Mon. Jan 18th, 2021
European Union Officially Begins Coronavirus Vaccine Rollout
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3 European Countries Begin Coronavirus Vaccinations Early

Germany, Hungary and Slovakia began administering the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Saturday, one day ahead of the European Union’s official rollout.

[speaking in German] [cameras clicking] [cameras clicking] [speaking in Hungarian]

Germany, Hungary and Slovakia began administering the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Saturday, one day ahead of the European Union’s official rollout.CreditCredit…Zsolt Czegledi/EPA, via Shutterstock

BERLIN — From nursing homes in France to hospitals in Poland, older Europeans and the workers who care for them rolled up their sleeves on Sunday to receive coronavirus vaccine shots in a campaign to inoculate more than 450 million people across the European Union.

The inoculations offered a rare respite as the continent struggles with one of its most precarious moments since the pandemic began.

Despite national lockdowns, restrictions on movement, shuttering of restaurants and cancellations of Christmas gatherings, the virus has stalked Europe into the dark winter months. The spread of a more contagious variant of the virus in Britain has raised such alarm the much that continental Europe rushed to close its borders to travelers coming from the country, effectively plunging the nation as a whole into quarantine.

“Today, we start turning the page on a difficult year,” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president wrote on Twitter. “The #COVID19 vaccine has been delivered to all EU countries.”

In Germany, a nursing home in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt jumped the gun on Sunday’s planned rollout of the vaccination campaign across the European Union, inoculating a 101-year old woman and dozens of other residents and staff members on Saturday, hours after the doses arrived. People were also vaccinated on Saturday in Hungary and Slovakia.

Early Sunday, dozens of minivans carrying coolers filled with dry ice to keep the doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from rising above minus 70 degrees Celsius fanned out to nursing homes across the German capital as part of the wave of immunizations. The rollout comes as Europe’s largest nation is confronting its deadliest period since the start of the pandemic.

With nearly 1,000 deaths recorded in Germany each day in the week before Christmas, a crematory in the eastern state of Saxony operated around the clock, straight through the holiday, to keep up.

“I’ve never had to see it this bad before,” said Eveline Müller, the director of the facility, in the town of Görlitz.

More than 350,000 people in the 27 nations that make up the European Union have died from Covid-19 since the bloc’s first fatality was recorded in France on Feb. 15. And for many countries, the worst days have come in recent weeks. In Poland, November was the deadliest month since the end of World War II.

For Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy, the vaccine’s arrival could not come soon enough. Italy’s suffering at the outset of the pandemic served as a warning for the world, and the current death toll is again among the worst in Europe.

“Today Italy reawakens. It’s #VaccineDay,” he wrote on Twitter after a 29-year-old nurse at Rome’s Spallanzani hospital was the first person to be inoculated. “This date will remain with us forever.”

The nurse, Claudia Alivernini, said she hoped the vaccination campaign would signal “the beginning of the end” of the pandemic.

The European Union’s member states made a show of solidarity by waiting for the bloc’s regulatory board to approve the vaccine before beginning coordinated national campaigns. But how those will play out in individual countries is likely to be disparate.

All of the member states have national health care systems, so people will be vaccinated free of charge. But just as hospitals in poorer member states like Bulgaria and Romania were overwhelmed in the latest wave of the virus, the networks in those countries will face challenges in distributing vaccines.

While each nation is determining how to carry out its campaign, in general the first phase will focus on people most at risk of exposure and those most likely to have serious health conditions — health care workers and the oldest citizens.

Most member states have said they expect the vaccine to reach the general public by spring.

Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

Canada, France, Japan and Spain have found small numbers of infections involving a new, potentially more transmissible variant of the coronavirus, most linked to travel from Britain, where it was first detected.

The rapid spread of the variant led to the lockdown of London and southern England, prompted a temporary French blockade of the English Channel and resulted in countries around the world barring travelers coming from Britain. Because few countries have the level of genomic surveillance that Britain does, there is concern that the variant may have been traveling across the world undetected for weeks.

A recent study by British scientists found no evidence that the variant was more deadly than others but estimated that it was 56 percent more contagious.

The British variant has been diagnosed in seven people in Japan, the country’s health ministry said. All had either recently traveled to Britain or were in contact with someone who had.

The discovery in Japan prompted the country to close its borders to all new entry by nonresident foreigners. The ban will go into effect at midnight on Monday and last through the end of January, the public broadcaster NHK reported.

In Spain, the variant was found in the capital region, the local authorities said on Saturday. Antonio Zapatero, a regional health official, said that four cases had been confirmed in Madrid, while another three were being treated as suspicious. At least two of the cases involve people who had recently been to Britain and then tested positive in Madrid, as well as some of their relatives.

In France, the first case of the new variant was identified on Friday, according to the country’s health ministry. Officials said the patient was a French citizen living in Britain who had traveled from London to Tours, a city in central France, on Dec. 19, a day before the British government imposed a lockdown because of the variant.

Officials in Sweden said on Saturday that a case of the variant had been detected there after a traveler visited Sormland, near Stockholm, from Britain over Christmas, Reuters reported.

Health officials in Ontario, Canada, said on Saturday that they had confirmed two cases of the variant in the province. The two cases included a couple from Durham, about 90 miles northwest of Toronto. The couple had no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts, the province’s health ministry said.

It is normal for viruses to mutate, and most of the coronavirus mutations have proved minor. The British variant has a constellation of 23 mutations, several of which might alter its transmissibility. Vaccine experts are confident that the available vaccines will be able to block the new variant, although that has to be confirmed by laboratory experiments that are now underway.

A few other concerning variants have also been identified, including one in South Africa and another in Nigeria. Britain said on Thursday that it would ban travel from South Africa after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, said two people were confirmed to have been infected with the variant that emerged there.

Germany, the Netherlands, Lebanon, Australia and Singapore have identified infections with the new variant. And Denmark, which has wider genomic surveillance than many other countries, detected 33 cases of it from Nov. 14 to Dec. 14, according to the Danish health authorities.

The United States has not yet reported any cases of the British variant. But the country will require all airline passengers arriving from Britain to test negative for the coronavirus within 72 hours of their departure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday. The rule will take effect on Monday.

Hisako Ueno and Mike Ives contributed reporting.

Credit…Erin Scott for The New York Times

Two critical federal unemployment programs expired on Saturday as President Trump resisted signing a sweeping $900 billion aid package into law until lawmakers more than tripled the size of relief checks.

Mr. Trump’s resistance to signing the bill risks leaving millions of unemployed Americans without crucial benefits, jeopardizes other critical assistance for business and families set to lapse at the end of the year, and raises the possibility of a government shutdown on Tuesday.

The president blindsided lawmakers this past week when he described as “a disgrace” a relief compromise that overwhelmingly passed both chambers and was negotiated by his own Treasury secretary. He hinted that he might veto the measure unless lawmakers raised the bill’s $600 direct payment checks to $2,000, and Mr. Trump, who was largely absent from negotiations over the compromise, doubled down on that criticism on Saturday while offering little clarity on his plans. A White House spokesman declined to indicate what the president intended to do.

“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Saturday. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”

The $2.3 trillion spending package includes the $900 billion in pandemic aid as well as funding to keep the government open past Monday. Two federal jobless programs established to expand and extend benefits lapsed on Saturday, meaning that millions of unemployed workers will lose them.

Credit…Jodi Hilton for The New York Times

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.

The Cantab: A dive bar that drew poets, too.

Before Cambridge, Mass., became a tech boomtown, the Cantab sat on a stretch of Massachusetts Avenue that was genuinely grungy. The bar took only cash. It was always sticky, and you wouldn’t want to use the bathroom.

But if you wandered in there on the right night, you could find a poetry slam or bluegrass night or Little Joe Cook and the Thrillers. Ben Affleck’s father used to work there, serving Budweisers to off-duty postal workers.

In July, when the Cantab’s owner, Richard Fitzgerald, announced that he was putting it up for sale after 50 years, a howl of distress went up from that old, scruffy bohemian Cambridge. Mr. Fitzgerald, known as Fitzy, hopes to find a new buyer to reopen the place in the summer — let’s hope in its old, sticky style. — Ellen Barry


NEW ORLEANS

The Cake Cafe and Bakery: Long mornings over crab omelets and cupcakes.

On Saturday and Sunday, mornings the line ran out the door. People waited for French toast, biscuits and gravy, and crab omelets the size of phone books; you could add a cupcake for a dollar.

The staff knew most of the customers on sight, except during carnival season when the tourists flocked. By that time, those in the know had already ordered a king cake, in competition with the best in the city. It closed in June. — Campbell Robertson


PITTSBURGH

The Original Hot Dog Shop: It was never really about the hot dogs

The warnings about the fries were as legendary as the fries themselves.

The large is huge!

Order it with friends.

Seriously, you can’t eat it by yourself.

The Original Hot Dog Shop had “hot dog” right there in the name, but it was the fries — perfectly cut, fried twice in peanut oil to extra crispness, served in a huge pile in a paper basket, with side cups of beef gravy or cheese product — that people talked about.

The University of Pittsburgh’s student newspaper reported that when the O, as the hot dog shop was known, closed in April, the owners served up one more giant order of fries, donating 35,000 pounds of potatoes to charity. — Scott Dodd


LOS ANGELES

The Ma’am Sir restaurant: A Filipino spot with a boisterous vibe.

Credit…Lisa Corson for The New York Times

When Charles Olalia decided to open a Filipino restaurant in Los Angeles’s hip Silver Lake district, he wished to “showcase my country’s food and vibe: beautiful, boisterous, loving” to a wide audience, he said.

Ma’am Sir opened in 2018 to rave reviews for its creative renditions of signature Filipino dishes, like sizzling pork sisig and oxtail kare-kare.

“Ma’am Sir was different,” said Cheryl Balolong, 41, who grew up visiting traditional Filipino cafeteria-style joints in strip malls. “It was a place where we felt proud to bring friends who weren’t from our culture.”

Then the pandemic struck. By August, Mr. Olalia had shut the place down. “Day after day, putting food in a box and seeing an empty dining room, I was getting farther and farther away from what the restaurant really was and why I built it,” he said. — Miriam Jordan

Credit…Nicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A judge’s ruling to delay the execution of the only woman on federal death row could push the new date into the early days of the administration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has vowed to work to end federal capital punishment.

The woman, Lisa Montgomery, was scheduled to be executed on Dec. 8, but that date was delayed after two of her lawyers tested positive for the coronavirus shortly after traveling to a federal prison in Texas to visit her in November.

Should Ms. Montgomery’s life be spared as a result of the delays from her lawyers’ infection, it would be a rare reprieve for a prisoner from a virus that has swept through prisons, infecting inmates crammed into shared spaces.

The Justice Department had rescheduled her execution for Jan. 12, but Judge Randolph D. Moss of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled on Thursday that the January execution date had been unlawfully rescheduled because a stay order issued because of her lawyers’ illnesses was still in effect.

Ms. Montgomery, of Melvern, Kan., was convicted in 2008 of killing a pregnant woman and cutting a baby from her abdomen. She tried to pass off the baby as her own before admitting to the crime.

Ms. Montgomery’s lawyers have said that she has severe mental illness, which was inherited from both of her parents and worsened by abuse endured as a child, including being sex-trafficked by her mother and gang-raped by men.

The stay in Ms. Montgomery’s case barred the government from executing her before Dec. 31. How long the government will wait to execute her after that point remains unclear. Federal rules state that execution notices must be given to prisoners at least 20 days in advance, but when the rescheduled date is fewer than 20 days from the original date, the prisoner must be notified only “as soon as possible.”

Marie Fazio and Hailey Fuchs contributed reporting.

Global Roundup

Credit…Shafiek Tassiem/Reuters

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa — When the pandemic began, global public health officials raised grave concerns about the vulnerabilities of Africa. But its countries over all appeared to fare far better than those in Europe or the Americas, upending scientists’ expectations.

Now, the coronavirus is on the rise again in areas of the continent, posing a new and possibly deadlier threat.

In South Africa, a crush of new cases that spread from Port Elizabeth is growing steeply across the nation. Eight countries, including Mali, Nigeria and Uganda, recently recorded their highest daily case counts all year.

“The second wave is here,” John N. Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has declared.

When the virus was first detected, many African countries were considered particularly at risk because they had weak medical, laboratory and disease-surveillance systems and were already battling other contagions. Some were torn by armed conflict, limiting health workers’ access. In March, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the first African director-general of the World Health Organization, cautioned, “We have to prepare for the worst.”

But many African governments pursued swift, severe lockdowns that — while financially ruinous, especially for their poorest citizens — slowed the rate of infection. Some deployed networks of community health workers. The Africa C.D.C., the W.H.O. and other agencies helped expand testing and moved in protective gear, medical equipment and pharmaceuticals.

The reported toll of the pandemic on the continent — 2.6 million cases and 61,000 deaths, according to the Africa C.D.C. — is lower than what the United States alone currently experiences in three weeks. But that accounting is almost certainly incomplete.

Evidence is growing that many cases were missed, according to an analysis of new studies, visits to nearly a dozen medical institutions and interviews with more than 100 public health officials, scientists, government leaders and medical providers on the continent.

“It is possible and very likely that the rate of exposure is much more than what has been reported,” Dr. Nkengasong said in an interview.

Updates from elsewhere around the world:

  • Argentina will begin its coronavirus inoculation campaign on Tuesday, using Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, Ginés González García, the country’s health minister, said on Twitter on Saturday. It is the fourth country in Latin America to start vaccinating its population, after Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica.

  • Japan on Saturday reported record new coronavirus infections both nationwide and in the capital, Tokyo, where there were more than 900 new cases for the first time. Nationally there were almost 3,900 new infections. On Sunday, Tokyo reported an additional 708 cases. Officials in Japan, where there have been several cases involving the new British variant, have closed the country’s borders to all nonresident foreigners from midnight on Monday through the end of January.

  • Israel is also set on Sunday to enter its third weekslong lockdown after a sharp increase in coronavirus cases over the past week. Israelis will be barred from traveling more than 1,000 meters beyond their homes except those participating in protests, receiving a vaccination or fulfilling any other task on a list of exemptions, the government said on Friday. The country has also begun vaccinating people. As of Saturday, more than 200,000 had received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

  • President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines on Saturday extended a ban on flights from Britain until mid-January, in an effort to limit the spread of the new coronavirus variant. He also lashed out at the United States, saying that the fate of the Visiting Forces Agreement that allows U.S. forces to rotate through Philippine bases would depend on his country’s ability to secure doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

  • Two people in Australia accused of leaving hotel quarantine without permission on Saturday have been apprehended, the police said. A 24-year-old man who had traveled to Melbourne from Sydney told a local radio station that he had been wrongly sent to hotel quarantine instead of being allowed to self-isolate at home, and that his anxiety had driven him to flee after he was told repeatedly that he would soon be released, The Age newspaper reported. In Perth, a 49-year-old woman who had recently arrived from Madrid was in police custody after leaving her hotel, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In both places, breaching quarantine can result in fines of thousands of dollars.

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