine providers to delay planned appointments and give an alternative option if they had the supply.

The C.D.C.’s outside advisory committee has scheduled an emergency meeting for Wednesday.

Jeff Zients, the White House Covid coordinator, said on Tuesday that the pause will not have a significant impact on the country’s vaccination campaign, which has accelerated in recent weeks as a rise in new virus cases threatens a fourth possible surge. Many states have already opened vaccination eligibility to all adults and others plan to by next week.

“Over the last few weeks, we have made available more than 25 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna each week, and in fact this week we will make available 28 million doses of these vaccines. This is more than enough supply to continue the current pace of vaccinations of 3 million shots per day,” Mr. Zients said in a statement.

Even though the reaction to the Johnson & Johnson shot is rare, any questions about the safety of the shots could bolster vaccine hesitancy.

Nearly seven million people in the United States have received Johnson & Johnson shots so far, and roughly nine million more doses have been shipped out to the states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The six women who developed blood clots were between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman died and a second woman in Nebraska has been hospitalized in critical condition.

“Right now, these adverse events appear to be extremely rare,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, and Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the C.D.C., said in a joint statement on Tuesday. “People who have received the J&J vaccine who develop severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, or shortness of breath within three weeks after vaccination should contact their health care provider.”

Like many states, New York had already prepared for a significant drop in its supply of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after federal officials said that supplies would be limited because of a production issue at a Baltimore manufacturing plant. On Friday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that New York expected to receive 34,900 Johnson & Johnson shots, a decrease of 88 percent from the previous week.

Dr. Zucker, New York’s health commissioner, said that the state would honor appointments made at state-run mass vaccination sites for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by giving people the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine instead. That vaccine requires two doses, and it was not immediately clear how the state would handle the additional strain on its supply.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City said that the city would work to reschedule appointments at city-run vaccine sites, giving those people the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines instead.

“Every site has been told this morning to stop giving the J&J shots,” he said at a news conference.

Mr. Cuomo received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a public appearance last month in Harlem, which he framed as an effort to boost confidence in that vaccine’s efficacy rate and to address vaccine hesitancy.

Regulators in Europe and elsewhere are concerned about a similar issue with another coronavirus vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University researchers. That vaccine has not been authorized for emergency use in the United States.

Students line up for vaccines at Oakland University on Friday in Rochester, Mich. Coronavirus cases in the state have continued to rise in recent weeks.
Credit…Emily Elconin for The New York Times

The virus is again surging in parts of the United States, but it’s a picture with dividing lines: ominous figures in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, but largely not in the South.

Experts are unsure what explains the split, which doesn’t correspond to vaccination levels. Some point to warmer weather in the Sun Belt, while others suspect that decreased testing is muddying the virus’s true footprint.

The contours of where the virus is resurgent can be drawn around one figure: states that are averaging about 15 new cases a day for every 100,000 people. The 23 states — including Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas — that have averaged that or fewer over the past week seem to be keeping cases relatively low, according to a New York Times database. Nationally, the country is averaging 21 new cases per 100,000 people.

In the 27 states above that line, though, things have been trending for the worse. Michigan has the highest surge of all, reporting the most drastic increase in cases and hospitalizations in recent weeks. Illinois, Minnesota and others have also reported worrisome increases.

Nationally, reported cases in the United States are growing again after a steep fall from the post-holiday peak in January. In the past two weeks, new confirmed cases have jumped about 11 percent, even though vaccinations picked up considerably, with an average of 3.2 million doses given daily.

Some Southern states, like Alabama and Mississippi, are lagging in vaccinations. Only about 28 percent of people in each state have received at least one shot, according to a New York Times vaccine tracker. Still, case counts continue to drop in both states.

Health experts say cases are rising in the Northeast and Upper Midwest for several reasons, including pandemic fatigue, the reopening of schools and the resumption of youth sports.

Hospitalizations tend to follow the trend line in cases by a few weeks, and have been rising in some states, most notably in Michigan.

Officials are also concerned about the spread of more contagious virus variants, especially B.1.1.7, first identified in Britain. The variant is now the leading source of new coronavirus infections in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week.

Just why those factors might affect some states more than others is hard to pinpoint, experts say.

Dr. David Rubin, the director of PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said warmer weather in Southern states and California was probably playing a role, because it allows people to gather outdoors, with less risk of transmission.

New case reports have fallen by about 11 percent in Georgia over the past two weeks. And in Alabama, new cases are down roughly 29 percent, with a 17 percent decline in hospitalizations.

Some experts say, though, that reduced testing in some states could be obscuring the true picture. Testing in Alabama, for instance, has started to dip, but the share of tests that come back positive has remained high, at 11.1 percent, compared with a nationwide average of 5.1 percent, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

“People who are symptomatic and go to their provider are going to get a test,” said Dr. Michael Saag, the associate dean for global health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, but “the desire for people to go get tested just because they want to know what their status is has dropped off dramatically.”

Still, Dr. Saag said, there is probably not a hidden spike in cases in Alabama right now, since hospitalizations in the state remain low.

The first dawn prayers of Ramadan around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday.
Credit…Amr Nabil/Associated Press

Millions of Muslims on Tuesday began celebrating a second Ramadan in the middle of the pandemic, although in many countries the first day of the holy month offered the promise of a Ramadan with fewer restrictions than last year.

Mosques across the Middle East and other parts of the world were closed for prayer last year, and lockdowns prevented festive gatherings with friends and family. In Jerusalem, for instance, the Old City was largely empty and the Aqsa Mosque compound was closed to the public, as coronavirus cases were surging.

But a large degree of normalcy was back on Tuesday: The Old City’s narrow alleys were crowded, sweet shops were preparing Ramadan desserts, clothing stores were open and the Aqsa compound was welcoming worshipers.

“Last year, I felt depressed and I didn’t know how long the pandemic would last,” said Riyad Deis, a co-owner of a spice and dried fruit shop in the Old City, while selling whole pieces of turmeric and Medjool dates to a customer. “Now, I’m relaxed, I have enough money to provide for my family and people are purchasing goods from my shop — it’s a totally different reality.”

The enthusiasm of some didn’t mean the Ramadan would go as normal. Across several countries in the Middle East, the authorities imposed limitations on customs and festivities, requiring that mosques enforce social distancing and telling worshipers to bring their own prayer rugs and to wear face masks.

In Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, taraweeh, the optional extra prayers that worshipers can observe at night, were capped at half an hour. No one will also be allowed to spend the night in a mosque, as is common during the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Mosques around the region were also prohibited from serving the fast-breaking meal of iftar or the predawn meal of suhoor. Though Muslims could still gather for those meals with friends and family, the authorities asked them to limit those gatherings this year.

In Jerusalem, Omar Kiswani, the director of Al Aqsa Mosque, said he was overjoyed that the compound was open to worshipers, but still urged caution.

“These are times of great happiness — we hope the blessed Aqsa Mosque will return to its pre-pandemic glory — but these are also times of caution because the virus is still out there,” Mr. Kiswani said.

In Egypt, government officials and prominent television hosts linked to the authorities warned Egyptians of a third wave of infections as Ramadan approached, hinting that another curfew or other lockdown restrictions could be imposed if cases rose.

“If you want the houses of God to remain open,” Nouh Elesawy, an official who oversees mosques at the Egyptian Ministry of Endowments, said earlier this month, “adhere to the precautionary procedures and regulations.”

The Ramadan restrictions may hit the hardest in poor neighborhoods, where residents depend on iftar banquets usually sponsored by wealthy individuals or organizations. For those people, feasting and Ramadan gifts are likely to be rarer, with tourism still at a trickle and many small businesses still suffering from the economic effects of the pandemic.

In Lebanon and Syria, the pandemic has worsened economic crisis that will likely squeeze people’s ability to enjoy the holy month, more than the governments’ limited restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

In Syria, where experts say the official infection and death numbers for Covid-19 are far below the reality, the government has few restrictions in place. Worshipers will even be allowed to stand in line inside of mosques to pray together after breaking their fast, the Syrian Ministry of Religious Affairs said.

In Lebanon, which emerged recently from a strict lockdown, shops and restaurants can operate regularly during the day but must offer only delivery service during a nighttime curfew from 9:30 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Global Roundup

Administering a coronavirus vaccine to a frontline worker in New Delhi, last week.
Credit…Rebecca Conway for The New York Times

India said on Tuesday that it would fast-track the approval of vaccines in use in other countries, a move aimed at rapidly increasing the country’s vaccine supply as it battles what is currently the world’s biggest coronavirus outbreak.

The Indian government said that it would grant emergency authorization to any foreign-made vaccine that had been approved for use by regulators in the United States, the European Union, Britain or Japan, or by the World Health Organization. The move had been recommended by a panel of Indian scientists and eliminates a requirement for drug companies to conduct local clinical trials.

“The decision will facilitate quicker access to such foreign vaccines” and encourage imports of materials that would boost India’s vaccine manufacturing capacity, the government said in a statement.

Earlier on Tuesday, India’s top drug regulator granted emergency approval to Sputnik V, the Russian-made vaccine, adding a third vaccine to the country’s arsenal on the same day that health officials recorded 161,736 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours.

It was the seventh straight day that India has added more than 100,000 cases, according to a New York Times database. Only the United States has seen a faster rise in infections during the pandemic.

India has administered about 105 million domestically produced vaccine doses for a population of 1.3 billion, but it is widely believed that the country needs to scale up inoculations rapidly because other measures have failed to control the virus. Many states have reimposed partial lockdowns and weekend curfews. In the country’s financial hub, Mumbai, health officials are racing to erect field hospitals as facilities report shortages of oxygen, ventilators and coronavirus testing kits.

And there is the risk of a superspreading event with the gathering of millions of Hindu pilgrims for the annual Kumbh Mela festival on the banks of the Ganges River, where the authorities say they are powerless to enforce social distancing.

India’s outbreak is reverberating worldwide as its pharmaceutical industry — which was supposed to manufacture and export hundreds of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine — is keeping most supplies at home. The approval of the Sputnik vaccine, whose first doses are expected to be available for use in weeks, offers hope that India could speed up its inoculation drive.

But it is unclear at this stage whether India will be able to procure significant quantities of other vaccines, including the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots in use in the United States. Major Western nations have accumulated much of the global supply of those vaccines and manufacturers are struggling to meet the surging demand.

India will import millions of Sputnik doses from Russia and then begin manufacturing the vaccine domestically, officials said. More than 850 million doses will be made, with some intended for export, Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund that has financed the vaccine’s development, said in an interview with India’s NDTV channel.

“India is a vaccine-manufacturing hub and our strategic partner for production of Sputnik V,” Mr. Dmitriev said.

India has more than 13.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases, the second most after the United States, and 171,058 deaths, the fourth highest toll.

In other news around the world:

Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, at a cabinet meeting in Berlin on Tuesday. Her government’s proposal on coronavirus restrictions would place half the country over the threshold for lockdown.
Credit…Pool photo by Andreas Gora

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government moved a step closer on Tuesday to securing the right to force restrictions on areas where the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, overriding state leaders reluctant to take action.

Ms. Merkel and her ministers approved a legislative proposal that would make it easier for the national government to enforce lockdowns and other limits on movement in regions where infection levels pass a set threshold. At current levels, it could lock down more than half of the country.

Under Germany’s decentralized leadership structures, the 16 state leaders have been meeting regularly with the chancellor to agree on nationwide coronavirus response policies. But with different regions experiencing different rates of infection, some state leaders have been reluctant to enforce the agreed limitations, leading to confusion and frustration among many Germans.

“I believe this amendment is as important as it is an urgent decision about how to proceed in the coronavirus pandemic,” the chancellor told reporters after meeting with her ministers.

Parliament still has to debate and approve the proposal, which would take the form of an amendment to the Protection Against Infection Act, and that process is expected to begin this week.

“We are in a situation where an emergency mechanism is necessary,” Ralph Brinkhaus, the leader of the Christian Democratic Union in Parliament, told reporters, before a meeting of his party lawmakers to discuss the amendment.

Under the proposed amendment, the federal government could force stores and cultural institutions to close and enforce limits on the number of people allowed to meet up in any region where infections surpass 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over a period of seven days.

More controversially, the law would also allow Ms. Merkel’s government to order that schools and day care centers close if the number of new infections reaches more than 200 per 100,000 inhabitants. Schools fall under the jurisdiction of the states, and local leaders are reluctant to relinquish that control.

Germany has registered more than three million infections and more than 78,700 deaths from Covid-19 since the virus began moving through the country last spring. It recorded 10,810 new cases of infection on Tuesday, bringing the national rate of infection to more than 140 per 100,000.

The number of patients in intensive care is expected to hit a record this month, as the country struggles to vaccinate enough people to get ahead of the spread of the highly contagious B.1.1.7 variant.

Vaccinations at a mosque in London earlier this month. Britain’s program has reached over 32 million people, more than half the adult population.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Britain has now offered vaccinations to everyone in the country age 50 and older, the government announced late on Monday, and is extending its program to another age group, the latest sign that the national rollout is continuing at pace.

On Tuesday, the authorities opened vaccinations to anyone 45 or older, yet the announcement came with a small hiccup: The website for the country’s National Health Service crashed for a short time after the younger cohort was invited to book appointments online.

The new step in the country’s vaccine rollout comes as the authorities eased several restrictions in England on Monday after months of stringent lockdowns, with pubs and restaurants opened for drinks and dining outside, and nonessential shops once again opening their doors.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the moment a “hugely significant milestone” and in a statement thanked those involved with the vaccine rollout. Mr. Johnson said the country was on track to offer all adults a vaccination by the end of July. More than 32 million people across Britain have received their first dose of one of the vaccines, according to government data.

The government said it had also already offered vaccinations to every health or care worker, and to everyone with a high-risk medical condition.

England has also began rolling out the Moderna vaccine, which will be offered as an alternative alongside the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine for those under 30, instead of AstraZeneca’s, which has been the mainstay of Britain’s program so far.

There have been concerns about a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and very rare blood clots, and last week British regulators said an alternative should be provided for younger people. Potential infection still poses much greater risks than any vaccine side effect for all those over 30, they said, and could do so for younger people if cases surged again.

“The Moderna rollout marks another milestone in the vaccination program,” Stephen Powis, the medical director of the National Health Service, said in a statement. “We now have a third jab in our armory.”

The vaccination program, he added, “is our hope at the end of a year like no other” as he encouraged people to book their appointments.

But despite the hopeful vaccine news and the return to public life, the country is still battling new cases of the virus, and a cluster in two London neighborhoods of a worrisome variant first discovered in South Africa has prompted mass testing. Health workers have gone door to door to urge residents to get tested, even if they are not showing symptoms, as dozens of cases have emerged. Similar measures were carried out elsewhere in the city earlier this month.

Studies have shown that the variant contains a mutation that diminishes the vaccines’ effectiveness against it. Dr. Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser for the country’s test and trace campaign, said the cluster of cases in parts of South London was “significant.”

“It’s really important people in the local area play their part in stopping any further spread within the local community,” she said in a statement.

Pacific Palace, a dim sum restaurant on a commercial strip in the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, has seen revenue plunge.
Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

More than a year after the coronavirus first swept through New York, the streets of Sunset Park in southern Brooklyn reflect the pandemic’s deep and unhealed wounds intertwined with signs of a neighborhood trying to edge back to life.

The sidewalks are filling with shoppers and vendors. More businesses are welcoming customers. But owners still struggle to pay rent and keep their enterprises afloat, while many workers laid off after the city locked down last year remain without jobs.

And while the rate of vaccination in New York has increased significantly, the coronavirus still percolates through this densely packed neighborhood. The ZIP code that includes Sunset Park had the highest rate of positive cases in Brooklyn in early April, nearly double the citywide rate. Some residents have expressed skepticism about the vaccines, spooked by false information circulated over TikTok and other social media.

Adding to the stress is a spate of hate crimes and violence against people of Asian descent in New York and around the country, fed in some cases by racist claims that Asian-Americans are responsible for spreading the virus.

About a third of the residents in Sunset Park have received at least one dose of the vaccine, roughly the same level as the city overall, according to the city health data. But local leaders say they want to push that number much higher.

Kuan Neng, 49, the Buddhist monk who founded Xi Fang Temple on Eighth Avenue, said that people had come to him in recent weeks to express concerns over vaccines.

“Why do I need to do that?” is a common refrain, according to Mr. Kuan, followed by: “I’m healthy now. The hard times are over, more or less.”

“Many people want to delay and see,” Mr. Kuan said, himself included.

The owner of the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and 15 other movie theaters said it would not reopen after the pandemic.
Credit…Kate Warren for The New York Times

ArcLight Cinemas, a beloved chain of movie theaters based in Los Angeles, including the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, will permanently close all its locations, Pacific Theaters announced on Monday, after the pandemic decimated the cinema business.

ArcLight’s locations in and around Hollywood have played host to many a movie premiere, in addition to being favorite spots for moviegoers seeking out blockbusters and prestige titles. They are operated by Pacific Theaters, which also manages a handful of theaters under the Pacific name, and are owned by Decurion.

“After shutting our doors more than a year ago, today we must share the difficult and sad news that Pacific will not be reopening its ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters locations,” the company said in a statement.

“This was not the outcome anyone wanted,” it added, “but despite a huge effort that exhausted all potential options, the company does not have a viable way forward.”

Between the Pacific and ArcLight brands, the company owned 16 theaters and more than 300 screens.

The movie theater business has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. But in recent weeks, the majority of the country’s largest theater chains, including AMC and Regal Cinemas, have reopened in anticipation of the slate of Hollywood films that have been put back on the calendar, many after repeated delays because of pandemic restrictions. A touch of optimism is even in the air as a result of the Warner Bros. movie “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which has generated some $70 million in box office receipts since opening over Easter weekend.

Still, the industry’s trade organization, the National Association of Theater Owners, has long warned that the punishing closures were most likely to affect smaller regional players like ArcLight and Pacific. In March, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain, which operates about 40 locations across the country, announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but would keep most of its locations operational while it restructured.

That does not seem to be the case for Pacific Theaters, which, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, fired its entire staff on Monday.

The reaction to ArcLight’s closing around Hollywood has been emotional, including an outpouring on Twitter.

Firefighters at the site of COVID-19 hospital Matei Bals, after a fire broke out in one of its buildings in Bucharest, Romania, in January.
Credit…Robert Ghement/EPA, via Shutterstock

Three people infected with the coronavirus died at a hospital in Bucharest on Monday evening after the oxygen supply stopped functioning, according to the authorities, the latest incident involving oxygen failure, which in many countries has driven up the virus death toll.

It was also another fatal setback for Romania’s ageing and overwhelmed health care system, which has suffered two fires in Covid-19 wards in recent months, killing at least 15 people.

Ventilators shut down at a mobile intensive care unit set up at the Victor Babes hospital in Bucharest after oxygen pressure reached too high a level, the country’s health authorities said in a statement, depriving patients of a vital supply. In addition to the three patients who died, five others were evacuated and moved to other facilities in the city.

Romania has recorded its highest rate of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units since the pandemic began, and on Sunday Prime Minister Florin Citu said that there were just six intensive care beds available across Romania, out of nearly 1,600.

Intensive care units in Hungary and Poland have also been at risk of being overwhelmed, as much of Eastern Europe has struggled to cope with a third wave of infections across the continent. Some Hungarian hospitals have sought medical students and volunteers to assist in Covid-19 wards, giving training to those without previous medical experience.

The mobile unit struck by the oxygen problem on Monday had only been in operation since Saturday, and it has epitomized long-running concerns over the country’s fragile health care system. In January, five patients died and a further 102 were evacuated from a different hospital in Bucharest after a fire broke out. In November, 10 patients hospitalized with the coronavirus died after a fire broke out in a hospital in the northeastern city of Piatra Neamt.

Romania’s spending on health care is among the lowest in the European Union, with just over five percent of gross domestic product allocated toward it, compared with 10 percent on average among other countries of the bloc.

More than 25,000 people who tested positive for the virus have died in Romania, and the authorities have closed schools and kindergartens throughout April as part of an extended Easter holiday.

The authorities have so far administered more than 3.5 million vaccine doses, in a population of about 19 million.

Alisa Stephens, a biostatistician at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, had to manage work and taking care of her children after the city went into lockdown last year.
Credit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

Studies have found that women in academia have published fewer papers, led fewer clinical trials and received less recognition for their expertise during the pandemic.

Add to that the emotional upheaval of the pandemic, the protests over structural racism, worry about children’s mental health and education, and the lack of time to think or work, and an already unsustainable situation becomes unbearable.

Michelle Cardel, an obesity researcher at the University of Florida, worries that this confluence of factors could push some women to leave the sciences.

“My big fear is that we are going to have a secondary epidemic of loss, particularly of early career women in STEM,” she said.

Female scientists were struggling even before the pandemic. It was not unusual for them to hear that women were not as smart as men, or that a woman who was successful must have received a handout along the way, said Daniela Witten, a biostatistician at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Women in academia often have little recourse when confronted with discrimination. Their institutions sometimes lack the human resources structures common in the business world.

Compounding the frustration are outdated notions about how to help women in science. But social media has allowed women to share some of those concerns and find allies to organize and call out injustice when they see it, said Jessica Hamerman, an immunologist at the Benaroya Research Institute in Seattle.

In November, for example, a study on female scientists was published in the influential journal Nature Communications suggesting that having female mentors would hinder the career of young scientists and recommending that young women seek out male help.

The response was intense and unforgiving: Nearly 7,600 scientists signed a petition calling on the journal to retract the paper — which it did on Dec. 21.

The study arrived at a time when many female scientists were already worried about the pandemic’s effect on their careers, and already on edge and angry with a system that offered them little support.

Alisa Stephens found working from home to be a series of wearying challenges. Dr. Stephens is a biostatistician at the University of Pennsylvania, and carving out the time and mental space for that work with two young children at home was impossible.

Things eased once the family could safely bring in a nanny, but there was still little time for the deep thought Dr. Stephens had relied on each morning for her work.

Over time, she has adjusted her expectations of herself. “Maybe I’m at 80 percent as opposed to 100 percent,” she said, “but I can get things done at 80 percent to some extent.”

View Source

Edinburgh Festivals Will Go Ahead, in Person and Online

LONDON — The Edinburgh International Festival, a showcase of international dance, music and theater, will go ahead in front of audiences this August, the festival’s organizers said on Tuesday.

The festival, which normally floods the city with tourists, was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic. But events will be staged Aug. 7-29 in three pavilions across Edinburgh, Fergus Linehan, the festival’s director, said in a telephone interview.

The pavilions will be specially built to maximize air flow and allow social distancing, he added.

The festival’s program will be released in June, Linehan said; the organizers are still waiting for a decision from the Scottish government about how many people will be allowed to attend. But the ongoing pandemic and the limits it has placed on international travel mean it will have a different flavor from normal.

“In terms of the people onstage, we’re not going to be flying in a big dance company from the U.S., or an opera company from Paris,” Linehan said. “But there are individual artists coming.”

Orchestre de Paris performing epic pieces by Beethoven and Berlioz, as well as several presentations by the Komische Oper Berlin. That will also change this year. “We can’t have that many musicians onstage, and we can’t have those big choral bits,” Linehan said, but he insisted smaller works would be just as exciting and innovative.

Many performances will be streamed free for international audiences, he added.

Coronavirus cases have fallen rapidly in Scotland this spring thanks to an extended lockdown and a strong vaccination program. On Monday, there were only 199 new cases reported among a population of around 5 million, and no deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to Scottish Government figures.

But many restrictions are still in place, including on cultural life. Museums cannot reopen until Apr. 26. Other cultural activities cannot restart until May 17 at the earliest, and even then, only with small audiences.

The Edinburgh International Festival is one of a host of arts events that normally take place in the city each summer. The festival’s organizers insist the others will occur in some form, too.

A spokeswoman for the scrappy Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which normally features thousands of small theater and comedy shows, said in an email that organizers were working toward an event to run Aug. 6-30. It was still unclear if the Fringe would be “digital, in person, or both,” she added.

Edinburgh International Book Festival will also proceed from Aug. 14 with in-person events “if circumstances permit,” a spokeswoman said in a telephone interview.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, a popular series of parades involving bagpipe performances by armed forces from around the world, is also set to go on. It started selling tickets last October but has not provided any updates since. On Tuesday, its organizers did not respond to a request for comment.

Linehan said he hoped the International Festival’s announcement would give confidence to other events to press ahead with plans. His festival won’t make any money, he said, but that didn’t matter. “This is a really momentous moment for us,” Linehan said, adding: “It’s really important we get back to live performance.”

View Source

Inflation Is Expected to Rise, but Don’t Be Alarmed: Live Updates

consumer price inflation reading at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Wall Street investors will be eagerly watching the data point, which is expected to jump starting this month.

Inflation data matters because it gives an up-to-date snapshot of how much it costs Americans to buy the goods and services they regularly consume. And because the Federal Reserve is charged in part with keeping increases in prices contained, the data can influence its decisions — and those affect financial markets.

But there’s a big reason not to read too much into the expected bounce in March and April — and it lies in so-called base effects.

In March’s data, inflation is expected to rise

substantially above 2 percent.

March 2021

forecast:

+2.5%

PERCENT CHANGE

IN CONSUMER

PRICE INDEX

FROM A YEAR AGO

However, some of the jump can be explained

through what’s known as base effects — prices fell

significantly last spring, so the increase now from the

year prior is larger, even if prices are not rising as

dramatically.

2021 Consumer price index

In March’s data, inflation is expected to rise substantially above 2 percent.

March 2021

forecast:

+2.5%

PERCENT CHANGE IN CONSUMER

PRICE INDEX FROM A YEAR AGO

However, some of the jump can be explained through what’s known as base effects — 

prices fell significantly last spring, so the increase now from the year prior is larger, even

if prices are not rising as dramatically.

2021 Consumer price index

Consumer inflation is usually measured on a year-over-year basis. Statisticians take a bundle of goods and services Americans buy — everything from fresh fruit to apartment rent — and aggregate it into a price index. The inflation rate that is reported each month shows how much that index changed from one year to the next.

For a quarter century, most measures of inflation have held at low levels. The Consumer Price Index moves around a bit because of volatile food and fuel prices, but a “core” index that strips out those factors has mostly come in shy of 2 percent.

But the data reported for March and April may show something different because price indexes dropped sharply a year ago as the country went into lockdown and airlines slashed ticket costs, clothing stores discounted sweaters, and hotels saw occupancy plunge.

That means inflation measures are about to lap super-low readings, and as that low base falls out, it will cause the year-over-year percent changes to jump — a little bit in March, and then a lot in April.

To be sure, climbing prices could last for a while as businesses reopen, consumers spend down big pandemic savings and producers scramble to keep up with demand. Economists and Federal Reserve officials do not expect those increases to persist for more than a few months, but if they did, it would matter to consumers and investors alike.

But a bump in prices isn’t the kind of demand-driven inflation that would prompt the Fed to lift interest rates or slow bond buying in a bid to control prices. March’s figures are most likely just a mathematical quirk.

A Grab food delivery rider in Singapore.
Credit…Wallace Woon/EPA, via Shutterstock

Grab — a ride-hailing company, bank and food delivery business all rolled into one — is set to make its debut in the largest offering by a Southeast Asian company on a U.S. stock exchange.

The company, which is based in Singapore, announced a deal on Tuesday with Altimeter Growth, a company listed for the sole purpose of buying a business. These special purpose acquisition vehicles, or SPACs, have snapped up companies over the past year at a rapid-fire pace. But this deal, which values Grab at roughly $39.6 billion, is expected to the largest such deal to date. Grab shares will trade on the Nasdaq stock exchange

The deal also includes an investment of more than $4 billion from a group that includes BlackRock, T. Rowe Price Associates and Temasek. Altimeter Capital Management, the investment firm backing the vehicle acquiring Grab, has agreed to hold certain shares in the company for at least three years.

Grab offers a “super app” that allows users to order food, pay bills and hail a car. It’s a model already popular in China, where WeChat offers a range of services, but is growing in Southeast Asia, particularly as the region builds its digital businesses. The pandemic helped propel the trend forward, with Southeast Asian consumers spending more than $10 billion online last year.

Grab acquired Uber’s Southeast Asia operations in 2018 and a digital banking license as part of a consortium in 2020. It has attracted investors including Booking Holdings, Hyundai, Microsoft, SoftBank and Toyota.

The company is going public as deal-making is flourishing in Southeast Asia. Bain, the consulting firm, said in 2018 it expected that the region would have had at least 10 unicorns, or start-ups valued at $1 billion or more, by 2024. One of those, the e-commerce company Sea, went public in the United States in 2017. Shares of the company have risen more than 400 percent over the past year, giving it a market capitalization of $125 billion.

“It gives us immense pride to represent Southeast Asia in the global public markets,” Grab’s chief executive, Anthony Tan, said in a statement. “This is a milestone in our journey to open up access for everyone to benefit from the digital economy.”

Greensill Capital’s offices in Warrington, England. Since Greensill’s collapse, Credit Suisse has paid $4.8 billion to investors in its funds.
Credit…Oli Scarff/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Credit Suisse said it would be able to pay back additional money to investors in funds whose troubles were among a series of disasters that have battered the Swiss bank’s reputation and finances.

The bank said it would pay an additional $1.7 billion to investors in funds linked to Greensill Capital, which collapsed last month. The latest payment means that investors will get back close to half of their money, with the prospect for more payments as Credit Suisse liquidates the funds.

Credit Suisse’s asset management unit oversaw $10 billion in funds put together by Greensill based on financing it provided to companies, many of which had low credit ratings or were not rated at all.

“There is potential for recovery in these cases although clearly there is a considerable degree of uncertainty as to the amounts that ultimately will be distributed to investors,” Credit Suisse said in a statement.

The more money that Credit Suisse can salvage from the funds, the better its chances of repairing its reputation and its ability to attract new customers. The bank has been in crisis following a series of debacles, including its disclosure last week that it will lose almost $5 billion because of money it lent to Archegos Capital Management, which crumbled this month after a high-risk stock market play went sour.

Including the $1.7 billion payment announced Tuesday, Credit Suisse has paid $4.8 billion to investors in the Greensill funds. The bank said it would take legal action to recover more money and “is engaging directly with potentially delinquent obligors and other creditors.” Some losses may be covered by insurance.

“We remain acutely aware of the uncertainty that the wind-down process creates for those of our clients who are invested in the funds,” Credit Suisse said. “We are doing everything that we can to provide them with clarity, to work through issues as they arise and, ultimately, to return cash to them.”

The headquarters of Ant Group in Hangzhou, China. The company was one of nearly three dozen ordered to ensure compliance with China’s antimonopoly rules.
Credit…CHINATOPIX, via Associated Press

China has ordered 34 of its most prominent internet companies to ensure their compliance with antimonopoly rules within the next month and to submit to official inspections thereafter — with “severe punishment” promised for any illegal practices that are uncovered.

The demand, which China’s market regulator announced on Tuesday, represents the government’s latest cracking of the whip in its campaign to tighten supervision over giant internet platforms.

For years, Beijing gave internet companies wide berth to grow rich and innovate. But in China, as in the West, concerns have been growing about the ways the companies use their clout to edge out rivals, their use and abuse of algorithms and big data and their acquisitions of smaller peers. In recent months, China has begun using both regulatory enforcement actions and public shaming to keep tech companies in check.

The country’s market regulator imposed a record $2.8 billion antitrust fine on Alibaba, the e-commerce titan, on Saturday. And on Monday, Alibaba’s fintech sister company, Ant Group, unveiled a revamp of its business in response to government demands.

Officials from China’s market watchdog, internet regulator and tax authority met with the companies on Tuesday, according to the government’s statement. At the meeting, the officials “affirmed the positive role of the platform economy” but also told the companies to “give full play to the cautionary example of the Alibaba case.”

The nearly three dozen companies included almost all of the top names in the Chinese internet industry, from established titans like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu to newer powerhouses such as TikTok’s parent, ByteDance; the food delivery giant Meituan; the e-commerce site Pinduoduo; and the video platform Kuaishou.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the companies were told to strengthen their “sense of responsibility” and to “put the nation’s interests first,” the regulator’s statement said.

The stock market’s rally during the pandemic has been nothing short of amazing. But rising interest rates are raising the question of how long this bull market can last.

In the 12 months through March, the average general stock mutual fund tracked by Morningstar returned nearly 66 percent — a remarkable rebound after a three-month loss of nearly 22 percent at the start of last year.

The turnaround came after the Federal Reserve stepped in with support for financial markets and the economy, fueling much of the stock market’s exuberance with low interest rates.

But with the economy taking off, rates have begun to rise. At the start of a new quarter, it is a good moment to ask, how long can these strangely prosperous times last?

My crystal ball is no clearer now than it has ever been, alas, and I can’t time the market’s movements any better than anyone else. But this certainly is a good time to assess whether you are well positioned for a possible downward shift.

As always, the best approach for long-term investors is to set up a portfolio with a reasonable, diversified asset allocation of stocks and bonds and then live with it, come what may.

Our quarterly report on investing is intended to help. If you haven’t been an investor before, we’ve included tips on how to get started. Here you will find broad coverage of recent trends, guidance for the future and reflections on personal finance in a challenging era.

It’s been a long, fine run for the stock market, but a great deal of the upswing has depended on low interest rates, and in the bond market rates have been rising. Investment strategists are taking a wide array of approaches to deal with this difficult problem. For now, the bull market rides on.

Bonds provide ballast in diversified portfolios, damping the swings of the stock market and sometimes providing solid returns. Because bond yields have been rising — and yields and prices move in opposite directions — bond returns have been suffering lately. But adding a diversified selection of international bonds to domestic holdings can reduce the risk in the bond side of your investments.

Yes, the markets and the economy are complicated. That often puts people off, and stops them from taking action that can help them and their families immeasurably: investing. But investing need not be complicated. A succinct article gives pointers on how to get started, and on how to navigate the markets for the long haul.

After a piece of virtual art known as a nonfungible token — an NFT — sold at auction for $70 million recently, NFTs have suddenly became an asset that you can invest in. Our columnist prefers real dollars.

Short-term demand for oil and gas is rising, but if climate change is to be reversed, consumption of fossil fuels will have to diminish. This leaves investors in a tough spot.

The owner of the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood and 15 other movie theaters said it would not reopen after the pandemic.
Credit…Kate Warren for The New York Times

ArcLight Cinemas, a beloved chain of movie theaters based in Los Angeles, including the Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, will permanently close all its locations, Pacific Theaters announced on Monday, after the pandemic decimated the cinema business.

ArcLight’s locations in and around Hollywood have played host to many a movie premiere, in addition to being favorite spots for moviegoers seeking out blockbusters and prestige titles. They are operated by Pacific Theaters, which also manages a handful of theaters under the Pacific name, and are owned by Decurion.

“After shutting our doors more than a year ago, today we must share the difficult and sad news that Pacific will not be reopening its ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters locations,” the company said in a statement.

“This was not the outcome anyone wanted,” it added, “but despite a huge effort that exhausted all potential options, the company does not have a viable way forward.”

Between the Pacific and ArcLight brands, the company owned 16 theaters and more than 300 screens.

The movie theater business has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. But in recent weeks, the majority of the country’s largest theater chains, including AMC and Regal Cinemas, have reopened in anticipation of the slate of Hollywood films that have been put back on the calendar, many after repeated delays because of pandemic restrictions. A touch of optimism is even in the air as a result of the Warner Bros. movie “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which has generated some $70 million in box office receipts since opening over Easter weekend.

Still, the industry’s trade organization, the National Association of Theater Owners, has long warned that the punishing closures were most likely to affect smaller regional players like ArcLight and Pacific. In March, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema chain, which operates about 40 locations across the country, announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but would keep most of its locations operational while it restructured.

That does not seem to be the case for Pacific Theaters, which, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, fired its entire staff on Monday.

The reaction to ArcLight’s closing around Hollywood has been emotional, including an outpouring on Twitter.

“The First Amendment does not provide the Fox defendants a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Smartmatic’s lawyer, J. Erik Connolly, wrote in a brief.
Credit…Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

The election technology company Smartmatic pushed back on Monday against Fox News’s argument that it had covered the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election responsibly, stating that Fox anchors had played along as guests pushed election-related conspiracy theories.

“The First Amendment does not provide the Fox defendants a get-out-of-jail-free card,” Smartmatic’s lawyer, J. Erik Connolly, wrote in a brief filed in New York State Supreme Court. “The Fox defendants do not get a do-over with their reporting now that they have been sued.”

The brief came in response to motions filed by Fox Corporation and three current and former Fox hosts — Maria Bartiromo, Jeanine Pirro and Lou Dobbs — to dismiss a Smartmatic lawsuit accusing them of defamation.

Smartmatic and another company, Dominion Voting Systems, became the focus of baseless conspiracy theories after the Nov. 4 election that they had manipulated vote totals in contested states. Those conspiracy theories were pushed by Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell, serving as personal lawyers to former President Donald J. Trump, on Fox News, Mr. Trump’s longtime network of choice. Smartmatic, which says that the conspiracy theories destroyed its reputation and its business, provided election technology in only one county during the election.

Last month, Dominion also sued Fox News. Together, the two suits represent a billion-dollar challenge to the Fox empire, which, after Smartmatic filed its lawsuit, canceled the Fox Business program hosted by Mr. Dobbs.

“The filing only confirms our view that the suit is meritless and Fox News covered the election in the highest tradition of the First Amendment,” the network said in a statement late Monday.

Fox’s motion, as well as those of its anchors, argued that the mentions of Smartmatic were part of its reporting on a newsworthy event that it was duty-bound to cover: A president’s refusal to concede an election and his insistence that his opponent’s victory was not legitimate.

But the response Smartmatic filed on Monday, which runs for 120 pages, said that argument amounted to wishful thinking and that Fox had not covered the claims about Smartmatic objectively or fairly.

“The Fox defendants wedded themselves to Giuliani and Powell during their programs,” the brief said. “They cannot distance themselves now.”

Fox will have several weeks to respond to the brief, and a judge will eventually consider whether to allow Smartmatic’s case to proceed.

The death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright prompted protests in Brooklyn Center, Minn.
Credit…Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

Reporters from multiple local organizations were denied entry to a news conference on Monday about the shooting of Daunte Wright, whose death at the hands of a police officer in Minnesota has set off protests.

Mr. Wright, 20-year-old Black man, was killed by the officer on Sunday during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn., a suburb of Minneapolis. As national and international media flooded in, Brooklyn Center officials organized a news conference for Monday to address the shooting and release body-camera video.

Andy Mannix, a federal courts reporter for The Star Tribune, the largest newspaper in Minnesota, said on Twitter that he and his colleagues were denied access to the news conference while he watched national and international media be let in.

Suki Dardarian, a senior managing editor of The Star Tribune, said in an email that the paper had sent three journalists to the news conference. Two were denied entry, while one, a videojournalist, was able to get in, she said.

A spokeswoman for Minnesota Public Radio said that credentialed M.P.R. journalists also were not granted access. An article in The Star Tribune said journalists from the Minnesota Reformer, a nonprofit newsroom, were also denied.

Ms. Dardarian said local media should be allowed to attend police news conferences and ask questions.

“We were offered no explanation for why the reporter and photographer were not allowed in (as well as some other local journalists), except for someone saying the room was full,” Ms. Dardarian said. “Our videojournalist observed that there was still space in the room.”

“The chief indicated in his remarks that he is committed to transparency,” she said. “We believe that should include allowing the local media to attend a press conference to which they were invited — and agreeing to answer our questions following his statement.”

Dan Shelley, the executive director of Radio Television Digital News Association, a national industry group, said local journalists should be included in news conferences because they are part of the communities on which they’re reporting.

“If you have a genuine desire to be transparent, why would you exclude local journalists from a news conference?” Mr. Shelley said.

The city of Brooklyn Center and the city’s police department did not respond to requests for comment.

View Source

Movie theater chain in Los Angeles, forced to close by the pandemic, will not reopen.

ArcLight Cinemas, a beloved chain of movie theaters based in Los Angeles, including the historic Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, will permanently close all its locations, Pacific Theatres announced Monday, after the pandemic decimated the cinema business.

ArcLight’s locations in and around Hollywood have played host to many a movie premiere, in addition to being favorite spots for moviegoers seeking out blockbusters and prestige titles. They are operated by Pacific Theatres, which also manages a handful of theaters under the Pacific name, and are owned by Decurion.

“After shutting our doors more than a year ago, today we must share the difficult and sad news that Pacific will not be reopening its ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres locations,” the company said in a statement.

“This was not the outcome anyone wanted,” it added, “but despite a huge effort that exhausted all potential options, the company does not have a viable way forward.”

announced that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection but would keep most of its locations operational while it restructured.

That does not seem to be the case for Pacific Theatres, which, according to two people with knowledge of the matter, fired its entire staff on Monday.

The reaction to ArcLight’s closing around Hollywood has been emotional, including an outpouring on Twitter.

View Source

Drought and Abundance in the Mesopotamian Marshes

On my most recent visit to the Mesopotamian marshes, in March, I arrived at Sayeed Hitham’s for breakfast. The pandemic had kept me away for more than a year.

The sun was just rising, the sky pink and golden. Hana, Hitham’s wife, stood smiling near the door to their reed house. “Tea is ready, bread is ready,” she said. “Come on in.”

We sat on the worn-out carpet around a glowing kerosene heater, sipping tea and dipping the flat naan Hana had just baked into hot buffalo milk. “What took you so long, Emi?” Sayeed asked with a tone of reproach. “We haven’t seen you in forever.”

battle for Mosul was raging, I took the opposite path and headed south. I was in search of another view of the country, something different from the war I’d been covering for the previous year and a half.

It was a moment of real discovery for me — one of those few times when you connect with a place, with a people.

The Mesopotamian marshes, a series of wetlands that sit near Iraq’s southeast border, feel like an oasis in the middle of the desert — which they are. The ruins of the ancient Sumerian cities of Ur, Uruk and Eridu are close at hand. The broader region, known as the cradle of civilization, saw early developments in writing, architecture and complex society.

The marshes are home to a people called the Ma’dan, also known as the Marsh Arabs, who live deep in the wetlands, mostly as buffalo breeders in isolated settlements, a majority of which are reachable only by boat. Others live in small cities on the banks of the Tigris or Euphrates rivers, which feed the marshes.

Many of the Ma’dan left decades ago, when the marshes were ravaged by war, famine and repression.

During the Iran-Iraq war, waged between 1980 and 1988, the wetland’s proximity to the Iranian border turned the area into a conflict zone, a theater for bloody battles. Later, in the early 1990s, in the aftermath of a Shiite uprising against his Baath Party, Saddam Hussein intentionally drained the region — where many of the Shiite rebels had fled — as a punishment and a way to stifle the insurrection.

The marshes turned into a desert for more than a decade, until the United States-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

By then, damage had already been done. By the early 2000s, less than 10 percent of the area’s original wetland existed as a functioning marshland.

Today, after being re-flooded and partially restored, the marshes are once again endangered — by climate change, lack of ecological awareness on a local level and, perhaps most dramatically, by the construction of dams in Turkey and Syria and upriver in Iraq.

In 2018, an extremely hot summer followed by a lack of rain caused a serious drought. In some areas, the water level fell by more than three feet.

“That’s it,” I remember thinking, as the small boat crossed the marsh where corpses of young buffaloes floated in the water. Buffalo breeders like Sayeed Hitham lost about a third of their livestock, and many had to leave when areas turned into a desert. They migrated to neighboring cities — or farther still, to the poor suburbs of Karbala, Basra or Baghdad.

But then, a few months later, the water began to rise. People returned. I photographed the renewal, just as I’d photographed drought the year before. But it felt then — it still feels now — like a sword of Damocles hung over the region.

The stakes are high, both ecologically and for the people who live here. If the already-depleted marshes dry up again, the Ma’dan may have no choice but to leave, to cast away from a peaceful enclave into a troubled land.

Still, I’ve kept coming back. Over the years, I’ve seen drought and abundance, freezing winters and burning summers. I’ve seen children born, and watched them grow up. I’ve followed Sayeed Hitham and his family as they moved around the marsh, the location of their new home dependent on the water level — and each time built out of reeds.

I’ve even gotten used to the huge water buffaloes, known locally as jamous, which represent the main source of income for most of the Ma’dan.

The buffaloes scared me at the beginning. But I’ve learned to walk through a herd of horns, to let them smell me, to pet the fluffy, friendly calves — the ones that try to lick my hand like oversized dogs.

When I outlined my progress to Sayeed, as we wrapped up breakfast, he burst into his wonderful, exuberant laughter. “You still know nothing, Emi,” he said. “You can’t even tell the mean jamous in the herd.”

Then, serious, and still smiling, he said: “It’s OK. You have time to learn.”

View Source

Vaccine Passports Could Unlock World Travel and Cries of Discrimination

LONDON — For Aruba, a Caribbean idyll that has languished since the pandemic drove away its tourists, the concept of a “vaccine passport” is not just intriguing. It is a “lifeline,” said the prime minister, Evelyn Wever-Croes.

Aruba is already experimenting with a digital certificate that allows visitors from the United States who tested negative for the coronavirus to breeze through the airport and hit the beach without delay. Soon, it may be able to fast-track those who arrive with digital confirmation that they have been vaccinated.

“People don’t want to stand in line, especially with social distancing,” Ms. Wever-Croes said in an interview this week. “We need to be ready in order to make it hassle-free and seamless for the travelers.”

Vaccine passports are increasingly viewed as the key to unlocking the world after a year of pandemic-induced lockdowns — a few bytes of personal health data, encoded on a chip, that could put an end to suffocating restrictions and restore the freewheeling travel that is a hallmark of the age of globalization. From Britain to Israel, these passports are taking shape or already in use.

But they are also stirring complicated political and ethical debates about discrimination, inequality, privacy and fraud. And at a practical level, making them work seamlessly around the globe will be a formidable technical challenge.

The debate may play out differently in tourism- or trade-dependent outposts like Aruba and Singapore, which view passports primarily as a tool to reopen borders, than it will in vast economies like the United States or China, which have starkly divergent views on civil liberties and privacy.

The Biden administration said this week that it would not push for a mandatory vaccination credential or a federal vaccine database, attesting to the sensitive political and legal issues involved. In the European Union and Britain, which have taken tentative steps toward vaccine passports, leaders are running into thorny questions over their legality and technical feasibility.

And in Japan, which has lagged the United States and Britain in vaccinating its population, the debate has scarcely begun. There are grave misgivings there about whether passports would discriminate against people who cannot get a shot for medical reasons or choose not to be vaccinated.

Japan, like other Asian countries, has curbed the virus mainly through strict border controls.

“Whether or not to get vaccinated is up to the individual,” said Japan’s health minister, Norihisa Tamura. “The government should respond so that people won’t be disadvantaged by their decision.”

Still, almost everywhere, the pressure to restart international travel is forcing the debate. With tens of millions of people vaccinated, and governments desperate to reopen their economies, businesses and individuals are pushing to regain more freedom of movement. Verifying whether someone is inoculated is the simplest way to do that.

“There’s a very important distinction between international travel and domestic uses,” said Paul Meyer, the founder of the Commons Project, a nonprofit trust that is developing CommonPass, a scannable code that contains Covid testing and vaccination data for travelers. Aruba was the first government to sign up for it.

“There doesn’t seem to be any pushback on showing certification if I want to travel to Greece or Cyprus,” he said, pointing out that schools require students to be vaccinated against measles and many countries demand proof of yellow fever vaccinations. “From a public health perspective, it’s not fair to say, ‘You have no right to check whether I’m going to infect you.’”

CommonPass is one of multiple efforts by technology companies and others to develop reliable, efficient systems to verify the medical status of passengers — a challenge that will deepen as more people resume traveling.

At Heathrow Airport in London, which is operating at a fraction of its normal capacity, arriving passengers have had to line up for hours while immigration officials check whether they have proof of a negative test result and have purchased a mandatory kit to test themselves twice more after they enter the country.

Saudi Arabia announced this week that pilgrims visiting the mosques in Mecca and Medina during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan would have to show proof on a mobile app of being “immunized,” which officials defined as having been fully vaccinated, having gotten a single dose of a vaccine at least 14 days before arrival, or having recovered from Covid.

In neighboring United Arab Emirates, residents can show their vaccination status on a certificate through a government-developed app. So far, the certificate is not yet widely required for anything beyond entering the capital, Abu Dhabi, from abroad.

Few countries have gone farther in experimenting with vaccine passports than Israel. It is issuing a “Green Pass” that allows people who are fully vaccinated to go to bars, restaurants, concerts and sporting events. Israel has vaccinated more than half its population and the vast majority of its older people, which makes such a system useful but raises a different set of questions.

With people under 16 not yet eligible for the vaccine, the system could create a generational divide, depriving young people of access to many of the pleasures of their elders. So far, enforcement of the Green Pass has been patchy, and in any event, Israel has kept its borders closed.

So has China, which remains one of the most sealed-off countries in the world. In early March, the Chinese government announced it would begin issuing an “international travel health certificate,” which would record a user’s vaccination status, as well as the results of antibody tests. But it did not say whether the certificate would spare the user from China’s draconian quarantines.

Nor is it clear how eager other countries would be to recognize China’s certificate, given that Chinese companies have been slow in disclosing data from clinical trials of their homegrown vaccines.

Singapore has also maintained strict quarantines, even as it searches for way to restart foreign travel. Last week, it said it would begin rolling out a digital health passport, allowing passengers to use a mobile app to share their coronavirus test results before flying into the island nation.

Free movement across borders is the goal of the European Union’s “Digital Green Certificate.” The European Commission last month set out a plan for verifying vaccination status, which would allow a person to travel freely within the bloc. It left it up to its 27 member states to decide how to collect the health data.

That could avoid the pitfalls of the European Union’s vaccine rollout, which was heavily managed by Brussels and has been far slower than that in the United States or Britain. Yet analysts noted that in data collection, there is a trade-off between decentralized and centralized systems: the former tends to be better at protecting privacy but less efficient; the latter, more intrusive but potentially more effective.

“Given the very unequal access to vaccines we are witnessing in continental Europe, there is also an issue of equal opportunity and potential discrimination,” said Andrea Renda, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels.

For some countries, the legal and ethical implications have been a major stumbling block to domestic use of a passport. As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada put it last month, “There are questions of fairness and justice.”

And yet in Britain, which has a deeply rooted aversion to national ID cards, the government is moving gingerly in that direction. Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week outlined broad guidelines for a Covid certificate, which would record vaccination status, test results, and whether the holder had recovered from Covid, which confers a degree of natural immunity for an unknown duration.

Mr. Johnson insisted that shops, pubs and restaurants would not be required to demand the certificate, though they could opt to do so on their own. That did not stop dozens of lawmakers, from his Conservative Party and the opposition Labour Party, from opposing the plan on grounds that were legal, ethical and plainly commercial — that it could keep people out of the country’s beloved pubs.

Government officials now suggest that the plan is targeted less at pubs and restaurants and more at higher-risk settings, like nightclubs and sporting events.

“Would we rather have a system where no one can go to a sports ground or theater?” said Jonathan Sumption, a former justice on Britain’s Supreme Court, who has been an outspoken critic of the government’s strict lockdowns. “It’s better to have a vaccine passport than a blanket rule which excludes these pleasures from everybody.”

Reporting was contributed by Stephen Castle in London, Motoko Rich in Tokyo, Shashank Bengali in Singapore, Vivian Wang in Hong Kong, Vivian Yee in Cairo, Asmaa al-Omar in Beirut, and Ian Austen in Ottawa.

View Source

Has the Era of Overzealous Cleaning Finally Come to an End?

When the coronavirus began to spread in the United States last spring, many experts warned of the danger posed by surfaces. Researchers reported that the virus could survive for days on plastic or stainless steel, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised that if someone touched one of these contaminated surfaces — and then touched their eyes, nose or mouth — they could become infected.

Americans responded in kind, wiping down groceries, quarantining mail and clearing drugstore shelves of Clorox wipes. Facebook closed two of its offices for a “deep cleaning.” New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority began disinfecting subway cars every night.

But the era of “hygiene theater” may have come to an unofficial end this week, when the C.D.C. updated its surface cleaning guidelines and noted that the risk of contracting the virus from touching a contaminated surface was less than 1 in 10,000.

“People can be affected with the virus that causes Covid-19 through contact with contaminated surfaces and objects,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said at a White House briefing on Monday. “However, evidence has demonstrated that the risk by this route of infection of transmission is actually low.”

primarily through the air — in both large and small droplets, which can remain aloft longer — and that scouring door handles and subway seats does little to keep people safe.

who wrote last summer that the risk of surface transmission had been overblown. “This is a virus you get by breathing. It’s not a virus you get by touching.”

The C.D.C. has previously acknowledged that surfaces are not the primary way that the virus spreads. But the agency’s statements this week went further.

“The most important part of this update is that they’re clearly communicating to the public the correct, low risk from surfaces, which is not a message that has been clearly communicated for the past year,” said Joseph Allen, a building safety expert at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Catching the virus from surfaces remains theoretically possible, he noted. But it requires many things to go wrong: a lot of fresh, infectious viral particles to be deposited on a surface, and then for a relatively large quantity of them to be quickly transferred to someone’s hand and then to their face. “Presence on a surface does not equal risk,” Dr. Allen said.

In most cases, cleaning with simple soap and water — in addition to hand-washing and mask-wearing — is enough to keep the odds of surface transmission low, the C.D.C.’s updated cleaning guidelines say. In most everyday scenarios and environments, people do not need to use chemical disinfectants, the agency notes.

“What this does very usefully, I think, is tell us what we don’t need to do,” said Donald Milton, an aerosol scientist at the University of Maryland. “Doing a lot of spraying and misting of chemicals isn’t helpful.”

Still, the guidelines do suggest that if someone who has Covid-19 has been in a particular space within the last day, the area should be both cleaned and disinfected.

“Disinfection is only recommended in indoor settings — schools and homes — where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of Covid-19 within the last 24 hours,” Dr. Walensky said during the White House briefing. “Also, in most cases, fogging, fumigation and wide-area or electrostatic spraying is not recommended as a primary method of disinfection and has several safety risks to consider.”

And the new cleaning guidelines do not apply to health care facilities, which may require more intensive cleaning and disinfection.

Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University, said that she was happy to see the new guidance, which “reflects our evolving data on transmission throughout the pandemic.”

But she noted that it remained important to continue doing some regular cleaning — and maintaining good hand-washing practices — to reduce the risk of contracting not just the coronavirus but any other pathogens that might be lingering on a particular surface.

Dr. Allen said that the school and business officials he has spoken with this week expressed relief over the updated guidelines, which will allow them to pull back on some of their intensive cleaning regimens. “This frees up a lot of organizations to spend that money better,” he said.

Schools, businesses and other institutions that want to keep people safe should shift their attention from surfaces to air quality, he said, and invest in improved ventilation and filtration.

“This should be the end of deep cleaning,” Dr. Allen said, noting that the misplaced focus on surfaces has had real costs. “It has led to closed playgrounds, it has led to taking nets off basketball courts, it has led to quarantining books in the library. It has led to entire missed school days for deep cleaning. It has led to not being able to share a pencil. So that’s all that hygiene theater, and it’s a direct result of not properly classifying surface transmission as low risk.”

Roni Caryn Rabin contributed reporting

View Source

Tanglewood Is Back This Summer, With Beethoven and Yo-Yo Ma

There won’t be the traditional, grand closing-night performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with its stage full of singers. In fact, to reduce the risk of aerosol transmission of the coronavirus, there will be no vocal music at all at Tanglewood this summer.

But there will still be a lot of Beethoven, along with crowd-pleasing tributes to the composer John Williams and familiar guests like Emanuel Ax, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Joshua Bell and Yo-Yo Ma.

Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s warm-weather home in the Berkshires, announced in March that after remaining closed last year because of the pandemic, it would open this summer for a six-week season — about half the usual length — with limited crowds and distancing requirements. On Thursday, the orchestra filled in the programming: heavy on appearances by its music director, Andris Nelsons, and with a focus on Beethoven, whose 250th birthday last year was muted because of widespread concert cancellations.

Nelsons will lead eight orchestral programs, including a Beethoven opener on July 10 featuring the “Emperor” Piano Concerto, with Ax as soloist, and the Fifth Symphony. On July 23, the Boston Pops will honor Williams, who turns 90 next year and is the Pops’ laureate conductor; the following evening, Mutter gives the premiere of his Violin Concerto No. 2, and on Aug. 13 Williams shares the podium for a night of film music. On July 30, the violinist Leonidas Kavakos does Beethoven trios with Ax and Ma, who also plays with the Boston Symphony under Karina Canellakis on Aug. 8. (Details are available at bso.org.)

that began with great fanfare in 2019. The orchestra will host a two-day version of its annual Festival of Contemporary Music, July 25-26.

The Knights, a chamber orchestra, will be joined on July 9 by the jazz and classical pianist Aaron Diehl for Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and selections from Mary Lou Williams’s “Zodiac Suite.” Among the Boston Symphony’s guest conductors will be Thomas Adès (the orchestra’s artistic partner), Alan Gilbert, Anna Rakitina and Herbert Blomstedt; soloists include the pianists Daniil Trifonov, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and Kirill Gerstein, and the violinists Baiba Skride and Lisa Batiashvili.

The Tanglewood season is part of the nationwide thawing planned for this summer of a performing arts scene that has been largely frozen for over a year. The Public Theater has announced that its venerable Shakespeare in the Park will go forward, as will Santa Fe Opera and the Glimmerglass Festival in upstate New York. On Thursday, the Aspen Music Festival and School in Colorado said it would move forward with a nearly two-month season.

But as they reopen, institutions are reckoning with sharp losses. As it celebrated the return of Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony said its current operating budget was $57.7 million, down from its prepandemic budget of over $100 million. The orchestra estimated that it has lost over $50 million in revenue in the last year.

View Source