Covid Live Updates: New York City Begins Enforcing Vaccine Mandate

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New York City will start enforcing its Covid vaccine mandate for municipal workers on Monday, and thousands of workers who refused to get vaccinated are expected to be told to stay home.

But city officials said that they believed they could cope with the reduction in workers without a significant slowdown of city services. With measures such as shuffling firefighters between companies and extending the workday for sanitation workers, city agencies have been taking steps to shore up coverage in the lead up to the mandate.

Unvaccinated municipal employees without a medical or religious exemption — or a pending request for one — will be placed on unpaid leave.

Danielle Filson, press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said in a statement, “Over 91 percent of New York City workers have stepped up for their communities and gotten the shot.”

“With such strong numbers and dedicated public servants who never fail to go above and beyond, we expect services to run smoothly,” she added.

At the New York Police Department, officials estimate that as many as 2,500 employees could be placed on leave on Monday as the department begins enforcing the vaccine mandate, according to a high-ranking official, who added that the number was falling because some personnel were getting immunized at the last minute.

The Police Department, which has about 36,000 uniformed officers and 19,000 civilian employees, was confident that it could manage the absences without taking measures such as canceling days off and moving to 12-hour shifts, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The Sanitation Department has put workers on 12-hour shifts and told many to plan to come in on Sundays.

The vaccine mandate has been especially contentious within the tight-knit Fire Department. More than 2,000 New York City firefighters — out of a total uniformed force of about 11,000 — have taken sick days over the past week in what city officials describe as a large-scale protest against the mandate.

“Irresponsible bogus sick leave by some of our members is creating a danger for New Yorkers and their fellow firefighters,” the fire commissioner, Daniel A. Nigro, said in a statement. He attributed the uptick in sick leave to “anger at the vaccine mandate.”

The personnel shortage has put a strain on Fire Department operations. The department said that all its firehouses remained open, but that maintaining coverage across the city had required shuffling personnel around to reconstitute fire companies.

Andrew Ansbro, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the union that represents rank-and-file firefighters, said that there had been no organized sickout. But hundreds of firefighters were feeling the side effects of vaccine doses and were too unwell to work, Mr. Ansbro said in a phone interview Sunday morning. “Hundreds of guys are feeling flulike symptoms, because that’s what the shot does to people,” Mr. Ansbro said.

By Sunday, some 90 percent of municipal workers had gotten at least one shot, leaving just under 23,000 unvaccinated.

The number of employees with approved exemptions — or pending ones — is unclear. But it could be that the number of people placed on unpaid leave on Monday is relatively small compared with the number that go on leave in the days ahead — should those applications for exemptions be mostly rejected.

The Police Department, for instance, has received applications for exemptions for some 6,500 officers, according to the official. Over the next two weeks, the department is expected to decide most of those cases, the official said, adding that a large portion of the requests would most likely be denied.

Nevertheless, the city reported on Sunday that 84 percent of the Police Department had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, up from 70 percent on Oct. 19. Three-quarters of firefighters had gotten their first doses by Sunday, officials said.

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Organizing a global summit with leaders from more than 100 nations and tens of thousands of delegates and activists — while preparing for more than 100,000 protesters to fill the streets outside the conference halls — would be a daunting challenge at any time.

This is not any time. With the coronavirus still stalking the planet, officials at this year’s COP26 climate summit, already delayed a year because of the pandemic, will be under pressure to address the dangers posed by a warming planet even as the invisible threat of the virus looms.

And just as the changing climate has already had some of the most devastating consequences on the world’s poorest nations, the failure to equitably distribute lifesaving vaccines has left the world divided between the protected and the exposed.

Vaccine inequity is also having an impact on the summit, with activists saying that the voices from some of the nations most affected by climate change are not being properly represented.

Dorothy Guerrero, of the advocacy group Global Justice Now, told reporters this weekend that the refusal to give more manufacturers access to produce the vaccines was part of the reason that some delegates from developing nations were unable to attend.

“You are already saddled by the fact that your country was affected already for many decades, and you are the least responsible for this climate change,” she said at a news conference in Glasgow. “Yet you could not come here and raise your voice in this important meeting simply because you don’t have access to the vaccine.”

Britain offered to help any delegates who need a Covid-19 vaccination obtain one, but they are not mandating that attendees be inoculated. Instead, they are requiring that delegates show proof of a negative coronavirus test every day to be admitted to the conference center.

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After being separated from his parents for two years, Jimmy Sugandi, 42, touched down on Monday in Melbourne, Australia, after traveling from Indonesia with his wife and two young children.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “We thought we were never coming back.”

Mr. Sugandi and his family are Australian permanent residents who live in Indonesia. During the pandemic, he tried to travel to Melbourne to see his parents, who live in the city. But Mr. Sugandi couldn’t get a spot on one of the extremely limited flights because of Australia’s strict border restrictions.

Tens of thousands of Australians have been stranded overseas by the border rules brought in by their country about 18 months ago to combat the coronavirus pandemic. But on Monday, the states of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, and Victoria, which includes Melbourne, lifted restrictions on citizens and permanent residents seeking to return. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Australians are also now able to leave the country without needing to be granted an exemption from the government.

New South Wales and Victoria are allowing vaccinated Australians to return without quarantining. The states are also removing the caps on the number of citizens allowed to fly back into the country each week, which had previously made it difficult to obtain airline tickets.

The moves come a little over a week after Melbourne lifted one of the world’s longest cumulative lockdowns.

Other Australian states remain largely closed, both to overseas visitors and to Australians returning from abroad or traveling from other states in the country.

At Melbourne airport, the first international flight to touch down was from Singapore. Families reunited with tears and kisses as airport staff handed out bouquets of flowers.

After 21 months apart, Kirsty Rae, 57, and Keely Briggs, her 25-year-old daughter, embraced.

“It’s been pretty surreal,” said Ms. Briggs, who returned from South Korea, where she had been working as a teacher, via a flight from Hong Kong. “It’s been really difficult to get back,” she noted.

“I want to confiscate her passport so she doesn’t take off again,” her mother said with a laugh.

Joy and relief were tempered by reminders of important moments missed and lives upended.

Elva Duan, who spent 18 months away, returned from Hong Kong with three young children in tow. Her husband was to pick them up outside the airport, and the children grabbed at her clothes and clamored: “Where’s daddy? Is daddy here yet?”

Ms. Duan said that her youngest son was only a few months old when they left Australia. “Now he knows how to run, how to walk, how to speak,” she said.

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary who earlier in the week said that she would not join President Biden on a diplomatic trip to Europe because of a family emergency, said on Sunday that she had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“While I have not had close contact in person with the president or senior members of the White House staff since Wednesday,” Ms. Psaki said, “I am disclosing today’s positive test out of an abundance of transparency. I last saw the president on Tuesday, when we sat outside more than six feet apart, and wore masks.”

Ms. Psaki said that members of her household had tested positive for the virus earlier in the week, and quarantined once she learned that they had contracted the virus. She tested negative on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday before testing positive on Sunday. Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House principal deputy press secretary, traveled on the trip while Ms. Psaki stayed home and went into quarantine.

“Thanks to the vaccine, I have only experienced mild symptoms, which has enabled me to continue working from home,” Ms. Psaki said.

The White House did not immediately respond to questions about whether Ms. Psaki had received a booster shot, and did not immediately identify the administration officials she had been in close contact with earlier in the week.

Mr. Biden traveled abroad with a large delegation that included Jake Sullivan, his national security adviser, Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, and several press officials, all of whom have interacted both with White House officials and a large group of journalists traveling with the president.

“I will plan to return to work in person at the conclusion of the 10-day quarantine following a negative rapid test,” Ms. Psaki said, “which is an additional White House requirement, beyond C.D.C. guidance, taken out of an abundance of caution.”

In July, after a White House staff member tested positive for the virus, Ms. Psaki warned that there would be more breakthrough cases and said that precautions were in place to protect the president.

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