With the July Fourth holiday approaching, the White House has acknowledged this week that Joe Biden’s administration will fall short of his 70% goal and an associated aim of fully vaccinating 165 million adults in the same time frame.
White House officials, while acknowledging they are set to fall short, insist they’re unconcerned. “We don’t see it exactly like something went wrong,” press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier this week, stressing that Americans’ lives are still better off than they were when Biden announced the goal.
A half-dozen officials involved in the vaccination campaign, speaking on the condition of anonymity to Associated Press discuss the missed target candidly, pointed to a combination of factors, including: the lessened sense of urgency that followed early success in the vaccination campaign; a decision to reach higher than a play-it-safe lower goal; and unexpectedly strong recalcitrance among some Americans toward getting a shot.
Zeke Miller writes for AP that nonetheless, the White House says it’s not letting up on its vaccination efforts. Joe Biden will be in North Carolina today urging Americans to roll up their sleeves as part of a nationwide “month of action” to drive up the vaccination rate before the holiday. The White House is continuing to roll out increasingly localized programs to encourage specific communities to get vaccinated.
When the 70% goal was first announced by Biden seven weeks ago, on average more than 800,000 Americans were getting their first vaccine dose each day — down from a high of nearly 2 million per day in early April. Now that figure is below 300,000.
Paradoxically, officials believe the strong response to the early vaccination campaign has served to reduce motivation to get a shot for some. One of the most potent motivators for people to get vaccinated was the high rate of cases and deaths. Now that those figures have dropped to levels not seen since the onset of the pandemic, officials say it’s become harder to convince Americans of the urgency to get a shot — particularly for younger populations that already knew they were at low risk of serious complications from the virus.
Indonesian cleric Rizieq Shihab has been sentenced to another four years in prison on Thursday for concealing information about his coronavirus test result.
A three-judge panel at East Jakarta District Court, which was under heavy police and military guard, ruled that he had lied about his test result, which made contact tracing more difficult. Shihab has been detained since 13 December.
Reuters report that authorities blocked streets leading to the court as thousands of Shihab’s supporters tried to stage a rally to demand his release. Police fired tear gas and water canons to disperse followers who tried to approach the court. Hundreds who refused to leave were detained.
The indictment said Shihab’s false statement that he was healthy, which was aired by several news network and went viral on social media, put the community at risk, considering that he had attended several events involving thousands of people.
Shihab’s case was part of a series of criminal trials he has been facing since returning from a three-year exile in Saudi Arabia last November. Shihab, 55, was the leader and grand imam of the now-banned Islam Defenders Front, widely known by the Indonesian acronym FPI.
My colleague Frances Ryan writes for us this morning that during Covid, to be ‘vulnerable’ is to be told by the state that your life doesn’t matter:
High-risk people who hoped ministers would protect them ended up becoming victims of inaction and indifference. A shielding programme in England so inept that nearly two million people were missed off it. Staff sent into care homes without adequate PPE. Shielding workers with no financial support forced into workplaces to pay their bills. This is what institutional neglect looks like: a perfect storm of systematic injustice and old-fashioned disregard.
“Vulnerable” has become a key word in the pandemic lexicon, but it is one that has often done more harm than good. It implies that the mass deaths of disabled and old people were inevitable, and conveniently exonerates the state from responsibility. It suggests that the decision to send untested residents back to care homes was not to blame for subsequent deaths, but rather it was the faulty bodies of the individuals in question.
The truth is, disabled and older people were not “vulnerable” to the virus simply because of their health or age: they were vulnerable because the government did not bother to keep them safe. What happened to our “most vulnerable” during the pandemic was not some terrible tragedy. It was the all too predictable consequence of a system that decided the lives of disabled and older people mattered less than those of the rest.
UK minister George Eustice on Sky News has also just been suggesting that when England lifts all restrictions, that may not include all face mask requirements in all settings.
Sky News are very heavily pushing the line that they’ve been tipped off that the Balearic Islands will be moved on to England’s “green list” later today. If you can’t point at them on a map off the top of your head, the four largest are Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formentera.
There’s also speculation that there may be further details on the idea floated by health secretary Matt Hancock previously, that people who have had both shots of the vaccine may be exempted from quarantine restrictions.
A reminder that these changes due to be announced by minister Grant Shapps today would only apply to England. Travel restrictions are devolved and so the other nations in the UK have control of their own rules.
Microsoft urged to keep corporate travel to 2020 levels for good
Microsoft is being urged to limit its corporate travel to 2020 levels for good, to set an example that others can follow by using its videoconferencing tools to limit its impact on the environment.
The Just Use Teams campaign, launched by a group of climate activists and Microsoft customers, says the company has spoken about the urgent need to tackle climate change but remains among the top 10 corporate flyers globally, despite being the only one to own and operate a videoconferencing platform.
“Microsoft is such a loyal partner to the fossil-fuelled aviation industry, its employees have their own check-in lane at Seattle airport,” the campaigners note. “Before the pandemic, Microsoft’s business travel emitted more greenhouse gases than some entire countries.
“If Microsoft was to go back to emitting as much through business flights as before the pandemic, it would risk undermining the meaningful contributions its sustainability team, its partners and its customers make every day.
I regret to inform you that in the UK Kay Burley just said “holibobs” on Sky News. Pressed on international travel regulations, minister George Eustice said that nobody likes the obstructions to travel that have been put in place. He said:
We want to support people who want to travel to be able to do so, but it is difficult. We are being cautious because the biggest threat still to our progress against this pandemic, and the great progress we’ve made on vaccination, is that there will be another variant somewhere, that maybe hadn’t been properly detected in another country, and that variant is more resistant to the vaccination. So that’s the great challenge that we’ve got, and that’s why we are proceeding with caution, but obviously Grant Shapps will say more later.
Good morning, it is Martin Belam here in London taking over from our Australian crew. I’m expecting George Eustice to be the government minister doing the media round in the UK this morning. And I’m expecting the main topic to be international travel.
The government is due to update its travel advice, which might see some holiday destinations – Malta and the Balearic Islands have been touted – moved from the “amber list” to the “green list”.
Yesterday the travel industry in the UK was lobbying hard for a relaxation of rules, and let’s not forget, it isn’t just people wanting a fortnight in the sun – many people have been unable to visit loved ones abroad for months on end.
The longest of Covids: the man infected for 10 months
Like thousands of people, Dave Smith became infected with coronavirus at the start of the first wave in the UK in 2020. But while most people, including those who suffer “long Covid”, eliminate the live virus from their bodies within a couple of weeks, Smith experienced a very different sort of long-term problem: a persistent infection lasting more than 290 days, or almost 10 months. This has been the longest recorded active Covid-19 infection to date.
During that period, Smith, 72, from Bristol, recorded 42 positive PCR tests and was admitted to hospital seven times. He said: “Whenever I went bad, I went really bad – down to death’s door. My wife started to arrange a funeral five times.”
In an interview in which he revealed his harrowing and rare experience for the first time, he added jokingly: “I called all the family in to make my peace with them. I wish I’d kept my mouth shut now.
Read the full story from Linda Geddes
New South Wales imposes restrictions as Australian state records 11 new cases
New South Wales has recorded another 11 locally acquired cases of Covid-19, as premier Gladys Berejiklian warned this is the “scariest period” the state has faced during the pandemic.
“This is probably, if not the most, concerning times I have experienced during the pandemic because we’re dealing with a virus that is extremely contagious,” Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday.
“I do want to stress that my level of concern is medium to high across NSW.”
Berejiklian began her press conference by announcing she had tested negative to the virus, after being in a room with Nationals MP Adam Marshall, who has contracted the virus.
Hong Kong suspends all flights from Indonesia
Hong Kong will ban passenger flights from Indonesia from Friday, deeming the country’s arrivals “extremely high risk” for the coronavirus.
The Hong Kong government said late on Wednesday it was suspending flights after the number of imported cases from Indonesia crossed thresholds they had set.
Hong Kong previously banned arrivals from India, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines, using a flight suspension rule triggered when there are five or more passengers who test positive for one of the variant cases on arrival, or 10 or more passengers found to have any strain of the disease while in quarantine.
The Chinese special administrative region has recorded over 11,800 cases and 210 deaths due to the coronavirus. Most of the city’s recent cases over the past month have been imported.
Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Hong Kong’s ban was “temporary” and that migrant workers affected by the new regulation should contact their employers and agents.
Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to include new warnings from FDA
The US Food and Drug Administration will add a warning to the Covid vaccines produced by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna about rare cases of heart inflammation in adolescents and young adults, the agency announced on Wednesday.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory groups, meeting to discuss reported cases of the heart condition after vaccination, found the inflammation in adolescents and young adults is likely linked to the vaccines, but that the benefits of the shots appeared to clearly outweigh the risk.
Health regulators in several countries have been investigating whether the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots using new mRNA technology present a risk and, if so, how serious.
Brazil sets single-day record for coronavirus cases
Brazil has registered a single-day record of 115,228 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday, showing new signs of accelerating despite long-delayed vaccination efforts finally gaining steam.
Brazil has also recorded the world’s highest Covid-19 death toll outside the United States, with more than half a million lives lost, according to the ministry’s official tally.
But while the situation in the United States and most wealthy nations improves thanks to higher vaccination rates, Brazil and many neighbours in South America this month have seen their biggest outbreaks yet.
Brazil’s seven-day average for new coronavirus cases and deaths is now the highest in the world, having surpassed India last week, according to data compiled by Reuters.
The country has been slow to roll out vaccines with only 12% of Brazilians fully immunized, according to Health Ministry data. Efforts have accelerated recently, with certain states such as Sao Paulo predicting shots for all adults by September.
Hello and welcome to today’s live global coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
Brazil has confirmed its highest one-day case total, with a national record of 115,228 infections confirmed in the 24 hours to Wednesday.
Meanwhile the US Food and Drug Administration will add a new warning to fact sheets for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines about rare cases of heart inflammation in adolescents and young adults.
We will have more on this shortly but in the meantime, here are some of the key developments from the past few hours:
- The US will ship 3m doses of the Johnson & Johnson one-jab Covid-19 vaccine to Brazil on Thursday, the country with the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the world.
- The European Union’s top diplomat in Washington said the US should ease Covid-19 travel restrictions on Europeans, calling it a mistake to prevent business executives from overseeing US investments.
- The share of infections caused by the Delta variant of the coronavirus has doubled in Germany in a week and is likely to gain more traction over other variants, the Robert Koch Institute public health agency said.
- Tunisia has detected six cases of the Delta variant, the health ministry said on Wednesday, amid a rapid spread of the virus in the North African country.
- Angela Merkel said travellers from the UK should be quarantined wherever they arrive in the EU, as the union’s agency for disease control forecast that the Delta variant of Covid will account for 90% of cases in member states by the end of August.
- The Australian federal government announced it will shelve the controversial AstraZeneca vaccine by October after safety fears, suggesting it will have enough supplies of other vaccines to meet “allocation horizons” for vaccinating the population by the end of the year.
- A UK-backed study is investigating anti-parasite drug Ivermectin as a possible Covid treatment after a pilot showed promising signs of efficacy and a number of authorities around the world rolled out the cheap drug, reporting significant benefits – with data from January already suggesting Covid mortality falls where it is being used.
- Switzerland will scrap most of its remaining coronavirus restrictions this weekend, the government confirmed, including for entry into the country, but non-Schengen arrivals will need to have been vaccinated.
- Greece is to end the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors and ease other remaining restrictions imposed to curb the pandemic, authorities said, with infections now clearly on the wane.
- Over 150 staff at a hospital in Texas, US, were forced to leave their jobs after refusing to be vaccinated against Covid. Employees had been told they had to be inoculated by 7 June or face a fortnight’s suspension as dozens protested over the mandatory vaccine policy and filed an unsuccessful lawsuit.
- The US embassy in Thailand turned down a direct appeal to fly in coronavirus vaccines for its citizens even as French officials begin a rollout to its expatriates in the country.