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Taiwan’s Drought Pits Chip Makers Against Farmers

HSINCHU, Taiwan — Chuang Cheng-deng’s modest rice farm is a stone’s throw from the nerve center of Taiwan’s computer chip industry, whose products power a huge share of the world’s iPhones and other gadgets.

This year, Mr. Chuang is paying the price for his high-tech neighbors’ economic importance. Gripped by drought and scrambling to save water for homes and factories, Taiwan has shut off irrigation across tens of thousands of acres of farmland.

The authorities are compensating growers for the lost income. But Mr. Chuang, 55, worries that the thwarted harvest will drive customers to seek out other suppliers, which could mean years of depressed earnings.

“The government is using money to seal farmers’ mouths shut,” he said, surveying his parched brown fields.

already strained by surging demand for electronics, the added uncertainty about Taiwan’s water supply is not likely to ease concerns about the tech world’s reliance on the island and on one chip maker in particular: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Intel and other big names. The company said last week that it would invest $100 billion over the next three years to increase capacity, which will likely further strengthen its commanding presence in the market.

TSMC says the drought has not affected its production so far. But with Taiwan’s rainfall becoming no more predictable even as its tech industry grows, the island is having to go to greater and greater lengths to keep the water flowing.

In recent months, the government has flown planes and burned chemicals to seed the clouds above reservoirs. It has built a seawater desalination plant in Hsinchu, home to TSMC’s headquarters, and a pipeline connecting the city with the rainier north. It has ordered industries to cut use. In some places it has reduced water pressure and begun shutting off supplies for two days each week. Some companies, including TSMC, have hauled in truckloads of water from other areas.

But the most sweeping measure has been the halt on irrigation, which affects 183,000 acres of farmland, around a fifth of Taiwan’s irrigated land.

project to increase irrigation efficiency.

That Taiwan, one of the developed world’s rainiest places, should lack for water is a paradox verging on tragedy.

2015, and before that in 2004.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Covid-19 Live Updates: U.K. to Offer Alternatives to AstraZeneza Vaccine to Adults Under 30

finally over rare, but sometimes fatal, blood clots reported in some recipients.

Those concerns led several European countries to first restrict the use of AstraZeneca in older age groups, then suspend it over reports of blood clots, only to roll it out again last month after the European Medicines Agency issued a preliminary opinion that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.

As doctors reported a higher incidence of serious blood clots in younger people, some countries decided to stop administering the shot to anyone younger than 55.

Europe’s concerns over the vaccine’s side effects are also likely to threaten global inoculation efforts, with much of the developing world depending on the AstraZeneca vaccine to tackle the pandemic. The shot is the cornerstone of Covax, a program designed to make vaccine access more equitable worldwide.

The vaccine appeared to be causing an immune reaction in which antibodies bind to platelets, activating them, German doctors and the European Medicines Agency have said. Those platelets, in turn, were causing the formation of dangerous clots in certain parts of the body, including in veins that drain blood from the brain, leading in some cases to a rare type of stroke.

Why the antibodies develop in these people is not known, doctors have said. Some component of the vaccine, or excessive immune reaction — or both — could be the cause, they said.

No pre-existing conditions are known to make patients more vulnerable to this clotting disorder after a vaccination, European regulators said.

A mass vaccination event for teachers in Carteret, N.J., this month. About eight million school employees had received at least one vaccine dose by the end of March.
Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Nearly 80 percent of school staff and child care workers in the United States have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.

The announcement comes as the Biden administration has made an ambitious push to reopen schools and return to in-person instruction by the president’s 100th day in office. That goal has been tempered by dangerous virus variants, protests from teachers’ unions, and the fears and frustrations of students and parents.

The push to reopen schools has gathered momentum as evidence mounted that proper safety measures limited virus transmission in schools and coronavirus cases fell sharply from their January peak. Education officials and experts have cited the urgency of getting students back in classrooms before the academic year ends.

About eight million teachers, school staff and child care workers received their first vaccine dose by the end of March, according to the C.D.C., with about two million receiving their shot through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program.

President Biden announced the program in March, urging nationwide access to vaccines for school employees and child care workers. But a hodgepodge of eligibility guidelines followed, as some states chose not to deviate from their rollout plans. By the end of March, however, K-12 educators in all states had become eligible to receive the vaccine.

While the acceleration of vaccinations among educators and staff has reduced the resistance from teachers’ unions to reopening classrooms, school systems with powerful unions, especially on the West Coast, have been slower to revert to in-person instruction.

Union resistance has led a bipartisan group of governors in several states to prod, and sometimes force, school districts to open. The result has been a major increase in the number of students who now have the option of attending school in-person, or will soon.

According to a school reopening tracker created by the American Enterprise Institute, 7 percent of the more than 8,000 districts being tracked were fully remote on March 22, the lowest percentage since the tracker was started in November. Forty-one percent of districts were offering full-time in-person instruction, the highest percentage in that time. Those findings have been echoed by other surveys.

In February, the C.D.C. issued guidelines that said K-12 schools could reopen safely as long as they followed basic health protocols like masking or distancing.

More recently, it said that elementary students and some middle and high schoolers could be spaced three feet apart in classrooms, instead of six feet, as long as everyone was wearing a mask. Unions had used the six-foot guidance to oppose bringing children back for normal schedules.

“Our push to ensure that teachers, school staff, and child care workers were vaccinated during March has paid off and paved the way for safer in-person learning,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the center’s director, said in a statement released on Tuesday.

Mr. Biden touted the C.D.C.’s newly released benchmark while visiting a vaccination site in Alexandra, Va., on Tuesday.

“That is great progress protecting our educators and our essential workers,” Mr. Biden said of the new estimate. “And because our vaccine program is in overdrive, we are making it easier to get a vaccination shot.”

The American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teacher’s union, on Tuesday released a survey that reported over 80 percent of association members had been vaccinated or had made a vaccine appointment. About 85 percent of members said their school was “operating on at least a part-time basis,” according to the survey.

Randi Weingarten, the federation’s president, said in a statement on Tuesday that “A.F.T. members have embraced vaccines as vital to getting back in the classroom.”

“They want to return, the road map to reopening is robust, and if we instill trust and meet fear with facts we can finally end this national nightmare,” Ms. Weingarten said.

A guest showed her “Excelsior Pass,” with proof of vaccination, on a phone outside the The Shed, a performing and visual arts venue in New York.
Credit…Angela Weiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Around the United States, businesses, schools and politicians are considering “vaccine passports” — digital proof of vaccination against the coronavirus — as a path to reviving the economy and getting Americans back to work and play.

New York has rolled out “Excelsior Pass,” billed by the state as “a free, fast and secure way to present digital proof of Covid-19 vaccination” in case reopening sports and entertainment venues require proof of attendees’ status.

Walmart is offering electronic verification apps to patients vaccinated in its stores so they “can easily access their vaccine status as needed,” the company said.

But the idea is raising charged legal and ethical questions: Can businesses require employees or customers to provide proof of vaccination against the coronavirus when the vaccine is ostensibly voluntary?

Can schools require that students prove they have been injected with what is still officially an experimental prophylaxis the same way they require long-approved vaccines for measles and polio? And finally, can governments mandate vaccinations — or stand in the way of businesses or educational institutions that demand proof?

Legal experts say the answer to all of these questions is generally yes, though in a society so divided, politicians are girding for a fight. Government entities like school boards and the Army can require vaccinations for entry, service and travel — practices that flow from a 1905 Supreme Court ruling that said states could require residents to be vaccinated against smallpox or pay a fine.

Backers of digital vaccination cards are pressing the Biden administration to become involved, at least by setting standards for privacy and for verifying the accuracy of the records.

The White House is clearly skittish.

“The government is not now nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday.

Republican critics say vaccine passports raise the specter of centralized databases of vaccinated people, which they view as a government intrusion on privacy.

“A vaccine passport — a unified, centralized system for providing or denying access to everyday activities like shopping and dining — would be a nightmare for civil liberties and privacy,” Justin Amash, a former Republican congressman who is now a libertarian, wrote on Twitter last week.

But, in fact, every state already has a database, or an “immunization registry.” And under “data use agreements,” the states are required to share their registries with the C.D.C., though the agency de-identifies the information and not all states have agreed to provide it.

global roundup

A vaccination center in Kathmandu, Nepal, last month.
Credit…Niranjan Shrestha/Associated Press

Three weeks after suspending its vaccination campaign, Nepal has started administering shots again thanks to a gift of doses from China.

Nepal, a poor Himalayan nation, had been depending on vaccines manufactured in neighboring India, but last month India began cutting vaccine exports as the country experienced a surge in coronavirus cases. Nepal’s vaccination effort ground to a halt, even as infections began to rise again.

Last week, Nepal’s other giant neighbor, China, stepped in with a donation of 800,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Sinopharm, a state-owned company.

The vaccines will be administered to essential workers, Nepali students preparing to travel to China to study and those living in districts along the Nepal-China border, health officials said. Taranath Pokhrel, a senior official in Nepal’s health department, said that the Chinese government asked Nepal to give priority to the students and to people involved in cross-border trade, presumably to reduce the risk of infected people crossing into China.

Thousands of Nepali students study at Chinese universities under Chinese government scholarships. China, to increase the appeal of its vaccines, has said that foreigners who are inoculated with Chinese-made vaccines may face fewer bureaucratic hurdles entering the country.

Nepal, a nation of 30 million people, has vaccinated more than 1.7 million and slowly begun reopening to visitors, including to a few hundred climbers attempting to scale Mount Everest. The country reported very few infections in January, but new cases have surpassed 300 in recent days, part of a worrying resurgence in new cases across South Asia. India, which shares a porous border with Nepal, recorded more than 115,000 new infections on Wednesday, by far its highest daily total since the pandemic began.

The future of Nepal’s vaccination campaign remains uncertain because the Chinese donation falls short of the two million vaccine doses Nepal was due to receive under an agreement with the Indian manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India. Nepal officials said that they had paid the company 80 percent of the contract price but received only half of the doses. Serum’s chief executive said this week that he hoped to restart exports by June if new infections in India subsided.

“Our entire diplomatic channels are mobilized to get vaccines, but none has assured us of providing vaccines when we tried to procure them,” Dr. Pokhrel said.

In other news from around the world:

With only months left in office, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has struggled to rally support for a national lockdown.
Credit…Hannibal Hanschke/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has called for a short and strict nationwide lockdown to bring down the number of new coronavirus infections in the country, according to her spokeswoman, but will meet with local officials next week to discuss potential regulations.

A year after the first lockdown was successful in tamping down cases, the country’s 16 governors are finding it harder than ever to agree on a unified plan to stem new infections. And with only months left in office, Ms. Merkel has found it increasingly difficult to rally support for a national lockdown as fatigue from prolonged restrictions looms large even as cases rise.

The governors and Ms. Merkel are scheduled to meet on Monday to hammer out new regulations.

While Armin Laschet, the governor of the country’s most populous state and a potential successor to Ms. Merkel, has made similar calls for a two- to three-week hard lockdown to bring down infections, other governors are pushing back. The governor of one small state even began a pilot program on Tuesday to reopen theaters, gyms and restaurant patios.

“A common nationwide approach would also be important here,” Ulrike Demmer, the deputy government spokeswoman, said during a daily news conference, referring to the confusing and often contradictory rules set by state governors. Ms. Demmer also pointed to the rising number of coronavirus patients in intensive care wards as a cause for concern.

According to Ms. Demmer, the goal is to get the infection rate below 100 new cases per 100,000 before the authorities should consider easing restrictions.

On Tuesday, the German health authorities recorded an average of 110 infections per 100,000 people over the previous 7 days, but warned that because fewer people were tested over the Easter holiday weekend, the number was likely to be much higher.

According to a New York Times database, Germany is averaging 15,562 new infections daily and since the pandemic began. More than 77,000 have died with the disease in the country since the pandemic began.

People accused of breaking coronavirus rules were made to exercise as punishment in Manila last month.
Credit…Lisa Marie David/Reuters

A 28-year-old man has died in the Philippines after the police forced him to do 300 squats as punishment after he was caught violating coronavirus lockdown rules.

The man, Darren Manaog Peñaredondo, was detained on Thursday in General Trias city, a Manila suburb, over a curfew violation. Officials have struggled to contain infections in the southeast Asian nation and have increasingly resorted to harsh tactics to enforce restrictions, rights groups say.

He was released the following day, but first was forced to complete 300 squats, his relatives said.

It is not the first time that the authorities have been accused of using aggressive tactics against civilians during the pandemic. President Rodrigo Duterte told the police last year not to be afraid to shoot anyone who “causes commotion,” after 20 people protesting restrictions were arrested. Last year, a former soldier suffering from mental health issues was gunned down by the police as he tried to cross a coronavirus checkpoint.

Mr. Peñaredondo’s partner, Reichelyn Balce, said that when he returned home on Friday after being detained, he had shown signs of fatigue.

“He told me that he fell when doing the exercises,” she said. “He struggled to walk when he got home. When he went to relieve himself, he turned blue and convulsed.”

She said that Mr. Peñaredondo was revived but he later died.

Two police officers who imposed the harsh punishment have been suspended pending the results of an investigation into their actions, said Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi Usana, a national police spokesman.

The local police had initially denied the events, but two men who were detained with Mr. Peñaredondo signed a sworn statement about the ordeal.

Cristina Palabay, who leads a local rights group called Karapatan, said that the police punishment amounted to “a form of torture that is cruel and inhuman” and signaled that the local police had adopted a “strongman approach.”

Ms. Palabay’s group aids families of the thousands of citizens killed in the president’s aggressive war on drugs.

The country’s Commission on Human Rights was critical of what it called an “overreach of the enforcement of quarantine rules and regulations,” according to the body’s spokeswoman, Jacqueline Ann de Guia.

Ms. de Guia said that curfew violations called for community service or a fine, rather than harsh physical punishment.

Near Cora, Wyo., in March. In the throes of a pandemic that has made the indoors inherently dangerous, tens of thousands more Americans than usual have flocked outdoors.
Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Kenna Tanner and her team can list the cases from memory: There was the woman who got tired and did not feel like finishing her hike; the campers, in shorts during a blizzard; the base jumper, misjudging his leap from a treacherous granite cliff face; the ill-equipped snowmobiler, buried up to his neck in an avalanche.

All of them were pulled by Ms. Tanner and the Tip Top Search and Rescue crew from the rugged Wind River mountain range — the Winds, as the range is known locally — in the past year in a sprawling, remote pocket of western Wyoming. And all of them, their rescuers said, were wildly unprepared for the brutal backcountry in which they were traveling.

“It is super frustrating,” said Ms. Tanner, Tip Top’s director. “We just wish that people respected the risk.”

In the throes of a pandemic that has made the indoors inherently dangerous, tens of thousands more Americans than usual have flocked outdoors, fleeing crowded cities for national parks and the public lands around them. But as these hordes of inexperienced adventurers explore the treacherous terrain of the backcountry, many inevitably call for help. It has strained the patchwork, volunteer-based search-and-rescue system in America’s West.

Where places like Canada or Switzerland have professional, full-time teams that manage everything from lost tourists to fatal mountaineering accidents, most operations in the United States are handled by a loose network of volunteer organizations like Tip Top, which are overseen by local sheriffs.

For much of the country’s history, this patchwork system met demand. But that trend has shifted in the past decade — and rapidly, over the past year — as less experienced recreationalists push further into treacherous places.

No one expects the eventual end of the pandemic to stem the flood of newcomers to the Winds, which people grudgingly admit have been discovered. Property values continue to soar in Sublette County, and even this winter, locals say out-of-state plates were more common than Wyoming plates in trailhead parking lots.

“You can’t stop it,” said Chris Hayes, who works at an outdoor retailer in Pinedale and also runs a fishing guide service. “There’s no secret place anymore. They’re all gone.”

Credit…Moritz Wienert

Before the pandemic, I found comfort in the routine of my life and the rhythms of my family — what Nora Ephron once called the “peanut-butter-and-jellyness” of days with children. I liked the morning thunderdome of getting the children dressed and fed, dropping them at school and taking the 20-minute walk to the subway.

At this point my commute is the five feet from my bed to my desk, and I am somehow both tired and agitated when I start work each day. My kids never leave the house, except when we go to the same three parks in our neighborhood. Sometimes when I go running outside, I fantasize about just … not stopping, my eyes thirsty for some new horizon.

In other words, I’m so freaking bored.

Here’s how one boredom researcher — yes, there are boredom researchers — has defined the emotion. “‘Feeling unchallenged’ and perceiving one’s ‘activities as meaningless’ is central to boredom,” concluded a study by Wijnand Van Tilburg, an experimental social psychologist at the University of Essex in England.

Even in normal times, boredom is a very common emotion — a study of almost 4,000 American adults found that 63 percent felt bored at least once in a 10-day sampling period. The causes of boredom are multifaceted, but a lack of control over your situation is a common one. He added, “There’s research that shows when you’re limited in your control over the situation — that intensifies boredom.”

Knowing that many of us may not be able to have much control over our movements for at least the next few months, how do we try to alleviate our boredom? First, the researchers I spoke to said it’s important to acknowledge there’s no easy fix for our doldrums — so much of what is happening right now is beyond our control, and the vaccines are just beginning to be tested in children under 12, so we may not be able to make big moves just yet.

This weekend, we saw relatives I adore for an outdoor Easter egg hunt. Just 90 minutes of warm interaction with these beloved adults made me feel so happy and alive that I was smiling for the rest of the day.

As the weather gets warmer and more of my peers are inoculated, I am planning more get-togethers. Whenever I drop back into the doldrums, I will think about all the walks and dinners and hugs on the horizon.

Kate Whelley McCabe, a co-founder of Vermont Evaporator Company, which saw customer demand double during the pandemic, tapping trees in a neighbor’s yard near Montpelier, Vt.
Credit…Jay Ericson

Stress-baking and panic shopping. Vegetable regrowing and crafting. Now we can add another hobby to a year of quarantine trends: backyard maple sugaring.

Among the many indicators that it’s on the rise: a run on at-home evaporators and other syrup-making accouterments. A surge in traffic and subscriptions to syrup-making websites and trade publications. And, of course, lots of documentation on social media. (The Facebook group Backyard Maple Syrup Makers added some 5,000 members, almost doubling the its community, in the past year.)

Tapping maple trees and boiling the sap into syrup — known as sugaring — isn’t a new hobby. What’s unique about this year is the influx of suburban and urban backyard adventurers fueling these maple sugaring highs.

Claire and Thomas Gallagher, for example, tapped a tree behind their home in New Rochelle, N.Y., for the first time three weeks ago.

“It’s such a fun thing to do with the kids, it gets us outside, it’s educational,” Ms. Gallagher, 37, said. And with everyone at home all winter and probably the spring as well, the Gallaghers decided there would never be a better year to try it.

Because sugaring is a sticky business — and boiling sap indoors can mean resin all over the walls — many backyard amateurs turn to small-scale, hobby-size evaporators like the ones sold by Vermont Evaporator Company in Montpelier, Vt.

“When we started our company five years ago, our customers used to look just like us: rural homeowners with five to 10 acres of land,” said Kate Whelley McCabe, the chief executive. “Now we sell to people all over the country and to a growing number of suburban and urban customers.”

The governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu, is a dedicated sugarer. His 8-year old son, Leo, is his tree tapping assistant, and his two teenagers, Edie and Calvin, “do the heavy lifting.”

Governor Sununu said that when the tree sap begins to flow, it’s the official signal that spring has arrived. “It’s been a long winter and a long year. The sun is coming up, the days are getting warmer, and when the sap ran this year, we knew we were really coming out of winter with a lot of optimism,” he said in an interview.

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How Debt and Climate Change Pose a ‘Systemic Risk to the Global Economy’

How does a country deal with climate disasters when it’s drowning in debt? Not very well, it turns out. Especially not when a global pandemic clobbers its economy.

Take Belize, Fiji and Mozambique. Vastly different countries, they are among dozens of nations at the crossroads of two mounting global crises that are drawing the attention of international financial institutions: climate change and debt.

They owe staggering amounts of money to various foreign lenders. They face staggering climate risks, too. And now, with the coronavirus pandemic pummeling their economies, there is a growing recognition that their debt obligations stand in the way of meeting the immediate needs of their people — not to mention the investments required to protect them from climate disasters.

The combination of debt, climate change and environmental degradation “represents a systemic risk to the global economy that may trigger a cycle that depresses revenues, increases spending and exacerbates climate and nature vulnerabilities,” according to a new assessment by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and others, which was seen by The Times. It comes after months of pressure from academics and advocates for lenders to address this problem.

downgraded its creditworthiness, making it tougher to get loans on the private market. The International Monetary Fund calls its debt levels “unsustainable.”

nearly $600 billion in debt service payments over the next five years. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are important lenders, but so are rich countries, as well as private banks and bondholders. The global financial system would face a huge problem if countries faced with shrinking economies defaulted on their debts.s

“We cannot walk head on, eyes wide open, into a debt crisis that is foreseeable and preventable,” the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, said last week as he called for debt relief for a broad range of countries. “Many developing countries face financing constraints that mean they cannot invest in recovery and resilience.”

The Biden administration, in an executive order on climate change, said it would use its voice in international financial institutions, like the World Bank, to align debt relief with the goals of the Paris climate agreement, though it hasn’t yet detailed what that means.

flurry of proposals from economists, advocates and others to address the problem. The details vary. But they all call, in one way or another, for rich countries and private creditors to offer debt relief, so countries can use those funds to transition away from fossil fuels, adapt to the effects of climate change, or obtain financial reward for the natural assets they already protect, like forests and wetlands. One widely circulated proposal calls on the Group of 20 (the world’s 20 biggest economies) to require lenders to offer relief “in exchange for a commitment to use some of the newfound fiscal space for a green and inclusive recovery.”

debts soared, including to China, and the country, whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, pared back planned climate projects, according to research by the World Resources Institute.

The authors proposed what they called a climate-health-debt swap, where bilateral creditors, namely China, would forgive some of the debt in exchange for climate and health care investments. (China has said nothing publicly about the idea of debt swaps.)

sinking under huge debts, including secret loans that the government had not disclosed, when, in 2019, came back-to-back cyclones. They killed 1,000 people and left physical damages costing more than $870 million. Mozambique took on more loans to cope. Then came the pandemic. The I.M.F. says the country is in debt distress.

Six countries on the continent are in debt distress, and many more have seen their credit ratings downgraded by private ratings agencies. In March, finance ministers from across Africa said that many of their countries had spent a sizable chunk of their budgets already to deal with extreme weather events like droughts and floods, and some countries were spending a tenth of their budgets on climate adaptation efforts. “Our fiscal buffers are now truly depleted,” they wrote.

In developing countries, the share of government revenues that go into paying foreign debts nearly tripled to 17.4 percent between 2011 and 2020, an analysis by Eurodad, a debt relief advocacy group found.

Research suggests that climate risks have already made it more expensive for developing countries to borrow money. The problem is projected to get worse. A recent paper found climate change will raise the cost of borrowing for many more countries as early as 2030 unless efforts are made to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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PG&E Charged With Crimes in 2019 California Wildfire

Pacific Gas & Electric, the troubled utility that has started some of California’s most destructive wildfires, faces new criminal charges, for its role in igniting a 2019 wildfire that burned 120 square miles in Sonoma County north of San Francisco.

The county’s district attorney on Tuesday charged PG&E, which emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, with five felonies and 28 misdemeanors, including recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury, in connection with the Kincade Fire. The blaze damaged or destroyed more than 400 buildings and seriously injured six firefighters.

This is the third set of criminal charges filed against PG&E, California’s largest utility. A jury in 2017 convicted PG&E of charges related to five deaths in a gas pipeline explosion seven years earlier. And the utility pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2018 Camp Fire, which was started by its equipment. That fire destroyed the town of Paradise and helped drive PG&E into bankruptcy, where it worked to resolve an estimated $30 billion in wildfire liabilities.

California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection concluded that the Kincade Fire had started after high winds knocked a cable from a PG&E tower at the Geysers geothermal field. The fire took 15 days to contain, and the district attorney, Jill Ravitch, described the evacuation required in some towns as the largest ever in Sonoma County, a California wine hub.

If convicted, PG&E could face fines and additional penalties for violating a federal probation that stems from the pipeline explosion case. The company has paid billions of dollars to governments, families, insurance companies and others for disasters caused by its equipment, which regulators have said has often been very poorly maintained.

In a statement on Tuesday, PG&E promised that it would continue upgrading its equipment and carrying out safety practices to protect Californians. The company said it accepted findings that its equipment had caused the Kincade Fire but did not believe it was criminally liable.

“We are saddened by the property losses and personal impacts sustained by our customers and communities in Sonoma County and surrounding areas as a result of the October 2019 Kincade Fire,” the company said. “We do not believe there was any crime here. We remain committed to making it right for all those impacted and working to further reduce wildfire risk on our system.”

The company emerged from bankruptcy last summer, agreeing to pay $13.5 billion to a fund set up to compensate tens of thousands of individuals and families who lost homes in wildfires started by PG&E.

Emerging from bankruptcy allowed the utility to participate in a $20 billion state wildfire fund with California’s other investor-owned utilities to help cover costs of future wildfires.

The utility has been working to improve its equipment, adding weather stations, cameras, micro-grids and sturdier transmission towers and lines. Patricia K. Poppe, who became chief executive of PG&E’s parent company in January, said she had taken the job “to ensure that we care for all those who were harmed, and that we make it safe again in California.”

“We will work around the clock until that is true for all people we are privileged to serve,” she added.

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Possible Side Effects of AstraZeneca Vaccine Come Into Sharper Focus

LONDON — For months, European countries have seesawed between craving and rebuffing AstraZeneca’s vaccine, with the shot’s fortunes rising and falling on spats over supply and on questions over the efficacy of the vaccine itself.

But few concerns have proved as disruptive to the rollout of the world’s workhorse vaccine in Europe as reports of very rare blood clots in some recipients. Many countries responded by halting the shot’s use, only to start giving it again after an all-clear from regulators at the European Medicines Agency, and then stopped inoculations a second time in certain age groups after doctors became more concerned about the clots.

On Tuesday, those concerns were reinforced yet again when a top vaccines official at the European Medicines Agency said that the vaccine was linked to extremely rare, though sometimes fatal, blood clots in a small number of recipients. It was the first indication from an international regulatory body that the clots may be a real, if very unusual, side effect of the shot.

Regulators now appear to be considering issuing their first formal warnings about the potential side effects — not only in continental Europe, which has long been wary of the shot for political and scientific reasons, but also in Britain, the birthplace of the AstraZeneca vaccine and long its biggest champion, where new data have sown concerns as well.

speedy inoculation program, have also insisted that the vaccine’s benefits far outweighed the risks. They and the company cited a lack of evidence in Britain that the clotting events were any more common than would be expected among people who had never been given AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

But the evidence changed last week when Britain reported 30 cases of the rare blood clots, 25 more than previously. This week, a prominent scientific adviser to the British government said there was “increasing evidence” of the clots being associated with the vaccine.

regulators reported 30 cases of the rare blood clots combined with low platelets among 18 million people given the AstraZeneca vaccine. That translated to roughly one case in 600,000 recipients of the vaccine.

European countries’ divergent approaches to the vaccine stem from a number of factors, including the supply of vaccines and severity of the pandemic. Marco Cavaleri, the official at the European Medicines Agency who spoke about the link between the vaccine and blood clots, said on Tuesday that those factors would likely continue to dictate how countries used the shot.

Beyond those factors, countries also took very different approaches to managing risk, scientists said. Countries that have continued using the shot were more focused on securing the overall health of their citizens. Others were more preoccupied with minimizing the risk to any single person.

“The attitude here is more, ‘Get me out of the pandemic,’” said Penny Ward, a visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King’s College London, referring to the British approach. In continental Europe, she said, “There seems to be a much higher emphasis on individual safety in the population.”

Adriano Mannino, a philosopher at the University of Munich and director of the Solon Center for Policy Innovation in Germany, said that the collective benefits of the vaccine dominated thinking in Britain, while Germans were more concerned with the risk of an injection going wrong in individual cases. That reflected, partly, Germany’s history with the Nazis, who conducted lethal experiments on people.

“In many areas where law has to regulate ethically delicate and potentially dangerous things,” he said, “the German state has tended to go for tough restrictions.”

Nevertheless, Germans over 60 — the age group still being given AstraZeneca’s vaccine — flooded hotlines to book appointments and stood in line for hours in recent days as eligibility restrictions for their age group were relaxed.

In the northeastern city of Wismar, several hundred people waited for up to five hours on Tuesday in a driving wind and mix of rain and snow to receive the shot.

“I wish there had been better weather,” Kerstin Weiss, the head of the district authority in the northeastern region, told public broadcaster NDR. “But honestly, this is a sign that people are willing to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca.”

Benjamin Mueller reported from London and Melissa Eddy from Berlin. Monika Pronczuk and Emma Bubola contributed reporting.

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Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. Vaccinations Accelerate as Variants Linger

three million doses are being given on average each day, compared with well under one million when Mr. Biden took office in January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every state has now given at least one dose to a quarter or more of its population. About 62.4 million people — 19 percent of Americans — have been fully vaccinated.

“Today, we are pleased to announce another acceleration of the vaccine eligibility phases to earlier than anticipated,” Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland said on Monday, announcing that all Maryland residents 16 or older would be eligible from Tuesday for a vaccine at the state’s mass vaccination sites, and from April 19 at any vaccine provider in the state.

Also on Monday, Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey said residents 16 or older in his state would be eligible on April 19. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington said later on Monday that city residents 16 or older would also be eligible on April 19.

That leaves two states, Oregon and Hawaii, keeping to Mr. Biden’s original deadline of May 1. Their governors did not immediately respond to requests for comment about whether they would broaden eligibility sooner, but Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon announced on Monday that all frontline workers and their families, as well as those 16 or older with underlying health conditions, would be eligible immediately.

In Hawaii, 34 percent of residents have received at least one dose; in Oregon, the figure is 31 percent. Alabama has vaccinated the lowest proportion of its residents, at 25 percent.

But as Ms. Brown noted in her announcement about eligibility — and as experts have warned for weeks — “we’re in a race between vaccines and variants.”

Along with dangerous coronavirus variants that were identified in Britain, South Africa and Brazil, new mutations have continued to pop up in the United States, from California to New York to Oregon.

The shots will eventually win, scientists say, but because each infection gives the coronavirus a chance to evolve further, vaccinations must proceed as fast as possible.

As that race continues, the optimism sown by the steady pace of vaccinations may be threatening to undermine the progress the nation has made. Scientists also fear Americans could let their guard down too soon as warmer weather draws them outside and case levels drop far below the devastating surge this winter.

Cases are now rising sharply in parts of the country, with some states offering a stark reminder that the pandemic is far from over: New cases in Michigan have increased 112 percent and hospitalizations have increased 108 percent over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database.

The United States is averaging more than 64,000 new cases each day, an 18 percent increase from two weeks earlier. That’s well below the peak of more than 250,000 new cases daily in January, but on par with last summer’s surge after reopenings in some states, like Arizona, where patrons packed into clubs as hospital beds filled up. The United States is averaging more than 800 Covid-19 deaths each day, the lowest level since November.

Yet again, governors across the country have lifted precautions like mask mandates and capacity limits on businesses. Medical experts have warned that these moves are premature, and Mr. Biden has urged governors to reinstate the restrictions.

Travel is up again, too, with more than one million people passing through airport security each day in the United States since March 11, according to the Transportation Security Administration. On Sunday, more than 1.5 million people passed through T.S.A. checkpoints. The C.D.C. said last week that fully vaccinated Americans could travel domestically with low risk, but should still follow precautions like wearing masks.

Several businesses in China are offering incentives for those getting inoculated, including this Lego stall outside a vaccination center in Beijing.
Credit…Gilles Sabrié for The New York Times

In Beijing, the vaccinated qualify for buy-one-get-one-free ice cream cones. In the northern province of Gansu, a county government published a 20-stanza poem extolling the virtues of the jab. In the southern town of Wancheng, officials warned parents that if they refused to get vaccinated, their children’s schooling and future employment and housing were all at risk.

China is deploying a medley of tactics, some tantalizing and some threatening, to achieve mass vaccination on a staggering scale: a goal of 560 million people, or 40 percent of its population, by the end of June.

China has already proven how effectively it can mobilize against the coronavirus. And other countries have achieved widespread vaccination, albeit in much smaller populations.

But China faces a number of challenges. The country’s near-total control over the coronavirus has left many residents feeling little urgency to get vaccinated. Some are wary of China’s history of vaccine-related scandals, a fear that the lack of transparency around Chinese coronavirus vaccines has done little to assuage. Then there is the sheer size of the population to be inoculated.

To get it done, the government has turned to a familiar tool kit: a sprawling, quickly mobilized bureaucracy and its sometimes heavy-handed approach. This top-down, all-out response helped tame the virus early on, and now the authorities hope to replicate that success with vaccinations.

Already, uptake has skyrocketed. Over the past week, China has administered an average of about 4.8 million doses a day, up from about one million a day for much of last month. Experts have said they hope to reach 10 million a day to meet the June goal.

“They say it’s voluntary, but if you don’t get the vaccine, they’ll just keep calling you,” said Annie Chen, a university student in Beijing who received two such entreaties from a school counselor in about a week.

Millions of people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine without safety problems, but reports of rare blood clots have raised concerns.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

A top vaccines official at the European Medicines Agency said on Tuesday that AstraZeneca’s vaccine was linked to blood clots in a small number of recipients, the first indication from a leading regulatory body that the clots may be a real, if extremely rare, side effect of the shot.

The agency itself has not formally changed its guidance, issued last week, that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, but any further ruling from regulators would be a setback for a shot that Europe and much of the world are relying on to save lives amid a global surge in coronavirus cases.

The medicines agency said last week that no causal link between the vaccine and rare blood clots had been proven. Only a few dozen cases of blood clots have been recorded among the many millions of people who have received the vaccine across Europe.

But the vaccines official, Marco Cavaleri, told an Italian newspaper that “it is clear there is an association with the vaccine,” and that the medicines agency would announce “in the next hours” that it had determined there was a link. The medicines agency did not immediately respond to questions about its plans.

Those comments represented the first indication by a leading regulatory body that the blood clots could be a genuine, if extremely rare, side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Previously, health officials in several European countries temporarily restricted the use of the shot in certain age groups, despite the European Medicines Agency’s recommendation to keep administering it.

Regulators in Britain and at the World Health Organization have also said that, while they were investigating any rare side effects, the shot was safe to use and would save many lives.

Mr. Cavaleri told the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero that European regulators had not determined why the vaccine might be causing the rare blood clots, which generated concern because the cases were so unusual. They involved blood clots combined with unusually low levels of platelets, a disorder that can lead to heavy bleeding.

The most worrisome of the conditions, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, involves clots in the veins that drain blood from the brain, a condition that can lead to a rare type of stroke.

The clots are, by all accounts, extremely rare. European regulators were analyzing 44 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, 14 of them fatal, among 9.2 million people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine across the continent. Emer Cooke, the European Medicines Agency’s director, said that the clotting cases in younger people translated to a risk for one in every 100,000 people under 60 given the vaccine. Younger people, and especially younger women, are at higher risk from the brain clots, scientists have said.

In Britain, regulators last week reported 30 cases of the rare blood clots combined with low platelets among 18 million people given the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed with the University of Oxford. No such cases were reported in people who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Britain.

Regulators in Britain have said that people should get the vaccine “when invited to do so.” But British news reports indicated Monday night that regulators were considering updating that guidance for certain age groups.

Monika Pronczuk and Emma Bubola contributed reporting.

The North Koreans at the closing ceremony for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Credit…Edgar Su/Reuters

North Korea said on Tuesday that it had decided not to participate in the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The North’s national Olympic Committee decided at a March 25 meeting that its delegation would skip the Olympics “in order to protect our athletes from the global health crisis caused by the malicious virus infection,” according to Sports in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a government-run website.

It is the first Summer Olympics that the North has missed since 1988, when they were held in Seoul, the South Korean capital.

North Korea, which has a decrepit public health system, has taken stringent measures against the virus since early last year, including shutting its borders. The country officially maintains that it has no virus cases, but outside health experts are skeptical.

North Korea’s decision deprives South Korea and other nations of a rare opportunity to establish official contact with the isolated country. Officials in the South had hoped that the Olympics — to be held from July 23 to Aug. 8 — might provide a venue for senior delegates from both Koreas to discuss issues beyond sports.

The 2018 Winter Olympics, held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang, offered similar hope for easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Yo-jong, the only sister of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, grabbed global attention when she attended the opening ceremony, becoming the first member of the Kim family to cross the border into South Korea.

Mr. Kim used the North’s participation in the Pyeongchang Olympics as a signal to start diplomacy after a series of nuclear and long-range missile tests. Inter-Korean dialogue soon followed, leading to three summit meetings between Mr. Kim and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. Mr. Kim also met three times with President Donald J. Trump.

But since the collapse of Mr. Kim’s diplomacy with Mr. Trump in 2019, North Korea has shunned official contact with South Korea or the United States. The pandemic has deepened the North’s diplomatic isolation and economic difficulties amid concerns over its nuclear ambitions. North Korea launched two ballistic missiles on March 25 in its first such test in a year, in a challenge to President Biden.

Since North Korea’s first Olympic appearance in 1972, it has participated in every Summer Games except for the Los Angeles event in 1984, when it joined a Soviet-led boycott, and in 1988, when South Korea played host. North Korean athletes have won 16 gold medals, mostly in weight lifting, wrestling, gymnastics, boxing and judo, consistently citing the ruling Kim family as inspiration.

The Tokyo Games were originally scheduled for 2020 but were delayed by a year because of the pandemic. The organizing committee has been scrambling to develop safety protocols to protect both participants and local residents. But as a series of health, economic and political challenges have arisen, large majorities in Japan now say in polls that the Games should not be held this summer.

Even though organizers have barred international spectators, epidemiologists warn the Olympics could still become a superspreader event. Thousands of athletes and other participants will descend on Tokyo from more than 200 countries while much of the Japanese public remains unvaccinated.

The Australia-New Zealand travel bubble is expected to deliver a boost to tourism and to families that have been separated by strict border closures.
Credit…Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand announced on Tuesday that her nation would establish a travel bubble with Australia, allowing travelers to move between the countries without needing to quarantine for the first time since the pandemic began.

The bubble, which will open just before midnight on April 19, is expected to deliver a boost to tourism and to families that have been separated since both countries enacted strict border closures and lockdown measures that have all but eliminated local transmission of the coronavirus.

The announcement came after months of negotiations and setbacks, as Australia battled small outbreaks and officials in both countries weighed testing requirements and other safety protocols.

“The director general of health considers the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from Australia to New Zealand is low and that quarantine-free travel is safe to commence,” Ms. Ardern said at a news conference.

Since last year, Australia has permitted travelers from New Zealand to bypass its hotel quarantine requirements. New Zealand’s decision to reciprocate makes the two countries among the first places in the world to set up such a bubble, following a similar announcement last week by Taiwan and the Pacific island nation of Palau.

Australians flying to New Zealand will be required to have spent the previous 14 days in Australia, to wear a mask on the plane and, if possible, to use New Zealand’s Covid-19 contact tracing app. In the event of an outbreak in Australia, New Zealand could impose additional restrictions, including shutting down travel to a particular Australian state or imposing quarantine requirements, Ms. Ardern said.

She warned that the new requirements would not necessarily free up many spaces in New Zealand’s overwhelmed hotel quarantine system, which has a weekslong backlog for New Zealanders wishing to book a space to return home. Of the roughly 1,000 slots that would now become available every two weeks, around half would be set aside as a contingency measure, while most of the others would not be appropriate for travelers from higher-risk countries, Ms. Ardern said.

Before New Zealand closed its borders to international visitors in March 2020, its tourism industry employed nearly 230,000 people and contributed 41.9 billion New Zealand dollars ($30.2 billion) to economic output, according to the country’s tourism board. Most of the roughly 3.8 million foreign tourists who visited New Zealand over a 12-month period between 2018 and 2019 came from Australia.

Ms. Ardern encouraged Australians to visit New Zealand’s ski areas, and said she would be conducting interviews with Australian media outlets this week to promote New Zealand as a tourism destination.

The bubble would also make it easier for the more than 500,000 New Zealanders who live in Australia to visit their families.

“It is ultimately a change of scene that so many have been looking for,” Ms. Ardern said, addressing Australians. “You may not have been in long periods of lockdown, but you haven’t had the option. Now you have the option, come and see us.”

Fans filled the seats on Monday for the Texas Rangers opening day game in Arlington, Texas, against the Toronto Blue Jays.
Credit…Tom Pennington/Getty Images

There was no need to pipe in crowd noise at Globe Life Field on Monday, as the Texas Rangers hosted the Toronto Blue Jays in front of the largest crowd at a sporting event in the United States in more than a year.

From the long lines of fans waiting to get into the stadium to the persistent buzz of the spectators during quiet moments, the game in Arlington, Texas, was a throwback to a time before the coronavirus crippled the country.

“It felt like a real game,” Rangers Manager Chris Woodward said. “It felt like back to the old days when we had full capacity.”

The official crowd of 38,238 fans, which was announced as a sellout, represented 94.8 percent of the stadium’s 40,300-seat capacity. It topped the Daytona 500 (which allowed slightly more than 30,000 fans) and the Super Bowl (24,835), both of which were held in February, as the largest crowd at a U.S. sporting event since the pandemic began last year.

The lifting of capacity restrictions in Texas made the enormous crowd possible. And for Major League Baseball, which claims its teams collectively lost billions during a largely fanless 2020 season, it was a hopeful sign that large crowds can return to all of the league’s games before too long. The open question is whether such events can be safe as the pandemic continues.

M.L.B. requires all fans over age 2 to wear masks at games this season, but a large percentage of the fans in Arlington went maskless. That will undoubtedly raise fears of the event resulting in a spike in coronavirus cases.

A garment worker in Cambodia signaled support for a campaign demanding relief for garment workers who have lost jobs and reform of the apparel industry, including a severance guarantee fund.
Credit…Enric Catala/Wsm

Garment workers in factories producing clothes and shoes for companies like Nike, Walmart and Benetton have seen their jobs disappear in the past 12 months, as major brands in the United States and Europe canceled or refused to pay for orders after the pandemic took hold and suppliers resorted to mass layoffs or closures.

Most garment workers earn chronically low wages, and few have any savings. Which means the only thing standing between them and dire poverty are legally mandated severance benefits that are often owed upon termination, wherever the workers are in the world.

According to a new report from the Worker Rights Consortium, however, garment workers are being denied some or all of these wages.

The study identified 31 export garment factories in nine countries where, the authors concluded, a total of 37,637 workers who were laid off did not receive the full severance pay they legally earned, a collective $39.8 million.

According to Scott Nova, the group’s executive director, the report covers only about 10 percent of global garment factory closures with mass layoffs in the last year. The group is investigating an additional 210 factories in 18 countries, leading the authors to estimate that the final data set will detail 213 factories with severance pay violations affecting more than 160,000 workers owed $171.5 million.

“Severance wage theft has been a longstanding problem in the garment industry, but the scope has dramatically increased in the last year,” Mr. Nova said. He added that the figures were likely to rise as economic aftershocks related to the pandemic continued to unfold across the retail industry. He believes the lost earnings could total between $500 million and $850 million.

The report’s authors say the only realistic solution to the crisis would be the creation of a so-called severance guarantee fund. The initiative, devised in conjunction with 220 unions and other labor rights organizations, would be financed by mandatory payments from signatory brands that could then be leveraged in cases of large-scale nonpayment of severance by a factory or supplier.

Several household names implicated in the report made money during the pandemic. Amazon, for example, reported an increase in net profit of 84 percent in 2020, while Inditex, the parent company of Zara, made 11.4 billion euros, about $13.4 billion, in gross profit. Nike, Next and Walmart all also had healthy earnings.

Some industry experts believe the purchasing practices of the industry’s power players are a major contributor to the severance pay crisis. The overwhelming majority of fashion retailers do not own their own production facilities, instead contracting with factories in countries where labor is cheap. The brands dictate prices, often squeezing suppliers to offer more for less, and can shift sourcing locations at will. Factory owners in developing countries say they are forced to operate on minimal margins, with few able to afford better worker wages or investments in safety and severance.

“The onus falls on the supplier,” said Genevieve LeBaron, a professor at the University of Sheffield in England who focuses on international labor standards. “But there is a reason the spotlight keeps falling on larger actors further up the supply chain. Their behavior can impact the ability of factories to deliver on their responsibilities.”

Jon Laster performing on Friday at the Comedy Cellar in Manhattan.
Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

More than a year after the pandemic brought down the curtain at theaters and concert halls around the world, the performing arts are beginning to return to the stage.

A smattering of theater and comedy shows lit up New York stages over the last few days, but next week will see one of the higher-profile arts returns. The New York Philharmonic is scheduled to give its first live performance in a concert hall since the pandemic began: “a musical musing on Goethe,” at the Shed at the Hudson Yards development on April 14.

The reopenings come at a confusing moment in the pandemic. Vaccinations are rising in the United States — Saturday was the first time the country reported more than four million doses in a single day, according to data compiled by The New York Times — but so are case counts.

While new cases, deaths and hospitalizations are far below their January peak, the average number of new reported cases has risen 19 percent over the past two weeks.

Still, performance spaces are carefully starting to welcome audiences, at a fraction of their capacity. There remains much debate over what regulations to impose on attendees. In Israel, concertgoers are required to have a Green Pass, which certifies that they have been vaccinated, though enforcement can be spotty.

In New York, as at the Daryl Roth Theater, an Off Broadway venue, temperatures were checked as a small audience streamed in for an immersive sound performance based on the José Saramago novel “Blindness” — a dystopian tale from 25 years ago whose resonances eerily align with the present. Mayor Bill de Blasio, masked and sneaker-clad, greeted some theatergoers on the sidewalk outside with wrist and elbow bumps.

But that optimism has been tinged with more halting news that underscores how fragile these reopenings are.

The Park Avenue Armory had to postpone one of the most high-profile experiments to bring indoor live performance back to New York. A sold-out run of “Afterwardsness,” a new piece that addresses the pandemic and violence against Black people, was canceled after several members of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company tested positive for the virus.

At the Comedy Cellar, a Greenwich Village club that has nursed the early careers of many comics, laughter filled the room for its first show, but reminders of reality were impossible to miss: Performers’ microphones were swapped out between each set, every fresh one covered with what looked like a miniature shower cap.

John Touhey, 27, said that his reason for coming was simple. “Just to feel something again,” he said.California officials have announced guidelines for indoor concerts, theater, sports and other events, which will be permitted beginning April 15. Capacity will be linked to a county’s health tier.

Los Angeles County, for example, on Monday moved into the orange tier, which would allow venues that hold up to 1,500 people to operate at 15 percent capacity, or 200 people. The number rises to 35 percent if all attendees are tested or show proof of vaccination.

In Minneapolis, pandemic-weary music fans may have to wait longer, but the results will be louder. First Avenue, a legendary club, last month booked its first new, non-postponed show since the pandemic began, The Star Tribune reported. The band is Dinosaur Jr., led by J. Mascis, one of the most durable indie rockers of the last 30 years. The show is scheduled for Sept. 14.

“Those people have not been catered for,” said Dr. Raja Amjid Riaz, a surgeon who is a leader at the Central Mosque of Brent in North London.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

Minority communities in Britain have long felt estranged from the government and medical establishment, but their sense of alienation is suddenly proving more costly than ever amid a coronavirus vaccination campaign that depends heavily on trust.

With Britons enjoying one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in the world, skepticism about the shots remains high in many of the communities where Covid-19 has taken the heaviest toll.

“The government’s response to the Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities has been rather limited,” said Dr. Raja Amjid Riaz, 52, a surgeon who is also a leader at the Central Mosque of Brent, an ethnically diverse area of North London. “Those people have not been catered for.”

As a result, communities like Brent offer fertile ground for the most outlandish of vaccine rumors, from unfounded claims that they affect fertility to the outright fabrication that shots are being used to inject microchips.

With the government seen as still disengaged in Black, Asian and other ethnic minority communities even as they have been hit disproportionately hard both by the virus itself and by the lockdowns imposed to stop its spread, many local leaders like Dr. Riaz have taken it upon themselves to act.

Some are well-known and trusted figures like religious leaders. Others are local health care workers. And still others are ordinary community members like Umit Jani, a 46-year-old Brent resident.

Mr. Jani’s face is one of many featured on 150 posters across the borough encouraging residents to get tested for the virus and vaccinated, part of a local government initiative.

The goal is to reframe the community’s relationship with the power structure, and perhaps establish some trust.

“In Brent, things have been done to communities and not in partnership,” said Mr. Jani, who said he had seen the toll the virus has taken on the area’s Gujarati and Somali communities.

A line for meals at the Bowery Mission in New York last month. Some people who would benefit most from the stimulus are having the hardest time getting it.
Credit…Andrew Seng for The New York Times

For most Americans, the third stimulus payment, like the first two, arrived as if by magic, landing unprompted in the bank or in the mail.

But it’s not as straightforward for people without a bank account or a mailing address. Or a phone. Or identification.

Just about anyone with a Social Security number who is not someone else’s dependent and who earns less than $75,000 is entitled to the stimulus. But some of the people who would benefit most from the money are having the hardest time getting their hands on it.

“There’s this great intention to lift people out of poverty more and give them support, and all of that’s wonderful,” said Beth Hofmeister, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project. “But the way people have to access it doesn’t really fit with how most really low-income people are interacting with the government.”

Interviews with homeless people in New York City over the last couple of weeks found that some mistakenly assumed they were ineligible for the stimulus. Others said that bureaucratic hurdles, complicated by limited phone or internet access, were insurmountable.

Paradoxically, the very poor are the most likely to pump stimulus money right back into devastated local economies, rather than sock it away in the bank or use it to play the stock market.

“I’d find a permanent place to stay, some food, clothing, a nice shower, a nice bed,” said Richard Rodriguez, 43, waiting for lunch outside the Bowery Mission last month. “I haven’t had a nice bed for a year.”

Mr. Rodriguez said he had made several attempts to file taxes — a necessary step for those not yet in the system — but had given up.

“I went to H&R Block and I told them I was homeless,” he said. “They said they couldn’t help me.”

People dining indoors in Northville, Mich., on Sunday. Coronavirus cases are rising even as restrictions are eased, with a more transmissible variant of the virus making up many of the cases in Michigan and elsewhere.
Credit…Emily Elconin/Reuters

U.S. coronavirus cases have increased again after hitting a low late last month, and some of the states driving the upward trend have also been hit hardest by variants, according to an analysis of data from Helix, a lab testing company.

The country’s vaccine rollout has sped up since the first doses were administered in December, recently reaching a rolling average of more than three million doses per day. And new U.S. cases trended steeply downward in the first quarter of the year, falling almost 80 percent from mid-January through the end of March.

But during that period, states also rolled back virus control measures, and now mobility data shows a rise in people socializing and traveling. Amid all this, more contagious variants have been gaining a foothold, and new cases are almost 20 percent higher than they were at the lowest point in March.

“It is a pretty complex situation, because behavior is changing, but you’ve also got this change in the virus itself at the same time,” said Emily Martin, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Michigan has seen the sharpest rise in cases in the last few weeks. B.1.1.7 — the more transmissible and more deadly variant of the coronavirus that was first discovered in Britain — may now make up around 70 percent of all of the state’s new cases, according to the Helix data.

Higher vaccination rates among the country’s older adults — those prioritized first in the vaccination rollout — mean that some of those at highest risk of complications are protected as cases rise again.

But almost 70 percent of the U.S. population has still not received a first dose, and only about half of those ages 65 and older are fully vaccinated. And in many states, those with high-risk conditions or in their 50s and 60s had not yet or had only just become eligible for the vaccine when cases began to rise again, leaving them vulnerable.

A gym in Saarbruecken, Germany, reopened on Tuesday to anyone with a negative coronavirus test in the previous 24 hours.
Credit…Oliver Dietze/DPA, via Associated Press

The tiny German state of Saarland, home to around 990,000 people, is making a cautious return to a new kind of normal in a pilot project that state officials hope could show how to keep the local economy open while controlling infections. From Tuesday, residents who test negative for the coronavirus will be able to use outdoor dining areas, gyms and movie theaters and even attend live theater performances.

Even as cases have continued to rise in Germany, prompting calls for a harsher national lockdown to halt a third wave of the pandemic — which has already shut down many of its European neighbors.

“More vaccinating, more testing, more mindfulness, more options: That’s the formula we want to use as Saarland break new ground in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic,” Tobias Hans, the governor of the state in southwestern Germany, said last week as he announced the reopening plans.

Under the guidelines, as many as 10 people can meet outdoors, and anyone with a negative test result within the previous 24 hours can visit stores, gyms, theaters and beer gardens — places that have largely been closed across Germany since the country announced a “lockdown light” in November.

(Many stores have been open since March, when a court overturned the rules.)

The Saarland project begins the same day that new regulations require travelers from the Netherlands to present a negative coronavirus test to cross the border into Germany. Travelers from the Czech Republic, France and Poland face similar measures.

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The ‘Joy and Envy’ of Vaccine FOMO

At the start of the year, Shay Fan felt relief: Vaccinations were on their way. Her relief turned to joy when her parents and in-laws got their shots.

Three months later, Ms. Fan, a 36-year-old freelance marketer and writer in Los Angeles, is still waiting for hers, and that joy is gone.

“I want to be patient,” she said.

But scrolling through Instagram and seeing photos of people, she said, “in Miami with no masks spraying Champagne into another person’s mouth,” while she sits in her apartment, having not had a haircut or been to a restaurant in more than a year, has made patience hard to practice. “It’s like when every friend is getting engaged before you, and you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m happy for them, but when is it my turn?’”

For much of the pandemic, the same rules applied: Stay at home, wear a mask, wash your hands.

But now, with vaccine distribution ramping up in some areas while others face a shortage, amid a third wave of coronavirus cases, or even warnings of a fourth, the rules are diverging around the world, and even within the same country.

and 47 percent of the population has had at least one vaccine dose. In New York, where at least 34 percent of people in the state have had at least one vaccine dose, there is talk about life feeling almost normal.

However, France, where only 14 percent of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, just entered its third lockdown. And Brazil, which has given at least one dose to 8 percent of the population, is reporting some of the world’s highest numbers of new cases and deaths per day. There are dozens of countries — including Japan, Afghanistan, Kenya, the Philippines — that have given only a single dose to less than 2 percent of their populations.

or racial lines. Older people, who make up the majority of those vaccinated, have been dining indoors, hugging grandchildren and throwing parties, while many younger people are still ineligible or repeatedly finding the “no appointments” message when they have tried to book.

Dr. Lynn Bufka, a psychologist and senior director at the American Psychological Association, said the pandemic has weighed heavily on teenagers, and a long wait for vaccines to be distributed to them could add to the stress.

“Children are in many ways those individuals whose lives have been disrupted as much as anyone but with less life experience on how to adapt to these kinds of disruptions,” Dr. Bufka said.

For American adults, at least, the fear of missing out should not last for much longer. President Biden has promised enough doses by the end of next month to immunize all of the nation’s roughly 260 million adults. In fact, the pace of vaccinations is quickening to such an extent that Biden administration officials anticipate the supply of coronavirus vaccines to outstrip demand by the middle of next month if not sooner.

Ms. Fan, the freelance writer and marketer in Los Angeles, will be eligible to book a vaccine appointment in mid-April. She does not plan to do anything wild — the basics are what she is looking forward to most. “I just need a haircut,” she said.

Constant Méheut contributed reporting.

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Imagining the Timeless Childhood of Beverly Cleary’s Portland

Fifteen months ago I traveled to Portland, Ore., to visit the childhood haunts and homes of Beverly Cleary, the beloved and award-winning author of more than 40 books for children and young adults. I was accompanied by my husband and our daughter, all three of us aficionados of Ramona Quimby, us parents having read all the books as children, before rereading them aloud to our kid.

With an overseas move on the horizon, we had decided to visit the city that plays its own subtle but essential role in the author’s most popular novels: Portland, with its moody rain and splashy puddles, its streets named after regional Native American tribes, its welcoming libraries and worm-filled parks. The Oregon of Ms. Cleary’s childhood clearly inspired her imagination — among her books, close to half of them are set in Portland.

So in the last days of December 2019, we took a trip to the City of Roses, visiting the northeastern Grant Park and Hollywood neighborhoods of Ms. Cleary’s childhood. I didn’t know then that it would be our last family vacation before the coronavirus pandemic — and I couldn’t have imagined how often I would return to those memories during the months of our confinement.

Credit…Alamy

When Ms. Cleary died on March 25 at the age of 104, my sorrow at the loss of an adored author who was declared a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2000 was coupled with memories of our journey. Scrolling through the photos of our trip, the simple scenes of Craftsman homes, verdant parks, and crowded children’s libraries evoked a lost innocence.

As a child, I loved Ms. Cleary’s books because they didn’t condescend. Her characters are ordinary kids succumbing to ordinary temptations, such as squeezing an entire tube of toothpaste into the sink, or taking the first, juicy bite out of every apple in the crate.

As an adult, rereading the books aloud to my daughter, I was struck by their sense of timelessness — sisters struggling with sibling rivalry, parents grappling with financial worries and job loss. The author’s own father lost his Yamhill farm when she was 6, moving the family of three about 40 miles northeast to Portland — the “city of regular paychecks, concrete sidewalks instead of boardwalks, parks with lawns and flower beds, streetcars instead of a hack from the livery stable, a library with a children’s room that seemed as big as a Masonic hall,” she wrote in her 1988 memoir, “A Girl From Yamhill.”

I thought of that when I saw one of Ms. Cleary’s cherished childhood homes, a modest, bungalow near Grant Park, on a block lined with closely set houses. She romped with a gang of “children the right age to play with,” and their escapades made her yearn for stories about the neighborhood kids. “I longed for books about the children of Hancock Street,” she wrote in “A Girl from Yamhill.” In her stories, she changed Hancock Street to Klickitat Street “because I had always liked the sound of the name when I had lived nearby.”

We found the Klickitat Street of the books nearby, along with Tillamook Street, both named after Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. As my 6-year-old daughter raced along, searching for vintage hitching rings, I pictured Ramona — or even a young Beverly — on these same sidewalks, stumping on stilts made from two-pound coffee cans and twine, or perching on the curb to watch the Rose Festival parade.

Over the next few days, we found the author’s former elementary school, a brick building now named the Beverly Cleary School, Fernwood Campus. We stopped by the Multnomah County Central Library, a stately brick structure downtown where she did summer “practice work” as a student librarian (and where the children’s section also bears her name). We ate doughnuts and pizza. We visited Grant Park, where the local artist Lee Hunt created a trio of bronze sculptures depicting three of Ms. Cleary’s cherished characters: Henry Huggins, his dog, Ribsy, and Ramona, posed, as if in motion.

Credit…Ann Mah

Though it was a typical Portland winter day — wet — nothing could dampen my daughter’s joy when she saw her favorite characters rendered slightly larger than life. She ran to hold Ramona’s hand, beaming, and the picture I snapped will be forever burned on my heart.

For my daughter, the best part of the trip was our visit to the Willamette Valley town of Yamhill, where we glimpsed the turreted Victorian house in which Ms. Cleary spent the first six years of her life. We spent the night in a vintage trailer park nearby, sleeping in a 1963 Airstream Overlander, as I imagined the author might have done with her own young family. For dinner, we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows, a meal that my daughter still describes as one of the best of her life.

These are the memories I’ve turned to over the past year as the pandemic has stolen away life’s simple pleasures. A wet afternoon at the park. Warming up at the library story hour. A cup of hot chocolate sipped at a crowded cafe. The rain beating on the metal roof of our camper van, reminding me of the creative inspiration that Ms. Cleary described in “A Girl From Yamhill”: “Whenever it rains, I feel the urge to write. Most of my books are written in winter.”

Before our trip, I had wondered if my daughter was too young for a literary pilgrimage — and perhaps she was, for there were moments when searching for yet another filament of the author’s girlhood tried her patience. And yet, though it was only a few days, our trip has captured her memory. She speaks of it now with crystalline precision, reminiscing of the last days before the strangest year of our lives began.

Our last morning in Portland found us a weary group of travelers as we waited to board our pre-dawn flight. We queued at the airport coffee counter for muffins and hot drinks — but when I tried to pay, the cashier told me that an anonymous stranger had bought us breakfast.

“Mama! It’s just like in the book!” exclaimed my daughter. It took me a few minutes to realize she was talking about a scene from “Ramona Quimby, Age 8,” when the Quimby family — worn down by financial worries, family squabbles and dreary weather — try to cheer themselves up with a hamburger dinner they can barely afford, only to have a kindly gentleman anonymously pick up their check.

That moment seems like a dream now, disconnected as we are from one another, all of us existing in our bubbles. But one day soon we will meet again and touch each other’s lives, not just as friends and family, but also as strangers. In the meantime, we have Beverly Cleary’s books to remind us.


Ann Mah, the author of the novel, The Lost Vintage, lives in Hanoi, Vietnam.

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Biden Plan Spurs Fight Over What ‘Infrastructure’ Really Means

“Many people in the states would be surprised to hear that broadband for rural areas no longer counts,” said Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden in the White House. “We think that the people in Jackson, Miss., might be surprised to hear that fixing that water system doesn’t count as infrastructure. We think the people of Texas might disagree with the idea that the electric grid isn’t infrastructure that needs to be built with resilience for the 21st century.”

White House officials said that much of Mr. Biden’s plan reflected the reality that infrastructure had taken on a broader meaning as the nature of work changes, focusing less on factories and shipping goods and more on creating and selling services.

Other economists back the idea that the definition has changed.

Dan Sichel, an economics professor at Wellesley College and a former Federal Reserve research official, said it could be helpful to think of what comprises infrastructure as a series of concentric circles: a basic inner band made up of roads and bridges, a larger social ring of schools and hospitals, then a digital layer including things like cloud computing. There could also be an intangible layer, like open-source software or weather data.

“It is definitely an amorphous concept,” he said, but basically “we mean key economic assets that support and enable economic activity.”

The economy has evolved since the 1950s: Manufacturers used to employ about a third of the work force but now count for just 8.5 percent of jobs in the United States. Because the economy has changed, it is important that our definitions are updated, Mr. Sichel said.

The debate over the meaning of infrastructure is not new. In the days of the New Deal-era Tennessee Valley Authority, academics and policymakers sparred over whether universal access to electricity was necessary public infrastructure, said Shane M. Greenstein, an economist at Harvard Business School whose recent research focuses on broadband.

“Washington has an attention span of several weeks, and this debate is a century old,” he said. These days, he added, it is about digital access instead of clean water and power.

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