Covid-19 News: Live Updates on Vaccine, Cases and India
Covid-19 News: Live Updates on Vaccine, Cases and India
Pfizer expects to apply to the Food and Drug Administration in September for emergency authorization to administer its coronavirus vaccine to children between the ages of 2 and 11, the company told Wall Street analysts and reporters on Tuesday during its quarterly earnings call.
The company said it also plans to apply this month for full approval of the vaccine for use in people from ages 16 to 85. And it said it expected to have clinical trial data on the safety of its vaccine in pregnant women by early August.
By early next week, the F.D.A. is expected to issue an emergency use authorization allowing the vaccine to be used in children 12 to 15 years old, a major step ahead in the U.S. fight against Covid.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is being given to adults under an emergency use authorization that the companies received in December. Obtaining full F.D.A. approval would, among other things, allow the companies to market the vaccine directly to consumers. The approval process is expected to take months.
“Full approval is a welcome indicator of the continued safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine,” Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist at George Mason University, said in an email.
The Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine was the first to receive emergency authorization in the United States. Emergency authorizations are meant to be temporary, and can be revoked when a public health emergency is over.
Full approval would allow the vaccine to remain on the market as the pandemic fades.It may also make it easier for companies, government agencies, schools and other entities to require vaccination. The University of California and California State University school systems, for instance, have announced that once coronavirus vaccines receive full F.D.A. approval, they will require students, faculty and staff members to be vaccinated. The U.S. military, which has seen many troops decline coronavirus vaccines, has said that it would not make them mandatory as long as they have only emergency authorization.
Pfizer’s announcements come as the pace of vaccination in the United States has been slowing. “We are essentially nearing the end of vaccinating those that were willingly waiting to get in line to get it,” said Rupali Limaye, a public health researcher at Johns Hopkins who studies vaccine use. “And so, the next push is going to be I think more critical than ever.”
Full approval from the F.D.A. could help boost confidence in the vaccine, especially among people who may have lingering worries about how quickly it was developed, Dr. Limaye said. “I think people still have concerns about it even if they know that no corners were cut,” she said. “It will nudge people to say, ‘OK, it’s been thoroughly vetted.’”
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said at a news conference on Tuesday that she did not want to get ahead of the F.D.A., but that the administration was preparing to “make that accessible to additional, younger populations.”
Dr. Popescu said the possibility of opening up use of the vaccine to children in the United States was both exciting and frustrating. “We have essential workers around the world unable to get vaccines, and countries that may not have access for a year or more, so this conversation needs to be broadened to include global access,” she said.
As of Tuesday, more than 131 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had been administered in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They make up a bit more than half of all doses administered in the country so far.
Pfizer’s chief executive, Dr. Albert Bourla, said the company approached the F.D.A. on Friday with new data that it hopes will persuade the agency to allow its vaccine to be kept at refrigerator temperatures, rather than frozen, for up to four weeks. Currently, the limit is five days. He said the company is working on an updated version of the vaccine that could potentially be kept in refrigerators for up to 10 weeks, and hopes to have supporting data for that in August.
Rebecca Robbins and Dan Slotnik contributed reporting.
President Biden, confronting lagging vaccinations that threaten his promise of near normalcy by July 4, on Tuesday overhauled the strategy to battle the pandemic, shifting from mass vaccination sites to more local settings to target younger Americans and those hesitant to get a shot.
In a speech at the White House, Mr. Biden said he was launching a new phase in the fight against the coronavirus, with a goal of at least partly vaccinating 70 percent of adults by Independence Day and with a personal plea to all of the unvaccinated: “This is your choice. It’s life and death.”
After three months of battling supply shortages and distribution bottlenecks, the Biden administration is confronting a problem that the president said was inevitable: Many of those who were most eager to get vaccinated have already done so. Vaccination sites at stadiums once filled with carloads of people seeking shots are closing, and states that once clamored for more vaccines are finding that they cannot use all of the doses that the federal government wants to ship to them.
Yet the administration’s own health experts say tens of millions more Americans must be vaccinated before the positivity rate is low enough to return to what many people consider ordinary life.
The administration now wants tens of thousands of pharmacies to allow people to walk in for shots. It has also ordered up pop-up and mobile clinics, especially in rural areas, and it plans to devote tens of millions of dollars for community outreach workers to provide transport and help arrange child care for those in high-risk neighborhoods who want to be vaccinated.
To build up confidence in vaccines, federal officials plan to enlist the help of family doctors and other emissaries who are trusted voices in their communities.
In a new effort to match supply with demand, federal officials informed states on Tuesday that if they did not order their full allocation of doses in any given week, that vaccine would be considered part of a federal pool that is available to other states that want to order more. Until now, if states failed to order all of the doses allotted to them on the basis of population, they could carry over that supply to the next week.
Mr. Biden also announced a new federal website and phone number that will help people find the vaccination site closest to them. “We’re going to make it easier than ever to get vaccinated,” he promised.
The administration is hoping for an uptick in vaccinations if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15 by early next week, as expected. The president said adolescents were important in the fight against the virus because while they are not as susceptible to severe disease, they can still get sick and infect others.
To get there, Mr. Biden said, the government must shift the focus from mass vaccination sites to doctors’ offices, pharmacies and other local settings, and mount a far more concerted effort to reach those who are reluctant to get shots or simply figure it is too much trouble.
As of Tuesday, more than 106 million people in the United States were fully vaccinated and more than 56 percent of adults — or almost 148 million people — had received at least one shot. That has contributed to a steep decline in cases, hospitalizations and deaths across all age groups, federal officials said.
But despite a flood of doses available, the pace of vaccination has fallen off considerably over the past two and a half weeks. Providers are now administering an average of about 2.19 million doses per day, about a 35 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mr. Biden called for 160 million adults to be fully vaccinated by July 4 — an increase of 55 million people, or more than 50 percent. About 35 million more adults would have to receive at least one shot to reach the president’s goal of 70 percent of adults who are at least partly protected.
While most of the United States has seen a steady decline in new coronavirus cases recently, Arizona has been an outlier.
The state has not been swamped with another virus wave, but public health experts are worried about a steady increase in cases and hospitalizations. As of Monday, Arizona’s daily average had climbed 21 percent in the last two weeks, tying it with Wyoming for the largest rise in the nation over that period. Only three other states reported increases of more than 10 percent in that time: Washington, Oregon and Missouri.
Arizona’s daily new case load, at 10 per 100,000 people, is still below the national average of 15 per 100,000. Over the last 14 days, as federal health officials have suggested that the virus’s trajectory is improving, the country has seen a 26 percent decrease in new coronavirus cases, and 28 states have seen declines of 15 percent or more, according to a New York Times database.
Will Humble, the former state health director who now heads the Arizona Public Health Association, said the increase in new cases could be attributed to several factors, including a spring influx of travelers and the prevalence of a virus variant first detected in Britain. The variant, B.1.1.7., has been associated with increased transmissibility.
Mr. Humble said the rise in Arizona was not likely to yield a substantial rise in deaths, which have been declining in the state. Most older adults and other people in the state who are at elevated risk of severe illness have already been vaccinated, he said, while the new cases are predominantly people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who are more likely to have milder cases.
Mr. Humble said the rise in cases has “totally different public health implications” now than it would have several months ago, when far fewer people were vaccinated.
“We’re not going to experience the type of lethal experiences that we would have in December, January or February,” Mr. Humble said. Even so, he said, there had been “a notable upward movement in general ward beds and also I.C.U.”
Arizona was slow to put restrictions in place and quick to remove them last summer as cases skyrocketed and intensive-care beds filled to near capacity. For more than a month, from early June until mid-July, the state reported new cases at the highest rate in the country, relative to its size, reaching a peak of 3,800 a day.
In January, Arizona again had the highest rate of daily new cases for a time. At one point, it averaged more than 8,000 a day, more than double the summer peak.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed an executive order in March that lifted all Covid-19 restrictions in the state and barred local governments from imposing mask mandates.
Mr. Humble said that policy might have left Arizona more vulnerable.“There’s no mitigation at all here, and there hasn’t been for months,” he said.
About 41 percent of Arizonans have received a first dose of the vaccine, and 30 percent have been fully vaccinated, just below the national average. But the picture varies considerably from one part of the state to another. Three of Arizona’s 15 counties have vaccinated more than 40 percent of residents, but six have vaccinated fewer than 30 percent, as of Monday.
Dr. Cara Christ, the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, told reporters last month that the initial rush for vaccines had slowed considerably. “Vaccine appointments used to be snapped up almost as soon as they were made available,” she said. “Now it’s to a point where it’s possible to get a same-day appointment at virtually any state site.”
Three U.S. states that were once at the center of the pandemic — New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — are taking steps to relax nearly all their coronavirus restrictions, raising hopes among many residents that life is returning to normal, but causing angst for others who are still worried about the virus.
Many people who own or work for establishments that have been hard hit by pandemic closures, like restaurants and bars, nightclubs and cultural institutions, expressed optimism.
But for some others, it may be too soon to celebrate.
Felipe Perez, 48, a construction worker who lives in Brooklyn, said that he did not trust Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s move to ease capacity limits for nearly all businesses starting on May 19.
“It’s too fast,” Mr. Perez added.
Mr. Cuomo’s plan says businesses should still abide by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines requiring six feet of separation between people, meaning that the vast majority of restaurants and bars will still not fully reopen.
“I want to see the restaurant open 100 percent and have business back to prepandemic days,” said Shaukat Ali, 68, the owner of Kabab King in Jackson Heights. “It has been difficult. Business has come back slowly, and it could be better if the city reopened completely.”
But those social distancing rules are not entirely inflexible. Businesses that monitor whether everyone inside has been vaccinated or has a negative coronavirus test can allow more people inside, as can restaurants that introduce barriers between tables.
The mayor said last week that he hoped to reopen the city on July 1, more than a month after the timeline Mr. Cuomo laid out on Monday. The accelerated reopening is the latest in a series of conflicting announcements and political squabbles between the mayor and governor.
Just a trickle of office workers have returned so far. About 16 percent of them in the New York City region went into the office during the last week of April, up from about 10 percent last summer, according to Kastle Systems, an office security firm that tracks employee security swipes at some buildings. Only San Francisco has a lower rate among the largest metro areas in the country.
According to a New York Times database, the average number of new cases reported daily has dropped by 44 percent or more in all three states over the past two weeks, as of Monday, and more than one-third of each state’s population has been fully vaccinated.
Still, experts have warned that in New York, and some other major cities, the slowing pace of vaccinations, the prevalence of undervaccinated areas and the spread of worrisome variants mean that the pandemic is far from over, and that reopening might be premature.
“It just seems poorly thought through, and almost a little reckless,” Dr. Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the City University of New York, said Monday.
In other parts of the country, plans for reopening have been mixed amid shifting case counts as vaccinations roll out.
In Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on Tuesday that she plans to fully reopen the city by July 4, officials already have relaxed many restrictions on restaurants, churches, bars and other indoor gatherings, and allowed popular street festivals to resume this summer.
Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania said on Tuesday that most coronavirus mitigation efforts would be lifted on Memorial Day, but masks would be required until 70 percent of Pennsylvania adults are fully vaccinated.
But in Washington State, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a two-week pause in the state’s reopening plan amid a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Reporting was contributed by Michael Wilson, Nate Schweber, Kevin Armstrong, Winnie Hu, Luis Ferré-Sadurní, Kate Kelly, Julie Bosman, Manny Fernandez, Mike Baker and Marie Fazio.
India on Tuesday passed the milestone of 20 million reported coronavirus cases, with many more undetected, according to experts, spurring new calls for a national lockdown.
With those reported numbers, India became the second country after the United States to cross 20 million cases. Although aid has begun to pour in from other countries, hospitals are still unable to help many of those who are critically ill, and families have been left to hunt for much-needed oxygen.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been sharply criticized by many for underplaying the virus earlier this year, and on Tuesday the opposition leader Rahul Gandhi said a national lockdown was desperately needed, calling it “the only option.”
Mr. Gandhi accused the authorities of helping the virus spread. “A crime has been committed against India,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mr. Modi has been reluctant to impose strict nationwide lockdown measures like the ones last spring, which remained in place for months.
While experts say that the lockdown helped reduce the number of cases in the first wave of the pandemic, it also triggered the biggest internal migration since the partition of the country in 1947. Millions of workers fled the cities, dealing a blow to the economy.
The economy had been recovering in recent months, but the current wave of disease has dampened hopes for a full recovery, and Mr. Modi asked states to consider lockdowns as “a last option.” Many states, including some governed by Mr. Modi’s party and its allies, have issued stay-at-home orders.
The regional authorities in Bihar in eastern India on Tuesday ordered a two-week lockdown. The southern state of Kerala also announced restrictions this week. The states of Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka already have lockdowns, and many states have weekend and night curfews.
Amid the scramble to try to contain the virus, the Indian Premier League announced on Tuesday that it was suspending all the remaining matches of the season after several players and staff tested positive. The league had drawn intense criticism for going ahead with its matches in cities that have been among the worst hit.
Made up of eight teams, the Indian Premier League is the biggest cricket league in the world.
Since the league’s season started last month, some of the biggest cricket stars have traveled across the country in so-called bubbles and played in empty stadiums. But even the stringent safety protocols couldn’t stop team members from being infected. At least five people on three teams have tested positive. The competition had been scheduled to finish at the end of the month.
“These are difficult times, especially in India and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, however, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times,” the league said in a statement.
India reported over 368,000 new cases and 3,417 deaths on Monday. It has reported more than 222,000 Covid-19 deaths, although actual figures are most likely much higher.
With aid being shipped from countries like the United States and Britain, there was hope among weary residents that the situation could start easing.
Eight oxygen generator plants from France, each of which can supply 250 hospital beds, were earmarked for six hospitals in Delhi and one each in Haryana and Telangana, states in northern and southern India. One of the generators was installed at the Narayana hospital in Delhi within hours of being delivered, according to The Times of India. Italy has also donated an oxygen generation plant and 20 ventilators.
As criticism has mounted over the delay in dispatching oxygen concentrators and other equipment, the government announced on Monday that it was waiving all duties and taxes on lifesaving equipment and relief material that had been donated. But the authorities have faced calls for more transparency on the deployment of the international aid shipments.
The Indian Red Cross receives all shipments that arrive by air, then hands them over to a government agency in charge of distributing the supplies based on regional requests. The authorities have released a list of hospitals that received aid shipments, but did not specify which equipment was going where.
Members of the global Indian diaspora, nearly 17 million, have mobilized from afar to help back home, where the Indian health system is buckling under the weight of a devastating coronavirus wave. Here is one U.S. resident’s story.
Savita Mullapudi, an international development consultant in Pittsburgh, heard the ping of a WhatsApp message on her phone around 4 p.m. on Thursday. The sender was a former colleague who, like her, was an Indian immigrant who had lived in the United States for years. He had an urgent favor to ask.
With India’s health care system overwhelmed by the nation’s unprecedented Covid-19 surge and hospitals running out of lifesaving oxygen, an Indian charity was scrambling to find oxygen concentrators, which filter oxygen from the air. One manufacturer was based in Pittsburgh. Could Ms. Mullapudi visit the site to vet the equipment?
Ms. Mullapudi, whose parents and in-laws live there, leapt at the opportunity to help. She called the company a few minutes later but was told the earliest date for a visit was May 8 — far too late.
So Ms. Mullapudi, 44, said she did “the next-best thing.” She asked a few local doctor friends to tap their networks in Pittsburgh and across Pennsylvania for their opinions of the company and the quality of its products.
By 9 a.m. the next day, she had received texts and long emails from medical professionals and hospital executives with “rave reviews” of the manufacturer, she recalled, as well as detailed descriptions of the machines’ electricity costs and how long they lasted.
“The minute I said ‘India Covid,’ I was inundated with responses,” Ms. Mullapudi said. “These networks of people that we all work with or know as friends just churned it around, and that’s what really gave the organization confidence to go ahead.”
Before noon on Friday, the foundation ordered more than 400 oxygen concentrators to be flown to India. Though Ms. Mullapudi described her role as just “one drop in an ocean,” she acknowledged the profound impact of so many small acts of human kindness in the face of such dire challenges.
“Eventually it’s just people helping people,” she said. “That’s the story of hope.”
New York State lawmakers on Monday passed legislation that would extend a statewide moratorium on residential and commercial evictions through Aug. 31.
The extension would provide additional relief for tenants, who have had broad protection from being taken to housing court since the start of the pandemic, just as New York is expected to start distributing $2.4 billion in rental assistance to struggling renters.
That financial aid will provide up to a year’s worth of unpaid rent and utilities, a financial lifesaver for not just tenants but also their landlords, many of whom have endured more than a year of little income.
Together, the moratorium extension and rental assistance comes just as New York State, along with New Jersey and Connecticut, announced plans to lift almost all their pandemic restrictions later this month, offering a chance to boost the economy a year after the region became a center of the pandemic.
The state’s eviction moratorium would extend the state’s previous protections, which expired on May 1, and goes further than the nationwide moratorium, which expires on June 30 and were imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new state eviction order went into effect later on Tuesday after Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed it into law.
Since the start of the pandemic, nearly 49,000 eviction cases have been filed in New York City Housing Court, the highest number among any American city, according to the Eviction Lab at Princeton University. While most evictions are on pause, cases can still be filed with the courts.
An analysis of court data shows that the areas in New York City hit hardest by the virus — largely Black and Latino neighborhoods in the Bronx and Queens — have had the highest number of eviction cases. On average, renters owe $8,150 in unpaid rent, the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of housing nonprofits.
Tenants cannot be evicted if they can show a financial or health hardship because of the pandemic. Lawmakers said that without an eviction moratorium, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, if not more, could be at risk of losing their homes.
In addition to protections for renters, the new legislation in New York would also safeguard smaller landlords who have been unable to pay their mortgages, protecting them from tax lien sales or foreclosures. Commercial tenants with fewer than 50 employees can also file a hardship declaration to receive eviction protections.
Even in China, where propaganda has become increasingly pugnacious, the display was jarring: A photograph of a Chinese rocket poised to blast into space juxtaposed with a cremation pyre in India, which has been overwhelmed by a wave of coronavirus infections.
“Chinese ignition versus Indian ignition,” the title read.
The image drew a backlash from internet users who called it callous, and it was taken down on the same day by the Communist Party-run news service that posted it. But it has lingered as a provocative example of a broader theme running through China’s state-run media, which often celebrates the country’s success in curbing coronavirus infections while highlighting the failings of others.
Chinese leaders have expressed sympathy and offered medical help to India, and the controversy may soon pass. But it has exposed how swaggering Chinese propaganda can collide with Beijing’s efforts to make friends abroad.
“You’ve had this growing tension between internal and external messaging,” said Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow in the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin who studies Chinese propaganda. Ms. Ohlberg said of the Chinese authorities, “They have an increasing number of interests internationally, but ultimately what it boils down to is that your primary target audience still lives at home.”
The Australian authorities have faced a growing backlash from human rights groups and opposition politicians after they barred Australian citizens stranded in India from coming home, prompted by India’s record-breaking Covid-19 outbreak.
Introduced on Monday and in place until May 15, it wields a possible punishment of up to five years in prison and a fine equivalent to about $50,000 for anyone trying to return from India. It is believed to be the first time that Australia has made it a criminal offense for its citizens and permanent residents to enter.
Michael Slater, an Australian cricket commentator who was in India covering the sport, said in a tweet on Monday that the ban was a “disgrace” and a form of government neglect. “Blood on your hands PM,” Mr. Slater wrote, referring to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
After the policy was announced, the Australian Human Rights Commission said it raised “serious human rights concerns,” and Tim Soutphommasane, Australia’s former race discrimination commissioner, wrote in The Guardian that the measure “undermines the very status of citizenship.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Morrison said that it was “highly unlikely” that anyone would be fined or go to jail for breaching the ban.
In an interview with the Australian broadcaster 9News, he said that the likelihood of imprisonment under the rule was “pretty much zero” and defended it as a necessary safety measure.
“I’m not going to fail Australia,” Mr. Morrison said. “I’m going to protect our borders at this time.”
In other news from around the world:
The European Union’s drug regulator has begun a rolling review of China’s Sinovac vaccine for Covid-19. The European Medicines Agency said on Tuesday that it would review laboratory and clinical-trial data provided by the company until it could determine that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed its risks and if it was fit to receive authorization. The World Health Organization has also been reviewing Sinovac’s vaccine and one manufactured by the Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm, with decisions expected this month.
Crew members of a cargo ship docked off the port city of Vigo in Spain are among the country’s first confirmed cases of a coronavirus variant causing concerns in India. Seven of the crew have tested positive, and at least three of them were diagnosed with the doubly mutated B.1.617 variant, including a 49-year-old sailor who was admitted on Tuesday to an intensive care unit in Spain. Several members of the crew are Indian but the authorities did not specify the nationality of the sailor in intensive care. The cargo vessel, a Singapore-flagged ship named Prometheus Leader, sailed into Vigo last Thursday from the English port of Southampton. All its remaining 22 crew members have been kept isolated on board, pending further tests.
Tourists traveling to Italy won’t need to quarantine starting after mid-May, Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced on Tuesday, anticipating the introduction of a European Digital Green Pass for travelers. Visitors will be able to enter and travel through the country only if they are fully vaccinated or can show a negative PCR test taken in the 72 hours before traveling to Italy. They will still need to respect restrictions like wearing masks and keeping social distance. “We look forward to welcoming you again soon,” Mr. Draghi said at a news conference.
After a major dairy product manufacturer in South Korea was accused of deliberately spreading misinformation that one of its drinks could fend off the coronavirus, the chairman and chief executive tendered their resignations this week. Local news media reported that sales of the Bulgaris yogurt drink and stocks for Namyang Dairy Products both soared after a research director claimed at a conference last month that the drink reduced the chances of contracting the coronavirus by more than 70 percent. Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety accused the company of illegally spreading misleading information, and the police raided Namyang’s headquarters and factory last week.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported that no other democratic nation had banned all arrivals from India. New Zealand had also blocked its citizens from returning from India for a time in April.
On Tuesday, Pfizer announced that its Covid vaccine brought in $3.5 billion in revenue in the first three months of this year, nearly a quarter of its total revenue. The vaccine was, far and away, Pfizer’s biggest source of revenue, report Rebecca Robbins and Peter S. Goodman of The New York Times.
The company did not disclose the profits it derived from the vaccine, but it reiterated its previous prediction that its profit margins on the vaccine would be in the high 20 percent range. That would translate into roughly $900 million in pretax vaccine profits in the first quarter.
Pfizer has been widely credited with developing an unproven technology that has saved an untold number of lives.
But the company’s vaccine is disproportionately reaching the world’s rich — an outcome, so far at least, at odds with its chief executive’s pledge to ensure that poorer countries “have the same access as the rest of the world” to a vaccine that is highly effective at preventing Covid-19.
As of mid-April, wealthy countries had secured more than 87 percent of the more than 700 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines dispensed worldwide, while poor countries had received only 0.2 percent, according to the World Health Organization. In wealthy countries, roughly one in four people has received a vaccine. In poor countries, the figure is one in 500.
Despite vows by New York City to fully return to prepandemic vibrancy in July, the United Nations sent a strong signal on Tuesday that the 193-member organization would be cautious about any reopening date — and that it was far too premature to plan on a normal General Assembly session in September.
The caution was conveyed by the president of the United Nations General Assembly, Volkan Bozkir, a veteran Turkish diplomat, in a webcast news conference held at the organization’s 16-acre headquarters in Manhattan.
“It will all depend on how much the United Nations will be ready to follow what New York City is doing,” Mr. Bozkir said.
Like other major institutions and businesses in New York, the United Nations basically shut down its physical office spaces and public access more than a year ago because of the pandemic and risks of infection. Most staff members work remotely from home.
While the General Assembly has convened meetings in its vast hall, each member state has been limited to one representative. Most diplomatic activities, including meetings of the 15-member Security Council, are held via video conference or other virtual means.
During the last General Assembly annual session, in September 2020, the heads of governments and states who normally descend on New York with entourages of aides delivered their customary speeches by prerecorded video. The session, known as high-level week, is the largest gathering of diplomats in the world.
Mr. Bozkir said he would convene a meeting with other diplomats on May 19 to discuss whether some closed parts of the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan could be reopened. He said he would also be meeting with officials of the United States and New York City governments on June 16 about the challenges of organizing a General Assembly session on September that would be less virtual and more physical than the 2020 session.
Although daily tallies of Covid-19 deaths and infections are receding in the United States and some other countries as their vaccination efforts make progress, Mr. Bozkir noted that the vast majority of countries have seen little or no vaccinations so far — and that some countries are now suffering the worst outbreaks yet.
Because of the pandemic, he said, most of the world is still “living day by day, week by week.”
Among the unresolved issues for holding an in-person General Assembly session this year, Mr. Bozkir said, are whether to require that all participants be vaccinated, and whether vaccines that have not been approved in the United States would be regarded as acceptable.
The customary week of speeches by heads of state and other high-ranking officials was an issue “we have to slowly but surely start to discuss,” he said, but the most important priority is “not to risk any people’s health.”
The Hong Kong government on Tuesday backpedaled from a plan to require coronavirus vaccinations for all foreign domestic workers after several days of sharp criticism from foreign diplomatic missions and some residents, who called the requirement discriminatory.
Officials had announced on Friday that the domestic workers — largely low-paid, female migrants from Southeast Asia who clean, cook and perform other household tasks — would have to be vaccinated in order to renew their employment contracts. The government has not issued vaccination requirements for any other group in the city, including other foreign workers.
But officials said it was necessary after two domestic workers recently tested positive for variant strains of the coronavirus. Sophia Chan, the secretary for food and health, said that because domestic workers had a habit of “mingling” with each other during their time off — which, under Hong Kong law, is only one day a week — the entire group of roughly 370,000 workers was considered high-risk.
Hong Kong’s vaccine uptake has been slow, and none of its major outbreaks of the coronavirus have been attributed to domestic workers gathering on their days off.
The announcement provoked an immediate backlash, with critics alleging that the government was making scapegoats of the domestic workers, who make up about 5 percent of Hong Kong’s population of 7.5 million and have long endured poor treatment.
The consuls general of the Philippines and Indonesia — the two main sources of Hong Kong’s foreign domestic workers — said that if there were vaccination requirements, they should be applied to all foreign workers. The Philippines’ outspoken foreign secretary tweeted that the move “smacks of discrimination.”
The government denied that it was discriminating against the workers, but on Tuesday, Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, said that in light of the “discussion and attention” that the plan had elicited, she would ask the labor department to “study the specific situation again” and consult foreign consulates. A decision on the plan would be announced later, she said.
Still, the government has said that all foreign domestic workers who have not been fully vaccinated must be tested for the coronavirus by May 9.
Less than two months after Tanzania’s first female president took office, the government on Monday announced new steps to tackle the pandemic, in what could be the start of a shift for the East African nation, whose former leader had denied the seriousness of the virus before he died in March. His political opponents said he had died from Covid, but his government denied it.
Beginning Tuesday, all travelers arriving in Tanzania are required to present proof of a negative coronavirus test taken in the previous 72 hours and must pay for a rapid test after they land, the health ministry said.
The new president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, who was sworn into office in March, formed a committee in her first weeks in office to advise her on the status of pandemic in the country, and the steps needed to keep people safe.
Ms. Hassan, however, has not spoken publicly about whether she supports vaccinations or whether vaccines are even available in the country. She has also drawn criticism at times for not wearing a mask, including at her own swearing-in ceremony, and for addressing large gatherings of unmasked supporters. But she has worn one during foreign trips.
Under the previous president, John Magufuli, Tanzania stopped sharing data about coronavirus cases or deaths with the World Health Organization in April 2020. Ms. Hassan’s government also has not submitted any data to the World Health Organization on new cases and deaths, and has not said if, or when, Tanzania would change course.
Ms. Hassan has stated, nevertheless, that Tanzania could not ignore the virus.
“We cannot isolate ourselves as an island,” she said in a speech last month.
The new measures announced on Monday appear to be focused on stopping coronavirus at the country’s borders. The health ministry said that foreigners arriving from countries with new Covid-19 variants would be placed in a mandatory 14-day quarantine at a government-designated facility, while returning residents would be permitted to isolate themselves in their homes.
Truck drivers crossing borders will be permitted to stop only at designated locations and could be tested for the coronavirus at random while in Tanzania.
The moves signal a departure from the blithe approach taken by Mr. Magufuli, the former president. He long opposed masks and social distancing measures, promoted unproven treatments as cures, argued that vaccines didn’t work and declared that God had helped Tanzania eradicate the virus.
Two weeks before he died, Mr. Magufuli changed course and told citizens to take precautions against the virus, including wearing masks and observing social distancing.
Greece has reopened to many overseas visitors, including from the United States, jumping ahead of most of its European neighbors in restarting tourism, even as the country’s hospitals remain full and more than three-quarters of Greeks are still unvaccinated.
It’s a big bet, but given the importance of tourism to the Greek economy — the sector accounts for one quarter of the country’s work force and more than 20 percent of gross domestic product — the country’s leaders are eager to roll out the welcome mat.
In doing so, Greece has jumped ahead of other European countries. On Monday, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, said it would recommend its member states to allow visitors who have been vaccinated. But it remains up to individual countries to set up their own rules.
“We welcome a common position” on restarting tourism in the European Union, Greece’s tourism minister, Harry Theoharis, said in an interview. “All we’re saying is that this has to be forthcoming now. We cannot wait until June.”