Covid-19: Live Updates on Delta Variant, Cases and Apple’s Return to Office

Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

The number of people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic in India so far is likely to exceed three million — nearly 10 times the official Covid-19 death toll — making it one of the worst human tragedies in the nation’s history, according to a new study.

In a comprehensive examination of the true toll of the pandemic in the sprawling nation of 1.4 billion, the Center for Global Development, a Washington research institute, attempted to quantify excess deaths from all causes during the pandemic based on state data, international estimates, serological studies and household surveys.

“True deaths are likely to be in the several millions, not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy,” said its authors, one of whom is a former chief economic adviser to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The official government numbers have been called into question repeatedly. Even as funeral pyres lit up the night sky and bodies washed up on the Ganges River, with death all around, the Indian government was widely underreporting the scale of the devastation.

A chorus of experts have said the country’s official estimates are a gross understatement.

The study released on Tuesday estimated that between 3.4 and 4.7 million more people than would normally be expected died between January 2020 and June 2021, and includes an estimate suggesting that deaths from Covid-19 alone may have reached four million.

“Estimating Covid deaths with statistical confidence may prove elusive,” the authors wrote. “But all estimates suggest that the death toll from the pandemic is likely to be an order of magnitude greater than the official count of 400,000; they also suggest that the first wave was more lethal than is believed.”

The authors said the undercount of death after the first wave of infections last year may have resulted, in part, from the fact that it was “spread out in time,” as opposed to the sharp curve of the second wave when hundreds of thousands of people died amid shortages of oxygen, beds and vaccines.

The study has said that the country’s inability to grasp the “scale of the tragedy in real time” during its first wave from March 2020 to February 2021 may have caused “the collective complacency that led to the horrors of the second wave.”

At the height of the second wave, interviews by New York Times reporters at cremation grounds across three states in India revealed an extensive pattern of deaths far exceeding the official figures.

Nervous politicians and hospital administrators may also have undercounted or overlooked large numbers of dead, analysts said. And grieving families may be hiding Covid connections as well, out of shame, adding to the confusion.

India is still reporting nearly 40,000 new cases and about 500 deaths a day, according to a New York Times database. Less than 7 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“The challenge of the pandemic is far from over,” said Arvind Subramanian, Mr. Modi’s former chief economic adviser and a senior fellow at Brown University who is a co-author of the study. “Vaccination offers the best hope but its pace needs to be ramped up considerably.”

Mr. Modi’s government has warned of an impending third wave of infections, which government scientists say could strike as early as August.

“The spirit of this paper is not to privilege any one estimate but simply to lay them out with transparency,” the authors of the excess deaths study, Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur and Dr. Subramanian, said.

“Given all the difficulties, getting at the true estimate will be difficult and only by piecing together data from different sources will we improve our understanding of the reality of the pandemic.”

Video player loading
Canadian officials said fully vaccinated citizens and permanent residents of the United States would be allowed to enter the country starting Aug. 9. Canada hopes to allow visitors from other countries by early September.CreditCredit…Lindsay Dedario/Reuters

Canada is poised to welcome back fully vaccinated travelers, including Americans, after over a year of strict controls at the border.

Beginning on Aug. 9, citizens and permanent residents of the United States will be allowed to enter Canada as long as they have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days before travel, federal government officials said on Monday.

Canada then hopes to allow visitors from other countries beginning on Sept. 7, a date that could change depending on conditions.

Pressure has been building on both sides of the border to reopen, to bolster tourism and allow separated families to reunite (though Canada has already made some exceptions for relatives). The two countries have renewed the closure every month since the border closed to nonessential travel on March 21, 2020. Commercial traffic was never halted.

Before the pandemic, Canada was the second most popular foreign destination for Americans, behind Mexico.

Canada is ready to lift border restrictions because it has made rapid progress vaccinating its population after months of delays. It now has higher vaccination rates than the United States, with 50 percent of its population fully vaccinated, and 75 percent of residents having received at least one dose, according to its federal public health agency.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had indicated that Canada would begin to open its border after it crossed the 75 percent threshold for residents who are at least partly vaccinated.

Travelers must present Canadian border officials with proof of vaccination. Canada will accept only the Covid vaccines it has approved for its population: those made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca or the Serum Institute of India, and Janssen, the brand used by Johnson & Johnson in Canada.

In a news conference on Monday, Bill Blair, the public safety minister, said he shared Canada’s border plan with his U.S. counterparts last week, but “they’ve not yet made a decision.”

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said in a briefing Monday that the United States would continue travel restrictions.

“Any decisions about reopening travel will be guided by our public health and medical experts. We take this incredibly seriously, but we look and are guided by our own medical experts,” Ms. Psaki said. “I wouldn’t look at it through a reciprocal intention.”

Several members of Congress from both parties applauded Canada’s move and called on the United States to follow suit. Representative Brian Higgins, Democrat of western New York, criticized the Biden administration for what he called a “lack of urgency” in lifting restrictions at the border.

Representative Pete Stauber, Republican of Minnesota, said on Twitter that the news was “long overdue. Our border communities have suffered for over a year.”

The United States must decide by July 21 to either extend its border closures with Canada and Mexico by a month or lift them altogether.

Also as of Aug. 9, Canada is dropping its mandatory government-approved-hotel quarantine requirement for air travelers, and removing the quarantine period for eligible, fully vaccinated visitors.

Children under 12, who are not yet eligible for the vaccines, or dependents of fully vaccinated travelers, will also be exempt from a 14-day quarantine. They may “move around with their parents, but must avoid group settings, such as camps or daycares,” public health officials said in briefing documents.

The highly contagious Delta virus variant remains a concern, so some fully vaccinated travelers will be randomly selected to complete a post-arrival test for the virus.

Regardless of vaccination status, all travelers will be required to present a negative test taken within 72 hours before arrival.

Airline passengers have so far been limited to traveling through four international airports in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Now, the government is expanding international flights to Halifax, Quebec City, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Edmonton.

On Friday the Toronto Blue Jays, a Major League Baseball team, were granted a travel exemption allowing them to return to Canada, after being forced to play across the border throughout the pandemic.

Canada also let National Hockey League teams cross the border for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Miriam Jordan contributed from Los Angeles.

Global roundup

A news program showing South Korean service members inside the naval destroyer Munmu the Great, at the Seoul Railway Station, on Tuesday.
Credit…Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press

South Korea is airlifting the entire crew from a navy destroyer off the coast of East Africa after hundreds of sailors tested positive for the coronavirus in the military’s worst outbreak of the pandemic.

Two top government officials apologized on Tuesday for the outbreak, in which at least 247 out of 301 sailors have contracted the virus. None of the crew had been vaccinated. Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum told a meeting of health officials that he was “very sorry for failing to carefully take care of the health of our soldiers.”

In separate remarks, Defense Minister Suh Wook also apologized and said he would look into ways to improve antivirus measures for service members overseas.

Two military planes have been dispatched to transport the sailors back to South Korea, where they will be sent to hospitals or quarantine facilities after arriving on Tuesday.

The ship, Munmu the Great, departed for the Gulf of Aden on an eight-month antipiracy mission in early February, shortly before South Korea began its vaccination campaign. Officials say logistical issues made it to difficult to supply the sailors with vaccines, but opposition lawmakers say the government should have made a greater effort. They also accused the government of not taking the outbreak seriously enough when it began earlier this month.

The military has not said what caused the outbreak, though there have been suggestions that it could be linked to a stop at an unspecified harbor in the area in late June.

An immunized replacement crew will steer the ship back to home waters, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, while a different destroyer is on its way to the region to continue the antipiracy mission.

The outbreak on the ship has drawn public anger in South Korea, which is already grappling with a fourth wave of infections and a stalled vaccination campaign.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in said that although the military had acted quickly to bring the sailors home, “it wasn’t enough in the eyes of the Korean people, and criticism for taking the situation lightly would be unavoidable.”

In other developments across the world:

  • Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that the United States would send over a million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African nations of Gambia, Senegal, Zambia and Niger, and three million doses to Guatemala, new allocations of hundreds of millions of doses the Biden administration has promised to send abroad.

The opening ceremony is scheduled for Friday in Tokyo.
Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

TOKYO — The U.S. men’s national basketball team traveled to Tokyo on Monday without guard Zach LaVine, who entered coronavirus health and safety protocols.

In a statement, Team USA said it was hopeful LaVine could take up his place in Japan later this week. The U.S. men’s basketball team had reshuffled its roster last week after it lost guard Bradley Beal to health and safety protocols and forward Kevin Love withdrew from participation.

U.S. women’s basketball also suffered a blow with the news that Katie Lou Samuelson, a member of the 3×3 Olympics team, would miss the Games following a positive test result. Samuelson said she was fully vaccinated.

“Competing in the Olympics has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl and I hope someday soon, I can come back to realize that dream,” Samuelson, 24, wrote in an Instagram post.

Earlier Monday, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee confirmed that an alternate on the women’s gymnastics team had tested positive for the coronavirus while in training in Chiba Prefecture outside Tokyo.

Despite being vaccinated, Kara Eaker, 18, of Grain Valley, Mo., began a 10- to 14-day quarantine, her coach, Al Fong, said in a text message. He added that she “feels fine.”

Credit…Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Fong said that Leanne Wong, another alternate and Eaker’s teammate at his GAGE Center gym in Blue Springs, Mo., was also under quarantine, expected to last until about July 31, because she is considered a close contact. Wong, who is 17 and from Overland Park, Kansas, said at the Olympic trials last month that she had not been vaccinated.

The opening ceremony is Friday and the first competitions are Wednesday. But organizers of the Tokyo Olympics are struggling to manage public anxiety about the Games after a cluster of coronavirus cases that threaten to overshadow the festivities.

As about 20,000 athletes, coaches, referees and other officials have poured into Japan in recent days, more than two dozen of them have tested positive for the virus, including three cases within the Olympic Village. An additional 33 staff members or contractors who are Japanese residents working on the Games have tested positive.

Olympics organizers have said their measures — including repeated testing, social distancing and restrictions on movement — would limit, but not eliminate, coronavirus cases. The Games, originally scheduled for 2020, were postponed a year in the hopes the pandemic would have eased and they could herald a triumphant return to normal.

Instead, they have become a reminder of the staying power of the virus and have fed a debate over whether Japan and the International Olympic Committee have their priorities straight.

The filming of "The Ladder" in Alaska. Hollywood’s major unions agreed  on Monday night to a short-term plan to relax some pandemic protocols on production sets.
Credit…Dustin Safranek/Ketchikan Daily News, via Associated Press

Hollywood’s major unions agreed Monday night to a short-term plan that would allow studios to require everyone on a production set to be vaccinated.

The agreement, which will be in effect through the end of September, will also relax some pandemic protocols on production sets, even as the Delta variant climbs and Los Angeles County puts a mask mandate for indoor settings back in place. Studios will be able to decrease the rate of regular coronavirus testing and loosen mask mandates in outdoor settings.

The arrangement was agreed on by the Directors Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, along with the studios as represented by the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers.

The parties said they would continue monitoring Covid-19 developments and “will consider further modifications.”

Madeleine Fugate co-founded the Covid Memorial Quilt project, a living memorial to those who died of Covid-19 inspired by the AIDS memorial quilt.
Credit…Gabriella Angotti-Jones for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — In Facebook groups, text chains and after-work Zoom calls, survivors of Covid-19 and loved ones of those who died from it are organizing into a vast grass-roots lobbying force that is bumping up against the divisive politics that helped turn the pandemic into a national tragedy.

With names like Covid Survivors for Change, groups born of grief and a need for emotional support are turning to advocacy, writing newspaper essays and training members to lobby for things like mental health and disability benefits; paid sick leave; research on Covid “long haulers”; a commission to investigate the pandemic and a national holiday to honor its victims.

As President Biden tries to shepherd the country into a post-pandemic future, these groups are saying, “Not so fast.” Scores of survivors and family members are planning to descend on Washington next week for “Covid Victims’ Families and Survivors Lobby Days” — a three-day event with speakers, art installations and meetings on Capitol Hill — and, they hope, at the White House.

Not since the early days of the H.I.V./AIDS epidemic, however, has an illness been so colored by politics, and the new Covid activists are navigating challenging terrain.

Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The company  told employees that the return-to-office date could shift further depending on the spread of the virus.
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Apple pushed back its return-to-office plans by at least a month in response to the recent surge in coronavirus cases, which has been fueled by the spread of the Delta variant.

The company told employees on Monday that they are now expected to return to the office as early as Oct. 1 instead of early September. The company said that the date could shift further depending on the spread of the virus, and that it would give employees at least a month’s notice before they are expected to return, according to an email Apple sent to employees, which was viewed by The New York Times.

“As the situation continues to evolve, we’re committed to the same measured approach that we have taken all along,” the email said.

Some employees, such as those who build hardware, have already returned to Apple’s offices. At the beginning of the pandemic, Apple closed many of its retail stores, but those have since reopened. Apple’s return-to-work policies apply to all of its offices, including those in California, Texas and New York.

Apple declined to comment further. The company had 147,000 full-time employees as of September. Bloomberg earlier reported the changed return-to-office date.

Like many companies, Apple has delayed its employees’ return date several times, but it is one of the first major corporations to respond to the Delta variant spread.

Throughout the pandemic, Silicon Valley has been at the forefront of the trend toward remote work, with tech companies like Twitter and Facebook among the first to order their employees to work from home in early 2020. Many tech companies also eventually decided to make remote work permanent.

But Apple has been more resistant to lose its in-person office culture, which has caused some friction among employees who want to continue working from home. An internal Slack channel called “Remote Work Advocates” has grown to about 6,500 employees from roughly 1,800 in June, according to Cher Scarlett, an Apple security engineer who has helped write letters to management from the group.

In June, about 1,800 workers signed a letter to Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, that said forcing employees back into the office would cause some people to leave the company. On Monday, some employees in the Slack group posted a second letter to send to management that proposed more flexible remote-work arrangements. Tech news sites The Verge and Recode previously reported on the letters.

“Basically, everybody wanted to feel heard and to have more transparency and flexibility, like we’re seeing in other companies of Apple’s size,” Ms. Scarlett said.

Joan Poh, a 30-year-old rower who will represent Singapore at the Tokyo Games, training in Singapore this month.
Credit…Kong Chong Yew/SNOC

As many of her competitors spent their days preparing for the Olympics, Joan Poh spent much of the past year working long shifts at a Singapore hospital.

Ms. Poh, a 30-year-old rower who will represent Singapore at the Tokyo Games, had been training and competing full time. But she put that on hold in April of last year when she returned to her job as a nurse after the government put out a call for frontline medical reinforcements.

“In a time of pandemic, going back to work felt like a calling,” she said. “When I’m at work, I’m 100 percent a nurse. When I’m training, I’m 100 percent a rower. It’s always about finding that balance and making it work.”

After resuming eight- to 10-hour hospital shifts in the renal unit at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Ms. Poh sought ways to continue to train. She squeezed in workouts before and after work, sometimes skipping meals. To make up for lost time, she would spend her entire weekend on the water.

Though Ms. Poh did not work in a Covid ward, she was one of a handful of specially trained dialysis nurses at the hospital. She often had to treat patients suspected of having the coronavirus and feared she might contract it herself.

Ms. Poh will also have to be on guard against the virus at this year’s Games, which are unlike any other as organizers try to minimize the risk of transmission. Spectators will be barred from most events, and athletes are discouraged from giving hugs, high-fives and handshakes. Out of about 20,000 people traveling to Japan for the Games, dozens have tested positive for the virus, including three people inside the athletes’ village.

Credit…Tan Tock Seng Hospital

But as a nurse, Ms. Poh plans to take precautions. Her manager, Koh Yu Han, said that despite attracting stares, they both make a point of wiping down equipment and tables. They carry their backpacks at all times to avoid putting them down and becoming contaminated. When traveling to a qualifying race in Tokyo in May, Ms. Koh said, she and Ms. Poh were the only passengers on a bus full of athletes to sanitize their seats with alcohol.

Just 23 athletes will represent Singapore at the Olympics this year, and Ms. Poh is the only female rower. She is only the second Singaporean rower to reach the Olympics, placing 12th in the qualifying regatta.

Her event, women’s single sculls, will take place on Friday.

Ms. Poh did not first get into a boat until she was a teenager, but quickly fell in love with being on the water. Her parents could not afford sports leagues or professional coaching, but she still found ways to practice.

She joined a dragon boat team when she was 17, honing her paddling skills on a traditional long boat before learning how to sail and row a scull. In 2019, she took an extended leave from her hospital job in order to train and compete full time in Australia.

The past year, splitting time between the gym and the hospital, she said, only increased her drive.

“I understood from when I was young that sport is a luxury,” she said. “To be able to pursue your dream is a luxury. And therefore, if you can, then you must.”

The St. Pancras railway station in London on Sunday. Unlike other European nations on Britain’s medium-risk amber list, travelers arriving in England from France must continue to quarantine upon arrival.
Credit…Yui Mok/Press Association, via Associated Press

Nearly all of England’s pandemic restrictions were lifted on Monday, with a notable exception: Travelers to England from France must continue to quarantine upon arrival, even if they are fully vaccinated.

The rule, announced on Friday, was spurred by concerns about the presence of the Beta variant of the coronavirus in France and is intended as a precautionary measure, officials said.

So what is the Beta variant?

Formerly known as B.1.351, Beta was first detected in South Africa last year. It contains several mutations, in a protein called spike, that help the virus bind more tightly to human cells.

It also contains the E484K mutation, sometimes known as the “Eek” mutation, which appears to help the virus partially evade antibodies. This mutation has emerged independently in multiple variants, including Gamma, which surfaced in Brazil, and in some samples of Alpha, which was first identified in Britain.

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have both designated Beta as a “variant of concern.”

Scientists and health officials became concerned about Beta because it spread quickly through South Africa and research indicated that some vaccines were less powerful against it. One of them, developed by Oxford-AstraZeneca, is the vaccine Britain has depended on most heavily.

Several authorized vaccines do provide strong protection against severe disease caused by the variant, however.

Some monoclonal antibody treatments are also less effective against Beta, although there are other authorized antibody treatments that appear to work well against it.

Beta’s ability to bind tightly to human cells may also make it more transmissible; the C.D.C. notes that it appears to be roughly 50 percent more infectious than the original form of the virus. It does not appear to be as contagious as the Delta variant that was first detected in India.

Beta has now been reported in 123 countries, but it remains far less prevalent than Delta, which the World Health Organization has said is likely to become the dominant variant globally in the coming months.

Over the last four weeks, the Beta variant has appeared in 3.7 percent of virus samples sequenced in France, according to GISAID, a repository of viral genomes. French officials have criticized the British restrictions as excessive, saying the majority of their Beta cases are in overseas territories like Réunion, an island in the Indian Ocean where Beta accounts for 31.2 percent of sequences.

Beta is not common in the United States, where it represents just 0.1 percent of infections, according to C.D.C. estimates. It has been detected in Britain, but accounts for a negligible share of cases there.

Coronavirus patients at a public hospital received treatment at an emergency tent set up to handle an overflow of patients in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday.
Credit…Ulet Ifansasti for The New York Times

President Joko Widodo of Indonesia said Tuesday he would extend coronavirus restrictions at least until Monday as the country celebrated a muted Eid al-Adha, one of the most important Muslim holidays traditionally marked by large gatherings and the slaughter of cows and sheep.

The country hit a series of daily records last week, surpassing India and Brazil with the largest number of daily cases in the world and establishing Indonesia as an epicenter of the virus.

Many hospitals on densely populated Java island are overwhelmed by patients, and lifesaving oxygen is in short supply. Some patients wait days in tents and hallways for admission to a hospital ward and many others die in isolation at home. Gravediggers struggle to keep pace with the surge of bodies. On Monday, the government reported a record 1,338 deaths.

Mr. Joko said the restrictions on much of Java and Bali islands were needed “so as not to paralyze hospitals due to overcapacity.”

Since last week, the number of reported cases has declined sharply, reaching 38,325 on Tuesday. But the number of tests being conducted has also dropped sharply, from a high of nearly 260,000 on Friday to fewer than 115,000 on Tuesday.

Indonesia had hit a record of nearly 57,000 cases on Thursday.

Mr. Joko, who has been reluctant throughout the pandemic to impose lockdowns that slow the economy, said that if the trend continues, he will begin lifting restrictions on commerce and gatherings in stages.

“This is a very difficult situation,” he said in a video address. “But with our joint effort, God willing, we will soon be free from Covid-19 and social activities and people’s economic activities can return to normal.”

The percentage of tests that are positive has remained at more than 30 percent for the past week, which health experts say is a sign that the virus is widespread and that too few tests are being conducted.

On Tuesday, the positivity rate was even higher: one out of every three people tested was positive.

This was the second year in a row that Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, celebrated Eid al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice, under the shadow of the coronavirus. The holiday commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his son, Ismail, at God’s command.

This year, mosques in high-risk areas were not allowed to stage the ritual animal sacrifices and distribution of meat that traditionally draw large crowds.

The restrictions, which were imposed July 3, were set to expire Tuesday. They include the closure of malls, sports facilities and a ban on nonessential travel. The government had initially ordered the closure of houses of worship, but later said they were merely advised not to hold services.

In his address, Mr. Joko called on the public to follow health guidance and help reduce pressure on the health care system.

“For this, we must all heighten discipline in implementing health protocols, isolate those with symptoms, and provide treatment as early as possible to those who are exposed,” he said.

Previous Is it good for you or your business? - Councilor Forbes
Next Can China's “new urban strategy” save its cities from the looming climate crisis?

No Comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.