Covid Live Updates: E.U.’s Low Vaccine Donations Leave an Opening for China, Official Says


Josep Borrell, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, in Brussels in May.
Credit…Olivier Hoslet/EPA, via Shutterstock

In an unusually public criticism of the European Union, its foreign policy chief has said that the bloc is falling radically short of its promises to donate Covid-19 vaccine doses to Africa and Latin America, creating a vacuum that China is filling.

Such donations are the responsibility of E.U. member countries. But the official, Josep Borrell Fontelles also singled out his boss, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch.

“The president of the Commission said we are going to give not 100, but 200 million doses to Africa,” Mr. Borrell said on Friday at a university summer course in Santander in Spain, his home country. “Yes, but when? The problem isn’t just the commitment, but the effectiveness.”

Mr. Borrell said that European countries had contributed about 10 million doses to Africa — a continent with a population of 1.5 billion. “It’s certainly insufficient,” he said.

In remarks cited by Politico Europe, Mr. Borrell said the issue was not just inequality, but also China’s efforts to expand its influence through vaccine donations.

“In Europe, we vaccinated 60 percent of our population, in Africa, they are at 2 or 3 percent,” he added. “Who’s the big vaccine supplier to Africa? China. Who’s the big vaccine supplier to Latin America? China.”

He said that Europe’s failure has “geopolitical consequences,” adding: “China’s expansion in Africa and Latin America should concern us and should occupy us a great deal.”

He also urged the European Union to move faster to approve association and trade agreements with Mexico and Chile, he said, “while China is landing in all parts of Latin America and occupying a predominant role.”

Mr. Borrell, 74, is a Commission vice president and former Spanish foreign minister. He has a particular interest in Latin America and Africa, and has been trying to persuade E.U. member states to respond more efficiently to crises in Libya, Ethiopia and Morocco, in part because of their impact on migration. He has also spoken often about how to do more for Cuba and Venezuela.

The Commission had no immediate comment. It has also been unwilling to identify how many doses have been donated to which countries.

Most European countries are still in the midst of their own vaccination campaigns, and the European Union has yet to define a bloc-wide strategy on vaccine donations. Italy said on Sunday that it had shipped 1.5 million doses to Tunisia, which has one of the world’s highest coronavirus death rates. Spain has promised to donate 7.5 million doses to Latin American countries. And France and Germany have each pledged to donate 30 million doses.

It is unclear how many of the doses promised have actually been delivered.

That compares with a pledge by the Biden administration to donate 80 million doses.

A student in New York last month. Rising cases of Covid-19 and respiratory syncytial virus are straining pediatric resources in parts of the United States.
Credit…Jose A. Alvarado Jr. for The New York Times

U.S. health officials have expressed concern over a simultaneous rise in Delta infections and cases of respiratory syncytial virus, a highly contagious seasonal flulike illness that is more likely to affect children and older adults.

Cases of R.S.V. have risen gradually since early June, with an even greater spike in the past month, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The illness, which can cause symptoms that include a runny nose, coughing, sneezing and fever, normally begins to spread in the fall, making this summer spike unusual.

In a series of posts on Twitter, Dr. Heather Haq, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, described an increase in both coronavirus and R.S.V. hospitalizations.

“After many months of zero or few pediatric Covid cases, we are seeing infants, children and teens with Covid pouring back into the hospital, more and more each day,” she wrote, adding that patients have ranged in age from 2 weeks to 17 years old, including some with Covid pneumonias.

“We are on the front end of a huge Covid surge,” wrote Dr. Haq, who could not be reached for comment on Sunday. “We are now having winter-level patient volumes of acutely ill infants/toddlers with R.S.V., and I worry that we will run out of beds and staff to handle the surge upon surge.”

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R.S.V. cases in Texas began to increase in early June and appeared to peak in mid-July, according to data from the state’s health department.

There has been a similar spike in Florida, where infections “were above those seen at this time in past years,” according to a surveillance report.

In Louisiana, where cases have jumped 244 percent in the past two weeks, Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge was nearing its capacity on Friday, CNN reported.

“You start with the pandemic for the last 18 months, and then R.S.V. for the last couple of months,” Dr. Trey Dunbar, the hospital’s president, told the network. “It just seems to be one thing after another that’s keeping our teams very busy.”

In Oklahoma, which has also had a spike in R.S.V. cases, beds are becoming scarce at hospitals.

Dr. Cameron Mantor, the chief medical officer for Oklahoma Children’s Hospital at OU Health, told The Oklahoman that in the past two months R.S.V. cases in the state had been “exponentially off the charts.”

“R.S.V. is a real issue right now,” he told the newspaper. “What is going to happen if we do have a surge in pediatric Covid cases?”

The rise comes as new coronavirus infections have risen 148 percent in the United States in the past two weeks and hospitalizations have increased 73 percent, according to New York Times data. The surge of coronavirus infections has been largely attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant and to low vaccination rates in some states.

“I worry as kids go back to school with the Delta circulating, we will see huge school outbreaks that we didn’t see in prior waves, disproportionately affecting kids,” Dr. Haq wrote. “I’ve cared for hospitalized pediatric patients with Covid throughout the pandemic, but this time with unvaccinated, susceptible children plus Delta variant, we will see more pediatric Covid admissions.”

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas has prohibited local governments and state agencies from mandating Covid vaccines and barred local officials from requiring face masks.

Florida could face similar challenges with viruses when the school year begins. Gov. Ron DeSantis has spoken out against new masking recommendations from the C.D.C., with his office saying in a statement last week that “parents know what’s best for their children.”

Surges in R.S.V. infections have also been reported in places like New Zealand, where it is currently winter. Experts there say that children may be more vulnerable than usual to seasonal viruses and infections because they were underexposed to germs during lockdowns early in the pandemic.

Deaths from Covid-19 were surging across Africa in June when 100,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Chad. The delivery seemed proof that Covax, the United Nations-backed program to immunize the world, could get the most desirable vaccines to the least developed countries.

Yet five weeks later, Chad’s health minister said, 94,000 doses remained unused.

Nearby in Benin, only 267 shots were being given each day, a pace so slow that 110,000 of the program’s AstraZeneca doses expired. Across Africa, confidential documents from July indicated, the program was monitoring at least nine countries where it said doses intended for the poor were at risk of spoiling this summer.

The vaccine pileup illustrates one of the most serious unrecognized problems facing the immunization program: difficulty getting doses from airport tarmacs into people’s arms.

Covax was supposed to be a global powerhouse, a multibillion-dollar alliance of international health bodies and nonprofits that would ensure that poor countries received vaccines as quickly as the rich. Instead, it has struggled to acquire doses: It stands half a billion short of its goal.

Driven by a nonprofit funded by the Gates Foundation, Covax has gotten vaccines to poorer countries faster than was previously typical. It also developed a system to compensate people for serious post-vaccine reactions and protect vaccine makers from legal liability.

Still, the 163 million doses it has delivered — most free to poorer nations, with the rest to countries like Canada that paid their way — are a far cry from plans to have at least 640 million doses available by now.

Now, poor countries are dangerously unprotected as the Delta variant of the virus runs rampant, the very scenario that Covax was created to prevent. And the longer the virus circulates, the more dangerous it can become, even for wealthy countries.

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The headquarters of News Corp Australia in Sydney last year.
Credit…Peter Parks/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

YouTube has suspended the conservative news channel Sky News Australia for a week for breaching the platform’s coronavirus misinformation policy.

The broadcaster, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and has nearly two million subscribers on YouTube, is not allowed to upload new videos for the duration of its suspension, which began on Thursday. Existing videos on its account can still be viewed.

In a statement to The New York Times on Monday, YouTube said it had removed Sky News videos and issued a strike against the broadcaster in accordance with policies “to prevent the spread of coronavirus information that could cause real-world harm.”

This is the first strike for Sky News. If it receives three strikes within 90 days, its YouTube channel will be permanently deleted.

The statement did not specify what content was removed.

Sky News said in a statement on its website on Sunday that the suspension had resulted from “a review of old videos published to the channel,” and that it “acknowledges YouTube’s right to enforce its policies.”

An opinion piece published by Sky News on Sunday criticized the suspension as an “assault on freedom of thought” and said that some of the removed videos had featured debates over the efficacy of masks and lockdowns.

Lockdowns have been a contentious topic in Australia, where two of the largest cities are under stay-at-home orders amid growing clusters of the more contagious Delta variant of the virus. Brisbane began a three-day lockdown on Saturday after six cases were discovered, and on Monday it was extended until Sunday. In Sydney, where an outbreak of the Delta variant has grown to more than 3,500 cases, 300 soldiers are patrolling the streets to enforce a lockdown that is in its sixth week.

Officials say the lockdowns are necessary because not enough Australians have been inoculated against Covid-19. Only 15 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database.

The Sky News suspension came on the same day it was reported that The Daily Telegraph, a Sydney tabloid that is also owned by News Corporation, had dropped a weekly column by the Sky News commentator Alan Jones.

In a segment on his Sky News show last month, Mr. Jones and Craig Kelly, an Australian lawmaker and conspiracy theorist, falsely claimed that the Delta variant was less deadly than the original form of the coronavirus and that people who had been vaccinated were more likely to die from the virus. Sky News subsequently retracted the segment and issued a correction.

A medical staff prepares a syringe with the a Pfizer vaccine in Paris in July.
Credit…Michel Euler/Associated Press

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna both increased the price of their coronavirus vaccines in their latest contracts with the European Union, France’s minister for European affairs said on Monday.

Speaking in an interview with Radio France Internationale, the minister, Clément Beaune, did not specify the exact rises in price. But as the more contagious Delta variant continues to spread across the continent, he said that the increases were justified because the vaccines would be “a more demanding product, adapted to the variant.”

His comments followed an article in the Financial Times on Sunday that said the price for a Pfizer-BioNTech shot had risen to $23 from about $18.50 in the contracts, and that Moderna’s had risen to $25.50, up from $22.60.

Mr. Beaune said the vaccines would be “a little more expensive” not only for the European Union, but for all buyers.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, declined to comment about the increases on Monday, citing confidentiality clauses.

The Commission signed a third contract with Pfizer-BioNTech in May for 1.8 billion vaccine doses and said it had ordered an additional 150 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine in June. It also said it had amended its contract with Moderna to allow for the purchase of vaccines adapted to new variants and booster shots.

Those moves were part of the bloc’s decision to shift the focus of its inoculation campaign to mRNA vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna after a series of setbacks with the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines that had been the initial cornerstones of the bloc’s coronavirus response.

“We need to focus now on technologies that have proven their worth: mRNA vaccines are a clear case in point,” the Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, said in a statement in April.

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Pfizer’s vaccine has brought in $7.8 billion in revenue in the last three months, the company said last week, and is on track to generate more than $33.5 billion this year.

After initially lagging behind the United States and other developed countries, the E.U. inoculation campaign has gained momentum in recent weeks. Over 70 percent of the bloc’s adults are now vaccinated with one dose, and over 57 percent are fully inoculated.

The European Medicines Agency, the bloc’s drug regulator, said last month that it was too early to determine whether booster shots would be needed.

City workers speak with Yolanda Evans at 14th Street and First Avenue in Manhattan as part of a push to clear homeless people off the streets. Ms. Evans said she did not want to go to a group shelter.
Credit…Andrew Seng for The New York Times

As New York City strives to lure back tourists and office workers, it has undertaken an aggressive campaign to push homeless people off the streets of Manhattan.

City workers used to tear down one or two encampments a day. Now, they sometimes clear dozens. Since late May, teams that include sanitation workers in garbage trucks, police officers and outreach workers have cruised Manhattan around the clock, hitting the same spots over and over.

The sweeps are part of a broader effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio that includes transferring more than 8,000 people from hotels, where they had been placed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, to barracks-style group shelters.

The transfers are continuing despite the recent surge in the Delta variant, though the city told a judge that it would delay the moves on Monday to address concerns that it was not adequately considering people’s health problems and disabilities.

The city is also responding to months of complaints about homeless people blocking public spaces, menacing passers-by and committing assaults. On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, whose administration has slashed aid for addressing homelessness, cited the problem as one of the main hurdles to the city’s recovery.

The debate over how to tackle homelessness in New York City, where more than 2,000 people live on the streets and the subway, comes as cities across the country grapple with growing encampments.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council outlawed camping near parks, libraries and schools. On Saturday, a national eviction moratorium expired, spurring fears of a new surge in homelessness, though in New York the moratorium continues through Aug. 31.

A cluster of coronavirus cases in Provincetown, Mass., which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country, was cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its decision to issue new indoor mask guidance.
Credit…Matt Cosby for The New York Times

By the Fourth of July, the tourist season in Provincetown, Mass., had built to a prepandemic thrum. Restaurants were booked solid, and snaking lines formed outside dance clubs. There were conga lines, drag brunches and a pervasive, joyous sense of relief.

“We really thought we had beat Covid,” said Alex Morse, who arrived this spring as town manager.

Mr. Morse didn’t think much of it, five days after the holiday, when the town’s Board of Health logged two new cases of coronavirus. A week later, though, the cluster of cases associated with gatherings in Provincetown was growing by 50 to 100 cases per day. Alongside the numbers was an unsettling fact: Most of the people testing positive were vaccinated.

Provincetown, a quirky beach community at the tip of Cape Cod, has provided a sobering case study for the country, abruptly tugging Americans back to the caution of winter and spring.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited the cluster on Friday as key to its decision to issue new indoor mask guidance, saying viral loads among the vaccinated people there were found to be as high as among the unvaccinated.

The good news is that people infected in Provincetown were for the most part not seriously ill. The bad news is that the variant is extraordinarily contagious — as contagious as chickenpox, the C.D.C. said — and people with breakthrough infections may spread the virus to others.

Coronavirus testing at a mobile station in Palmetto, Fla., in July.
Credit…Octavio Jones for The New York Times

As a wave of major U.S. employers said last week that unvaccinated workers would need to submit to regular coronavirus testing, it raised a thorny question: Who pays for those tests?

Doctors typically charge about $50 to $100 for the tests, so the costs of weekly testing could add up quickly. Federal law requires insurers to fully cover the tests when ordered by a health care provider, but routine workplace tests are exempt from that provision.

“It’s really up to the employer,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms. “They can require employees to pick up the tab.”

Employers have taken a range of approaches, from fully covering the costs to having unvaccinated workers pay full freight.

The U.S. government will pay for its unvaccinated workers’ coronavirus testing, Karine Jean-Pierre, the deputy White House press secretary, said at a news briefing on Friday. Each federal agency will come up with a plan for testing its unvaccinated work force, she said, adding that the costs and procedures of each agency’s testing protocols will depend on the number of unvaccinated people they need to monitor.


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