A new Covid cluster in Sydney has grown to 49 cases, prompting a travel ban for the five million residents of Australia’s largest city and a return to mandatory mask-wearing, and infecting at least one state government minister.
Health officials in the state of New South Wales have been scrambling for more than a week to contain the outbreak, which began when a Sydney airport limousine driver tested positive for the highly contagious Delta variant. He was not vaccinated, in violation of public health guidelines, and is believed to have become infected while transporting a foreign airline crew.
As the police continue to investigate whether the driver and his employer should face criminal penalties or fines for not complying with Covid rules, Sydney has been forced to hunker down. Residents are being asked to work from home, where gatherings are now limited to five people.
The travel restrictions began late on Wednesday. Compounded by state border closures banning entry for anyone from Sydney, the stay-at-home orders have arrived at the start of winter break for schools, forcing tens of thousands of families to cancel travel plans.
Australia has all but eliminated community transmission of the coronavirus thanks to border closures, extensive contact-tracing and a practice of swiftly imposing local lockdowns for even small numbers of cases. The current outbreak in Sydney follows several months of near-zero Covid community transmission.
A stricter lockdown in the city has been avoided so far, officials said, because contact tracers have identified the source of nearly every case. Only three infections are still being investigated.
But with some of the cases being linked back to fleeting contact, with just a few seconds of shared air in a store or cafe, officials said they expect more cases and challenges to arise.
“Since the pandemic has started, this is perhaps the scariest period that New South Wales is going through,” the state premier, Gladys Berejiklian, told a news conference Thursday.
She added that she had been identified as a casual contact herself and had gotten tested to confirm that she did not have an infection. Others in government were not so fortunate: The state agriculture minister, Adam Marshall, said that he had tested positive after dining with three government colleagues on Monday at a Sydney restaurant.
Dr. Nicholas Talley, an epidemiologist at the University of Newcastle, said that the latest outbreak showed both the strength of contact tracing in New South Wales and the need to do more than rely on the same system of restrictions and tracing that worked earlier in the pandemic. The new variants, he said, required a new level of urgency from lawmakers.
“They need to look at the policy settings and give a jolt to the vaccine rollout,” he said. “Without generalized vaccination, and if the Delta variant gets hold, it can really be dangerous.”
The White House said on Wednesday that the United States would send three million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to Brazil on Thursday. The country’s virus cases and fatalities are surging again, with a death toll above 500,000.
Less than a third of the country’s population has had at least one shot, and an average of 74,490 new cases per day were reported in the country in the last week — an increase of 26 percent from the average two weeks ago.
The vaccines, which are set to arrive in Campinas, near São Paulo, are part of President Biden’s pledge to dispatch 80 million doses overseas by the end of the month, a White House official said. The official added that “scientific teams and legal and regulatory authorities” from the United States and Brazil had worked to secure the arrangement.
The shipment to Brazil follows one to Taiwan last weekend: 2.5 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine. Mr. Biden, who has been under intense pressure to increase his vaccine commitments abroad, announced this month that his administration would buy 500 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and distribute them among about 100 countries over the next year.
Asked last week at a pandemic news conference whether the administration would send vaccines to Brazil, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator, said that the United States was working with other countries on complicated logistical issues, including securing needles, syringes and alcohol pads that would accompany the medicine.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which confers a high level of protection against virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, has faced sagging demand in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration in April recommended a pause in its use after reports of a rare blood-clotting disorder in a small number of people who had received the vaccine, a decision that state officials said had derailed interest in the shot.
And with manufacturing problems at a Baltimore plant operated by a subcontractor, Emergent BioSolutions, Johnson & Johnson has been able to deliver fewer than half of the 100 million doses it promised the federal government by the end of this month. A little more than half the Johnson & Johnson doses delivered to states so far have been administered, according to C.D.C. data.
Roughly two-thirds of the doses the U.S. is sending to Brazil are from a federal pool that holds vaccines that states choose not to order, the White House said. Around a third of them were produced at Emergent and recently cleared by the F.D.A. in a special review of the facility and the doses produced there.
Earlier this month, the F.D.A. cleared around 10 million doses for use in the United States or for export, with a proviso that regulators could not guarantee that Emergent had adhered to manufacturing standards.
Last week, the agency released another 15 million doses from Emergent. It is still reviewing other batches of the vaccine to determine if they are safe. A decision is expected soon.
In Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation, the coronavirus has found remarkably fertile ground, turbocharging the outbreak that has turned South America into the hardest-hit continent in the world.
Brazil recently surpassed 500,000 official Covid-19 deaths, the world’s second-highest total, behind the United States. About 1 in every 400 Brazilians has died from the virus, but many experts believe the true death toll may be higher. Home to just over 2.7 percent of the world’s population, Brazil accounts for nearly 13 percent of recorded fatalities, and the situation there is not easing.
As the virus began spreading to remote corners of Brazil last year, it took an especially high toll in the Amazon region, where patients suffocated to death after President Jair Bolsonaro’s government was late to heed warnings about oxygen shortages. As the country struggles to vaccinate people, the region’s isolated villages, deep in the rainforest and often accessible only by river, still present a unique challenge.
The photographer Mauricio Lima traveled across Brazil to document the pandemic’s toll on cities and remote towns. See his photos here, along with reporting by Ernesto Londoño and Flàvia Milhorance.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany warned on Thursday that despite dropping numbers of new coronavirus infections, Europeans should not be deceived into thinking the pandemic is over.
“We need to remain vigilant,” Ms. Merkel told lawmakers in what may have been her final address to Parliament. Germans will elect new lawmakers in September, and Ms. Merkel is stepping down after 16 years in power.
“In particular, the newly arising variants, especially now the Delta variant, are a warning for us to continue to be careful,” the chancellor said.
European Union health officials are predicting that the more transmissible Delta variant, which was first detected in India, will make up 90 percent of all cases across the bloc by the end of August. They are urging people to get fully vaccinated as soon as possible, even as travel for summer vacations between the 27 member nations is allowed and encouraged.
On Thursday, Ms. Merkel called for E.U. member states to come up with a joint position on handling arrivals from countries where the Delta variant is dominant. This includes Britain, where Germany will play England in the European soccer championship on Tuesday, raising concerns in Berlin about the risk posed to fans traveling to the game.
Germany already requires anyone arriving from Britain to quarantine upon arrival, and the chancellor told lawmakers on Wednesday that she would raise the issue with European leaders in Brussels on Thursday. “In our country, if you come from Britain, you have to go into quarantine — and that’s not the case in every European country, and that’s what I would like to see,” Ms. Merkel said.
The Delta variant makes up about 15 percent of all new cases of the coronavirus in Germany, and officials are warning that could change within a matter of weeks.
In other news from around the world:
Rizieq Shihab, a radical cleric in Indonesia who attracted huge crowds last year on his return from self-imposed exile, was sentenced to four years in prison on Thursday for hiding that he had contracted the coronavirus. A three-judge panel found that he had spread false information by posting a video claiming to be healthy. The Muslim cleric, who had pledged to lead a “moral revolution,” was sentenced in May to eight months in prison for holding large gatherings in violation of coronavirus health protocols.
Russia on Thursday reported more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases and more than 550 deaths the previous day, reaching numbers unseen since January. Over the past two weeks, the country has had a surge in cases, driven in part by the Delta variant. The situation has been worsened by a sluggish vaccination process, with the government trying to speed it up.
Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Africa, said in a news briefing that rising coronavirus cases on the continent were outpacing vaccinations, driven in part by a surge in the Delta variant. Eighteen African nations have used over 80 percent of their vaccine stocks, highlighting the need for international solidarity to increase vaccine supplies there. Africa had relied on India as a vaccine producer before it was overwhelmed by its own second wave, she said.
The city of San Francisco said on Wednesday that it would require all 35,000 of its employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 or risk losing their jobs, making it one of the largest U.S. municipalities to impose a vaccine mandate for public workers.
The requirement will take effect once a Covid vaccine receives full authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. The vaccines are currently being used in the United States under emergency authorizations.
City officials said that the requirement would promote safety in municipal workplaces and among the general public, given that police officers, firefighters, building inspectors and other city workers come into regular contact with members of the community.
“With those two things in mind — the safety of our employees and the safety of the public we serve — we made this decision,” said Carol Isen, San Francisco’s director of human resources. “We believe this step is a simple one to take. It’s safe, it’s very effective, and it’s going to guarantee the safety of all.”
San Francisco has one of the highest vaccination rates of any major U.S. city, with 80 percent of residents 12 and older having received at least one dose and 70 percent fully vaccinated, Mayor London Breed said this month. Ms. Isen said that informal surveys of city workers — many of whom live in other municipalities where vaccination rates are lower — suggested that at least 60 percent were fully vaccinated.
Under the new policy, starting on Monday, city employees will be required to show proof of their vaccination status within 30 days. City officials said that they would redouble efforts to get shots to those who haven’t had them, while allowing workers to request exemptions on medical or religious grounds.
Both Pfizer and Moderna, the makers of the two most widely used Covid shots in the United States, have applied for full F.D.A. approval for their vaccines, but it is unclear when regulators will make a decision.
Elsewhere in the United States, vaccine mandates have been met with opposition. This week, more than 150 staff members at a Houston-area hospital resigned or were fired for not following a policy that requires employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
San Francisco officials said that employees who did not meet the vaccine requirement could lose their jobs but added that firings would be a last resort. A recent outbreak of the Delta variant among unvaccinated residents in nearby Marin County — where more than 80 percent of people are fully inoculated — shows the need for everyone to receive the shots, officials said.
“We see that Delta did make its way through a cluster of unvaccinated people, and so we just wanted to make this move quickly,” Ms. Isen said. “We hope our employees respond to this in the spirit in which it’s offered — not as a punishment, but as a safety measure.”
The rigors of protecting a president, a vice president and their families in an election year amid a pandemic placed a heavy burden on the Secret Service, with nearly 900 employees testing positive for the coronavirus, a watchdog group said this week.
The group, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, faulted former President Donald J. Trump for continuing to hold large campaign rallies, which it said had contributed to the infections.
It obtained the Secret Service data from the federal government as part of a public records request under the Freedom of Information Act. The cases were recorded from March 2020 to March of this year, according to the group, but the data did not include details of the assignments of the agent Ts who were infected. The government also did not disclose what percentage of the total number of Secret Service employees had contracted the virus.
The employees who tested positive included 477 special agents, 249 members of the uniformed division and 131 staff members working in administrative, professional and technical positions, according to the group. The Secret Service is the main federal law enforcement agency charged with protecting U.S. political leaders, including the president, and the families.
“Throughout the pandemic, then-President and Vice President Trump and Pence held large-scale rallies against public health guidelines, and Trump and his family made repeated protected trips to Trump-branded properties which the then-president was making millions of dollars a year from,” the group said on Tuesday in a post on its website. The group also blamed the former president for riding in a vehicle with Secret Service protection while he was under treatment for a coronavirus infection last October, “further putting agents in danger,” it said.
Representatives for Mr. Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday night.
A spokeswoman for the Secret Service said in an emailed statement on Wednesday that the agency had distributed masks, gloves and other protective gear to employees and conducted a robust virus-testing program. She added that the agency’s mission “required significant public interaction during a public health crisis” and that it “was fully prepared and staffed to successfully meet these challenges.”
Last November, the Secret Service’s uniformed-officer division experienced a coronavirus outbreak, according to several people who were briefed on the matter at the time. The outbreak was at least the fourth to strike the agency since the pandemic began, with at least 30 uniformed Secret Service officers testing positive for the virus over several weeks. About 60 officers had been asked by the agency to go into quarantine.
In the final months of Mr. Trump’s presidency, the virus permeated the West Wing. Several of his top aides tested positive, including Hope Hicks, his adviser; Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary; and two of Ms. McEnany’s deputies, Chad Gilmartin and Karoline Leavitt.
Mr. Trump, who had eschewed wearing masks for months, was sicker with Covid-19 last October than the White House publicly acknowledged at the time, according to several people familiar with his condition. At the time that he was hospitalized, his blood oxygen levels had plunged and officials feared he was on the verge of being placed on a ventilator.
Fears that the pandemic has widened the divide between rich and poor nations have prompted a substantial effort at the International Monetary Fund to close the gap.
Under a proposal nearing completion, the I.M.F. would issue $650 billion worth of reserve funds, essentially creating money that troubled countries could use to purchase vaccines, finance health care and pay down debt.
Such a step would deliver “potentially the largest capital allocation since the end of World War II,” the administrator of the United Nations Development Program, Achim Steiner, declared this week.
But experts say that for poor countries to truly benefit, wealthy nations must voluntarily transfer some of their holdings to them — a course that I.M.F. officials are seeking to bring about.
New York’s state of emergency will end on Thursday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Wednesday. And with it will depart the freedom restaurants and bars have had to deliver and sell alcoholic beverages to go.
The official end of the state of emergency comes just over a week after Mr. Cuomo relaxed most of the state’s remaining restrictions, a welcome sign of the state’s steady march back toward normalcy after more than 53,000 deaths linked to the virus. The sudden halt to the freer sale of alcohol may be a boon to liquor stores while surprising the bars and restaurants that came to rely on the business they generated to weather the pandemic.
“The Legislature failed to codify the ability of restaurants to offer alcohol to-go,” New York State’s Liquor Authority said in an emailed statement, referring to legislation to extend the takeout alcohol that state lawmakers did not act on before their session ended this month. “With the state’s declaration of emergency expiring on Thursday, all temporary pandemic-related suspensions and directives, including privileges allowing bars, restaurants, and manufacturers to sell drinks to go, will end after June 24th.”
(Bill Crowley, a spokesman for the authority, noted that bars and restaurants could still deliver and sell beer to go, as they could before the pandemic.)
The Distilled Spirits Council, a trade association that has lobbied to keep to-go alcohol sales, said that 15 states had passed bills to make them permanent and that 12 had extended the period for such sales.
Lisa Hawkins, an official with the council, expressed dismay that New York was ending the practice. “It’s shocking and extremely disappointing that this important revenue stream will soon dry up for New York’s hospitality businesses,” she said in an email.
Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, an association representing restaurants, bars and nightclubs, said that many proprietors had thought takeout alcohol would be allowed at least through July 5, when the latest in a series of extensions of the authorization for freer sales was set to expire.
Customers who have grown accustomed to the convenience of takeout tequila, delivery daiquiris and walkaway wine could also be taken aback, Mr. Rigie said in an interview. “It’s a shame the state legislature failed to continue to support local restaurants and to continue to deliver a very popular policy to New Yorkers,” he said.
But with restaurants and bars once again open to full capacity and more than 70 percent of adults in the state having received at least one dose of a vaccine, some New York City restaurateurs welcomed the change, which they hope will further motivate customers to spend time and money on premises.
“I want people to now come in, order food and enjoy the venue,” said Michael Trenk, managing partner of the Baylander Steel Beach bar and restaurant, located on a decommissioned aircraft carrier docked at the West Harlem Piers. “I don’t want you to just come in, buy a drink and leave.”
Mr. Cuomo declared the state of emergency on March 7, 2020, as New York City became one of the world’s hardest-hit places. In mid-March, when he limited restaurants and bars to takeout and delivery, the New York State Liquor Authority granted “new off-premises privileges,” meaning drinks to go.
Virus numbers declined in the city by the fall, but the state experienced a new surge in cases around the holidays and until relatively recently was still reporting new cases at a high rate. Buffalo and other cities also struggled to tamp down outbreaks. Vaccinations have helped radically improve the state’s caseload trajectory.
At a news conference on Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo said: “The emergency is over. It’s a new chapter.”
He said that federal guidance advising people to go on wearing masks in many situations if they are unvaccinated, and on public transportation and in settings like homeless shelters even if they are vaccinated, would remain in effect and that state and local health departments would be able to ensure that precautions were adhered to. He asked New Yorkers to remain “wary and vigilant” about the virus and noted that many still needed to be vaccinated, especially young people.