Russia announced a record number of new infections on Saturday ahead of a “nonworking week” that authorities hope will slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Authorities reported 40,251 new infections in the preceding 24 hours, a record, and 1,160 deaths. More than 237,380 have died of Covid-19 so far, the largest rate in Europe.
President Vladimir V. Putin has largely left it to regional governors to implement pandemic-related restrictions but has recently taken a more active role, ordering that all nonessential workers stay home from Oct. 30 until Nov. 7.
Moscow, with 7,267 new infections in the past 24 hours, has been an epicenter of the pandemic. The city began a light lockdown two days earlier, on Oct. 28. Schools, kindergartens, nonessential shops, restaurants, bars and gyms are closed, while museums and theaters remain open at 50-percent capacity.
As in other regions, the health care system is being put to the test.
“Health care is working to its limits,” Moscow’s regional governor, Andrei Vorobiev, told the government network Channel One earlier in the week.
He noted that more than 500 people were on ventilators, also a record number. He said that 80 percent of the 10,000 hospitalized Covid patients had not been vaccinated.
Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s consumer health watchdog, said the more contagious AY.4.2 strain of the Delta variant had been identified in the Moscow region.
Only about one third of Russians are fully vaccinated, though the rates in Moscow are higher. Scholars attribute this to mistrust in the authorities and in vaccines. Authorities hope the restrictions will motivate more people to get the shots.
Russia’s statistics agency said Friday that 44,265 people died of Covid-19 or complications from it in September. The agency has registered more than 450,000 deaths in Russia, which has a population of 144 million. It is one of the highest death rates in Europe.
Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, has said he hopes that the city will reopen on Nov. 7, despite rumors swirling that the restrictions will be extended for several more weeks, or until the New Year. He has also introduced free express Covid-19 tests and announced stricter enforcement of a mask mandate on the Moscow Metro.
The restrictions have polarized residents of the capital city. Travel agencies reported unusually high interest in package holidays for the week. Some residents complained about the fact that there is no system in place to allow vaccinated people to live normally and enter venues using QR codes as proof of vaccination, which could be an incentive to get the vaccine. Others complain that recent measures are too little, too late.
“We needed to do this sooner, because the numbers are scary,” said Anna Zhurba, a 33-year-old museum employee. “Today, we have the highest number of new infections yet. How will one week improve the situation?”
Institutions can decide independently to use QR codes, though there is no mandate. Ms. Zhurba said that when her museum announced a requirement to show a QR code upon entry, some responded by calling the restriction a “fascist way of dividing people.”
Vaccination rates in crucial New York City departments have risen over the last week as Friday’s deadline loomed for police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers and other city employees to receive a first dose of a Covid vaccine.
The most startling increase was in the Sanitation Department, whose number of vaccinated workers rose from 67 percent on Thursday to 76 percent as of Friday evening, according to City Hall. “Very, very encouraging progress,” tweeted Mitch Schwartz, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Vaccination rates at the Sanitation Department went up 9% just today alone. Very, very encouraging progress.
— Mitch Schwartz (@mhschwartz10) October 29, 2021
The Police Department said its overall vaccination rate had reached 84 percent by Friday evening, up from less than 75 percent last week.
As the NYPD continues to make COVID vaccines available, the number of vaccinated members is increasing. The department currently has an 𝟖𝟒% 𝐯𝐚𝐜𝐜𝐢𝐧𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐜𝐥𝐢𝐦𝐛𝐢𝐧𝐠. Thanks to the Medical Division and to the officers and civilians who stepped up. pic.twitter.com/wTs0ixOsoB
— Deputy Commissioner John Miller (@NYPDDCPI) October 30, 2021
And the Fire Department said that 77 percent of its employees had received at least one dose by Friday evening, up from 69 percent earlier in the day. That includes 72 percent of firefighters, 84 percent of the emergency medical technicians and paramedics employed by the F.D.N.Y., and 90 percent of its civilian staff, the department said.
Tensions among some New Yorkers had been rising as the timetable for more than 300,000 city workers to receive a Covid vaccination neared its end. The official deadline was Friday at 5 p.m., but unvaccinated workers will be allowed to work until Monday before being placed on unpaid leave.
Mr. de Blasio has said he does not expect significant disruptions to government agencies or city life from potential staffing shortages on Monday, and the rising vaccination rates among some departments offered at least some validation for his optimism.
Still, resistance in the Fire Department was underscored when six New York City firefighters were relieved of duty and left facing possible penalties after driving to the office of a state senator on Friday, confronting his staff members over the city’s vaccine mandate and asking for his home address.
The state senator, Zellnor Myrie, said that he was not present when they arrived at his office in the morning. But staff members told him that the firefighters, who were members of Ladder 113 in the Prospect Lefferts Gardens area of Brooklyn, said the mandate would result in a reduction of emergency services in the city — and that the officials responsible for it would “have blood on their hands.”
Mr. Myrie said his staff had been “rattled” by the experience and called the firefighters’ actions “highly inappropriate.” Daniel A. Nigro, the fire commissioner, said in a statement that the firefighters would face disciplinary action.
“This is a highly inappropriate act by on-duty members of this department who should only be concerned with responding to emergencies and helping New Yorkers and not harassing an elected official and his staff,” Daniel A. Nigro, the fire commissioner, said in a statement.
A union representing firefighters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In addition, the police commissioner, Dermot F. Shea, said that thousands of people in his department had filed for exemptions, which can be filed on medical or religious grounds. He said that those who had done so by Wednesday would be allowed to work until their applications were reviewed, so long as they submitted to weekly testing.
The week ahead continued to hold uncertainty. Fire officials said they were expecting the closure of up to 20 percent of fire stations; Joe Borelli, a Republican City Council member who represents part of Staten Island, wrote on Twitter on Friday that five stations in Manhattan and the Bronx had already been shuttered.
And New Yorkers in some parts of Staten Island and Brooklyn have begun to report delays in trash collection and garbage buildups in their neighborhoods that officials say may continue because of staffing gaps.
“We’re definitely seeing that problem in some parts of the city,” Mr. de Blasio said on Thursday, “and it’s unacceptable.”
A Los Angeles police union sued the city on Friday over the implementation of a Covid-19 vaccination mandate for its employees, claiming that a city official stood to benefit from the terms of the policy.
The union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, charged in the lawsuit that the city failed to disclose that the contractor hired to test employees for Covid-19 was partly owned by the commissioner of the pension fund for firefighters and police officers.
Police unions across the country, from Chicago to Washington State, are urging members to resist Covid vaccine requirements — despite the virus being by far the most common cause of officer duty-related deaths this year and last, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, a nonprofit that tracks officers’ deaths across the country.
Some have resorted to the courts. Earlier this week, New York City police unions filed a lawsuit asking to allow unvaccinated police officers to continue working, despite the city’s recently imposed vaccine mandate, which requires all municipal workers to have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose by Nov. 1.
In Los Angeles, the police union agreed in bargaining to the city’s requirement that unvaccinated employees have to be tested for the coronavirus twice a week. The $65 cost of the tests is deducted from the employees’ paychecks unless they are granted medical or religious exemptions to the mandate. About 74 percent of police department employees had received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine as of Friday, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The union’s lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court, says the city’s attempt to pass on the cost of testing to officers violates the state’s labor code.
But the police union went further, alleging that the testing plan involves “issues of conflicts of interest.” Earlier this week, it raised concerns that Bluestone, the company awarded a $3 million no-bid contract to do all the city’s tests, is co-owned by a commissioner who oversees the Fire and Police Pension, Pedram Salimpour.
“The City rejected every proposal to allow our members to test through their healthcare provider, the County of Los Angeles, or any other testing option,” the union said in a statement released on Friday.
The city has denied any wrongdoing. In a statement it said it vetted seven testing vendors, and that Bluestone was selected “because it was the only company that was able to offer the variety of needed services at a competitive rate.”
Tom Saggu, a spokesman for the union, said on Saturday the city had withheld the connection between Bluestone and Mr. Salimpour during collective bargaining over the terms of the mandate. He added that officers would not mind the testing if it did not come at a financial cost and if they could choose to get tested at other locations, like pharmacies.
Britain, Australia and South Korea have reached agreements with the drugmaker Pfizer to purchase its antiviral pills used to treat Covid-19 once regulators approve them, the company said on Friday.
Under the terms of the agreements, Australia will buy 500,000 courses of Pfizer’s pill, known as PF-07321332, and Britain will purchase 250,000, the company said. Earlier this month, Australia secured 300,000 courses of another antiviral pill, molnupiravir, made by the drug manufacturer Merck, and Britain agreed to buy 480,000.
South Korea secured 70,000 courses of Pfizer’s pill, the health ministry said in a statement on Friday. It has also signed a purchase agreement with Merck for 200,000 courses of its pill.
The United States has not yet agreed to buy Pfizer’s pills, a spokeswoman for the company, Roma Nair, said by telephone on Friday. The United States has reached a deal with Merck to buy 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir.
Merck’s and Pfizer’s pills could be a milestone in the fight against the coronavirus because they do not require a visit to the hospital and are relatively inexpensive, unlike the antibody treatments currently being used.
Both pills are designed to interfere with viral replication. If approved by regulators, both pills could be prescribed at the first sign of infection or exposure without requiring hospitalization.
Merck has already reported data from its Phase 3 trials that showed molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by half. Merck has submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize its pill. European Union regulators said on Monday that they had begun a review of molnupiravir.
Meanwhile, Pfizer said in a statement that it had begun Phase 2/3 trials to evaluate the efficacy and safety of its pill.
France has ordered 50,000 courses of Merck’s pills to be delivered starting in the end of November, the health minister, Olivier Véran, said on Tuesday.
South Korea’s health ministry said it planned to purchase enough antiviral pills for 404,000 patients in total, and to have supplies available starting in the first quarter of 2022. It said it would closely monitor the progress of clinical trials for pills under development at several companies, including Merck, Pfizer and Roche, as it considers its options.
The Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine for ages 5 to 11 on Friday makes 28 million unvaccinated children in the United States suddenly eligible for the shot and offers the country an opportunity to make big inroads in its efforts to achieve broad immunity against the coronavirus.
But in a nation that has already struggled mightily with public resistance to Covid vaccines, getting shots into those little arms may present health authorities with the toughest vaccination challenge yet.
Even many parents who are themselves vaccinated and approved the shot for their teenagers are churning over whether to give consent for their younger children, questioning if the risk of the unknowns of a brand-new vaccine is worth it when most coronavirus cases in youngsters are mild.
In announcing its authorization of a lower-dose shot made by Pfizer and BioNTech for the age group, the F.D.A. said clinical trial data showed the shot was safe and prompted strong immune responses in children. The most common side effects were fatigue, fever and headache.
To date, nearly two million children age 5 to 11 have been infected with the virus and 8,300 have been hospitalized. A third of those hospitalized were admitted to intensive care units, and at least 170 have died.
But a report this month from researchers at Northeastern, Harvard, Rutgers and Northwestern Universities found that parental concerns around the Covid vaccination had increased “significantly” from June through September. Chief among them, researchers said, were the newness of the vaccine, whether it has been sufficiently tested, efficacy, side effects and long-term health consequences.
According to a survey released Thursday by Kaiser Family Foundation, scarcely one in three parents will permit their children in this newly eligible age group to be vaccinated immediately. Two-thirds were either reluctant or adamantly opposed. An Axios-Ipsos poll found that 42 percent of parents of these children said they were unlikely to have their children vaccinated.
Dr. Cynthia Bader, a pediatrician in the Seattle area with an 8-year-old son, said that if her school district issued a vaccine mandate, she would clap her hands with joy but “then cringe at the idea of all the parents who will be coming to me seeking counseling for vaccine exemption forms.”
Beijing has agreed to allow the relatives of certain foreign workers to enter the city, according to the American Chamber of Commerce in China, marking the first time in more than a year that many foreign residents will be able to reunite with their families.
The Beijing government has not confirmed the measure, which the American Chamber announced on its website on Thursday. But the chamber said it believed that applications for entry were already being processed.
“Foreign employees can now be reunited with their loved ones in China,” the statement read, and “new employees can now relocate to China together with their family members.”
China has implemented some of the world’s strictest pandemic-control rules, especially for foreign residents, and especially in Beijing, the capital. In March 2020, the government announced that virtually all foreigners would be barred from entering the country; previously issued visas were no longer valid.
A few months later, foreign workers were allowed to reapply for entry, though they would need special letters of invitation from the local government of the city where they were living. But the government would not issue those letters for spouses or children.
The international business community raised concerns; one survey of 191 businesses in southern China found that 70 percent had fewer than five expatriate employees at the end of last year, compared to 33 percent a year earlier.
But China, which has had remarkable success in containing the virus, has held to a policy of “zero Covid” — the last country in the world to do so — especially as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February.
Still, in recent weeks, some health officials have broached the topic of opening up, especially when vaccination rates increase. In September, Shanghai began issuing invitation letters for dependents of foreign workers again. The American Chamber of Commerce called the apparent loosening in Beijing a “significant breakthrough.”
Even so, those seeking to enter China must meet rigorous requirements, including quarantines of between two and four weeks.
When the presidents and prime ministers of the Group of 20 nations meet in Rome this weekend, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, won’t be among them. Nor is he expected at the climate talks next week in Glasgow, where China’s commitment to curbing carbon emissions is seen as crucial to helping blunt the dire consequences of climate change. He has yet to meet President Biden in person and seems unlikely to any time soon.
The ostensible reason for Mr. Xi’s lack of foreign travel is Covid-19, though officials have not said so explicitly. It is also a calculation that has reinforced a deeper shift in China’s foreign and domestic policy.
China, under Mr. Xi, no longer feels compelled to cooperate — or at least be seen as cooperating — with the United States and its allies on anything other than its own terms.
Still, Mr. Xi’s recent absence from the global stage has complicated China’s ambition to position itself as an alternative to American leadership. And it has coincided with, some say contributed to, a sharp deterioration in the country’s relations with much of the rest of the world.
Instead, China has turned inward, with officials preoccupied with protecting Mr. Xi’s health and internal political machinations, including a Communist Party congress next year where he is expected to claim another five years as the country’s leader. As a result, face-to-face diplomacy is a lower priority than it was in Mr. Xi’s first years in office.
Ten Republican-led states filed a lawsuit on Friday in federal court in Missouri accusing the Biden administration of a broad range of overreaches in mandating that employees of federal contractors be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Dec. 8.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, was led by Missouri’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, and the attorney general of Nebraska, Doug Peterson. The other eight states are Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.
The White House has previously defended President Biden’s vaccination mandates as “clearly legal and needed to help save lives and stop the spread of Covid-19.”
Republican leaders in many states have adamantly opposed any measures that would require vaccines or masks, saying they infringe on personal liberties. Some have banned any such mandates, and legal challenges have been making their way through the courts for months.
Mr. Schmitt called the mandate for federal contractors an “absurd federal overreach” and warned that it could worsen problems with the nation’s supply chain and its labor supply that have arisen during the pandemic.
The lawsuit asserts that the executive order mandating vaccinations that President Biden issued in September violates the 10th Amendment, the Constitution’s separation of powers, and several federal laws.
Legal experts have said that similar lawsuits from other states were unlikely to succeed, including one filed by the administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida, on Thursday in Tampa.
One of the few approaches that seemed to offer such objections a chance at success — religious exemptions — suffered a blow on Friday when the Supreme Court declined to block Maine’s vaccination requirement for health care workers that did not include a religious exemption.
The Supreme Court on Friday refused to block Maine’s requirement that health care workers be vaccinated against the coronavirus notwithstanding their religious objections.
As is the court’s custom in rulings on emergency applications, its brief order gave no reasons.
But the three most conservative members of the court — Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Neil M. Gorsuch — issued a lengthy dissent, saying the majority had gone badly astray.
“Where many other states have adopted religious exemptions, Maine has charted a different course,” Justice Gorsuch wrote for the dissenting justices. “There, health care workers who have served on the front line of a pandemic for the last 18 months are now being fired and their practices shuttered. All for adhering to their constitutionally protected religious beliefs. Their plight is worthy of our attention.”
Maine has required health care workers to be vaccinated against various contagious diseases since 1989, and eliminated exemptions on religious or philosophical grounds under a state law enacted in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic began. The state does exempt workers for whom the given vaccine would be “medically inadvisable” in the judgment of a health care professional.
As President Biden and other leaders gathered on Saturday to discuss plans to protect against future pandemics, health experts and activists say that rich nations are still not doing enough to help people in poor nations survive the current one.
White House advisers said the president would spend his time at this weekend’s Group of 20 summit focused on fixing supply chains, securing a blessing on a global tax deal, and pushing to explore debt relief and emergency financing for poor countries whose economies have been battered by the pandemic.
From the start of the summit, leaders tried to telegraph the importance of ending the pandemic: During a group photo, they were joined on the dais by doctors in white coats and first responders from the Italian Red Cross. Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, in his remarks opening the meeting, also pointed to the stark disparity in access to vaccines between richer and poorer countries.
While wealthy nations are offering people third vaccine doses and increasingly inoculating children, poor countries have administered an estimated four doses per 100 people, according to the World Health Organization.
Yet although Mr. Biden has promised to make the United States an “arsenal of vaccines” for the world, White House officials tried to manage expectations heading into the summit that there would be any large announcements on vaccine sharing.
Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One en route to Rome that “the main thrust of the effort on Covid-19 is not actually traveling through the G20.” He said that a virtual summit that Mr. Biden convened in September had set “more ambitious targets” for countries to pledge shared doses of the vaccine.
Although Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to host a meeting of dozens of countries and nongovernmental organizations later this year to secure commitments on vaccine sharing, Mr. Sullivan said the focus for the G20 was on the future.
Mr. Biden said in June that the United States would buy 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine doses for poorer nations. He followed up in September by announcing an additional 500 million Pfizer doses, along with the promise of an additional $750 million for vaccine distribution, roughly half of it through a nonprofit involved in global vaccinations.
Only about 300 million of those doses are expected to be shipped this year, a number that experts say falls short of the amount needed for meaningful protection against the virus.
“You really have a failure of developed countries’ leadership post-Covid,” said Célia Belin, a visiting foreign policy fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution. “This is going to have consequences.”
Since arriving in Rome, Mr. Biden has already heard a personal appeal to do more: During a meeting at the Vatican on Friday, Pope Francis pushed the president on the issue, a senior official said after the meeting.
And in an open letter to the G20, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged the leaders of the world’s largest economies to “to help stem the pandemic by expanding access to vaccines and other tools for the people and places where these are in shortest supply.”