Covid-19 Global News: Live Updates on Variant, Vaccine and Booster Shots

A line outside a supermarket in Auckland, New Zealand, on Tuesday.
Credit…Jason Oxenham/New Zealand Herald, via Associated Press

New Zealand has begun a three-day nationwide lockdown after reporting its first coronavirus case in six months.

The snap lockdown, which started at 11:59 p.m. local time on Tuesday, was set off by the discovery of an infection in Auckland, New Zealand’s most populous city, that was believed to be the country’s first case of the more contagious Delta variant outside its strict quarantine system. Auckland and the nearby Coromandel Peninsula, which the infected person recently visited, entered a longer, seven-day lockdown.

Under the lockdown rules, New Zealand’s toughest, residents must stay at home and all schools, public facilities and nonessential businesses are closed.

Ahead of the lockdown announcement by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, New Zealanders flocked to supermarkets to stock up, leaving toilet paper aisles bare, in scenes reminiscent of the earliest days of the pandemic. Roads out of Auckland were packed as people left the city for holiday homes in other parts of the country.

“I want to assure New Zealand that we have planned for this eventuality and that we will now be putting in place that plan to contain and stamp out Covid-19 once again,” Ms. Ardern said at a news conference.

“Going hard and early has worked for us before,” she added.

It is not yet known how the individual who tested positive contracted the virus. He does not have any links to the country’s quarantine facilities at the border.

Ms. Ardern warned that if New Zealand failed to act swiftly, it could end up in the same situation as the Australian state of New South Wales, which is reporting hundreds of new cases each day, more than at any other time during the pandemic. A lockdown now in its eighth week in Sydney, where the Delta-driven outbreak began, was extended to the entire state on Saturday.

“We are one of the last countries in the world to have the Delta variant in our community,” Ms. Ardern said. “This has given us the chance to learn from others.”

The New Zealand government had previously indicated that it would respond to any cases of the Delta variant in the community with stringent lockdowns, in line with the country’s Covid-zero strategy. New Zealand has had among the fewest virus cases in the world, with a total of 2,927 cases and 26 deaths, according to a New York Times database.

Fears of a Delta outbreak in New Zealand have been heightened by the country’s relatively low vaccination rate. According to a New York Times database, 29 percent of New Zealand’s population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 17 percent is fully vaccinated. The person whose infection led to the three-day lockdown was unvaccinated.

The campaign is expected to accelerate in the final months of this year, with officials saying last week that all residents over the age of 16 would be able to book appointments starting Sept. 1.

Grand Central Terminal in New York last month. About 130,000 coronavirus cases are being reported across the United States each day, almost twice as many as last summer’s highest levels.
Credit…Brittainy Newman for The New York Times

Americans have entered a new, disheartening phase of the pandemic: the realization that the virus is not disappearing anytime soon.

Even as the highly contagious Delta variant has flooded the nation with a surge of recent infections, mayors, governors and public health officials have treaded lightly when considering whether to reimpose restrictions. With more than twice as many new cases being reported nationally compared with last August, baseball games, music festivals and state fairs have forged ahead, and restaurants, gyms and movie theaters have stayed open.

In many places, people have been largely left to decide for themselves whether to start wearing masks again or change the ways they work, socialize and vacation.

At the beginning of summer, the United States was reporting the lowest case totals since the pandemic’s start. But now, hospitalizations have reached their highest levels since winter. Only about half of Americans are fully vaccinated, and daily vaccination rates have risen only modestly, to about 700,000 doses a day, since the Delta surge began.

The worst surges have so far been concentrated in Southern states with underwhelming vaccination numbers, but reported cases have also been rising in places with far better vaccine uptake. Oregon and Hawaii, both of which have relatively high vaccination rates, have set weekly case records in recent days, and daily case rates have more than doubled in recent weeks in highly vaccinated parts of New England.

Most of the country remains fully open, and aside from Hawaii, where the governor recently imposed restrictions on social gatherings and restaurants, most officials have so far steered away from restricting or closing businesses, leaning instead on mask rules or vaccine requirements or, more commonly, nothing at all. Louisiana and Oregon have reinstated mask mandates. San Francisco will require proof of vaccination to patronize restaurants, bars and gyms. Several school districts and cities have returned to universal masking, while more employers and colleges have announced plans to require vaccines.

But other officials have been hostile to new restrictions or have worried that rules could further politicize the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that some vaccinated Americans wear masks in public again, but has not suggested shutting down businesses.

Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

The Biden administration has decided that most Americans should get a booster vaccination eight months after they received their second shot, and could begin offering third shots as early as mid-September, according to administration officials familiar with the discussions.

Officials are planning to announce the decision as early as this week. Their goal is to let Americans who received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines know now that they will need additional protection against the Delta variant that is causing caseloads to surge across much of the nation. The new policy will depend on the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of additional shots.

Officials said that they expect that recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which was authorized as a one-dose regimen, will also need an additional dose. But they are waiting for the results of that firm’s two-dose clinical trial, expected later this month.

The first boosters are likely to go to nursing home residents, health care workers and emergency workers. They would probably be followed by older people who were near the front of the line when vaccinations began late last year and then by the general population. Officials envision giving people the same vaccine they originally received.

The decision comes as the Biden administration is struggling to regain control of a pandemic that it had claimed to have tamed little more than a month ago. Covid-19 patients are again overwhelming hospitals in some states, and federal officials are worried about an increase in the number of children hospitalized just as the school year is set to begin.

The World Health Organization has called for a moratorium on booster shots until the end of September, saying available doses should be used to help countries that are far behind in vaccinations. But Israel is already offering third shots to those at least 50 years old. France and Germany have said that they plan to offer additional shots to vulnerable segments of their populations next month. Britain has a plan to do so, but is holding off for now.

Checking health passes at a bar in Bordeaux, France, on Wednesday. Certification is needed to gain access to many public spaces and services in the country, including nonemergency hospital treatment.
Credit…Philippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A week after France introduced a coronavirus health pass that is required for entry to restaurants and other venues, the police around the country are investigating incidents of fraudulent documentation.

The French health authorities said 46 cases of false certificates are under investigation.

The passes show that the holder is vaccinated against Covid-19, has tested negative within the past 72 hours or has a certificate of recovery. The documents are needed to gain access to many public spaces and services in France, including restaurants, bars, museums, cinemas, major shopping centers and even nonemergency hospital treatment.

Last month, a contractor at a vaccination center in a suburb of Paris was sentenced to a year in prison for trafficking 200 false vaccination certificates. Her sentence was later reduced to home detention.

In Bordeaux, two employees of a vaccination center are facing charges of forgery after having been accused of selling false certificates. Using a forged Covid-19 pass is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 45,000 euros, about $53,000.

A similar phenomenon has been observed in the United States, where sellers have offered counterfeit or stolen vaccine cards on Etsy, eBay, Facebook and Twitter.

In France, fraudsters have also tried to create false certificates through by hacking doctors’ computer systems. In one case, hackers infiltrated the account that a doctor outside Bordeaux used to register vaccination certificates. In another example, public prosecutors in Marseille are investigating reports that another doctor’s computer was hacked to create 178 fraudulent passes.

The summer surge in cases in the United States, led by the domination of the more contagious Delta variant, is well into its second month, and the number of those hospitalized with Covid-19 has reached heights last seen during the overwhelming winter wave.

The number of those patients who are critically ill, requiring treatment in an intensive care unit, has risen, too. Data from the Department of Health and Human Services shows that the number of hospitals with very full I.C.U.s doubled in recent weeks. Now, one in five I.C.U.s have reached or exceeded 95 percent of beds occupied, a level experts say makes it difficult or impossible for health professionals to maintain standards of care for the very sick.

In many states, hospital workers are seeing admission numbers that resemble what they saw at the height of the pandemic over the winter. Some are struggling to find enough beds, while others have employees working overtime and are relying on contract nurses and emergency medical technicians. Outside some hospitals, officials are erecting large tents to house everyone.

Dr. David De La Zerda, who has spent more than a year treating patients in the I.C.U. at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, thought early this summer that a drop in cases meant the crisis phase of the pandemic was near its end. That feeling lasted just four weeks. According to federal data, there were over 300 patients hospitalized with Covid in the Jackson Memorial Hospital system in the week ending Aug. 12, up from around 70 at the beginning of July.

For health care providers like Dr. De La Zerda, the rise in cases feels like déjà vu — but the emergence of vaccines is worsening the blow.

“This virus is becoming a more preventable disease than before, when this was all new, because now we know that there’s something that we can do,” he said, referring to vaccines, which are highly effective at preventing severe illness and death from Covid-19. “There’s this sense of a lack of concern, but we all know this isn’t true because we’re working in the hospitals.”

A market in Mumbai, India, on Wednesday.
Credit…Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

In the state of Maharashtra, one of the first places struck by India’s devastating second wave of Covid-19 this year, scientists are anxiously looking for signs of a third.

New laboratories in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, and in the city of Pune are searching for dangerous new variants. They have stepped up testing, to over 3,600 samples per month, from 134 in December last year, as they search for versions of the virus that could make the pandemic even harder to stop.

India is still far short of its goal to increase genome sequencing nationwide. While coronavirus cases and deaths have plunged, according to official numbers, the virus is continuing to spread in some parts of the country. A low vaccination rate and other factors have left India especially vulnerable to variants like Delta, which helped power India’s second wave this spring.

The second wave, which exploded across the country in April and May, exposed both the Delta variant’s increased communicability and India’s inability to cope. Official figures show that about 430,000 people have died since the virus hit early last year, though the numbers are widely considered unreliable and experts say the true toll may be in the millions. The second wave pushed the country’s medical system past its limits and led to anger over the government’s inability to handle the crisis.

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