Covid News: Amid Britain’s Delta-Driven Surge, Health Minister Resigns Over Affair

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Credit…Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

LONDON — Britain’s embattled health minister, Matt Hancock, announced on Saturday he had resigned, a day after The Sun newspaper published photos of him in a steamy embrace with a former college friend serving as one of his senior aides, in an apparent violation of Britain’s social-distancing guidelines.

The move came as the country recorded its most coronavirus infections since early February, part of a sharp spike in new cases that officials say almost universally involve the highly transmissible Delta variant. Over the past week, nearly 100,000 people in the country have tested positive, a near 50 percent increase compared with the week before, The Associated Press reported.

Mr. Hancock, who spearheaded Britain’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, is the latest member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to be accused of violating the strict rules imposed in the country. The minister had been a fixture at Downing Street news conferences, often exhorting the public to abide by lockdowns and other restrictions to try to curb the spread of the virus.

“I understand the enormous sacrifices that everybody in this county has made — that you have made,” Mr. Hancock said in a video statement released on Saturday evening. “Those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them, and that’s why I’ve got to resign.”

The ambitious, 42-year-old Mr. Hancock has been the subject of controversy since June 16, when Dominic Cummings, a former chief adviser to Mr. Johnson, publicly pinned much of the blame for Britain’s chaotic handling of the pandemic on Mr. Hancock.

Mr. Cummings, who early in the pandemic also came under fire for violating restrictions, accused Mr. Hancock of failing to set up an effective test-and-trace program and allowing the spread of the virus by moving vulnerable older people to nursing homes from hospitals.

Mr. Cummings also shared a WhatsApp message sent to him by Mr. Johnson in March of last year that ridiculed Mr. Hancock, with a profanity, as totally “hopeless.”

Britain’s new surge has raising raised questions over whether lockdown restrictions will be lifted next month, as planned. Mr. Johnson’s government already delayed that move for England once, resetting it from this past Monday to July 19. Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are following similar plans.

Thousands of anti-lockdown protesters marched through central London on Saturday, The A.P. reported. Some threw tennis balls into Downing Street. “Shame on you,” some chanted.

Most of the new confirmed cases are among younger people who have not yet received Covid vaccines. Hundreds of walk-in vaccination sites, including at stadiums and shopping centers, opened in England over the weekend in a bid to increase vaccine numbers, particularly among those younger age groups, according to The A.P.

Gloria Vásquez didn’t make it past the fifth grade, but she tries to help her 13-year-old son, Maicol, with his homework at their home in Soacha, Colombia, and keep him in school.
Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

Deep into the second year of the pandemic, Latin America is facing an education crisis. It has suffered the longest school shutdowns of any region in the world, according to Unicef, nearly 16 months in some areas.

While many students in wealthy countries have returned to the classroom, 100 million children in Latin America are still in full or partial remote learning — or some distant approximation of it.

The consequences are alarming, officials and education experts say: With economies in the region pummeled by the pandemic and connections to the classroom so badly frayed, children in primary and secondary school are dropping out in large numbers, sometimes to work wherever they can.

“This is a generational crisis,” said Emanuela Di Gropello of the World Bank. “There is no time to lose.”

Able to field only 13 eligible players, North Carolina State lost to Vanderbilt on Friday.
Credit…Rebecca S. Gratz/Associated Press

Covid protocols robbed North Carolina State University men’s baseball team of so many players on Friday that they took the field at a College World Series game with only 13 eligible team members. The Wolfpack lost 3-1 to Vanderbilt in a near upset, evening the two teams up in the playoffs and forcing what would have been an elimination game to determine which would advance to the championship round.

However, the North Carolina team’s dreams of winning its first C.W.S. championship were soon dashed. Shortly after 2 a.m. Eastern time on Saturday, the N.C.A.A. Division I baseball committee released a vague statement declaring the game scheduled for the afternoon a “no-contest because of Covid-19 protocols” and saying that the Vanderbilt Commodores would advance to the championship round.

“The last 24 hours have been extremely difficult for everyone involved and my heart goes out to the student-athletes, coaches and staff of our baseball program,” N.C. State’s director of athletics, Boo Corrigan, said in a statement on Saturday. “The health and safety of our student-athletes and staff will always be our unwavering priority. The timing of this is simply devastating for everyone involved, but it doesn’t diminish their incredible accomplishments this season.”

Exactly why North Carolina State was eliminated was not clear. The Wolfpack’s head baseball coach, Elliott Avent, was asked on Friday, after Covid protocols prevented him from fielding a full roster, about whether the team had any policy on vaccinations. “I don’t try to indoctrinate my kids with my values or my opinions,” he answered. “Obviously, we talk about a lot of things, but these are young men that can make their own decisions. And that’s what they did.”

He sidestepped when asked whether he was vaccinated. “I’m not going to talk about that,” he said. “If you want to talk baseball, we can talk baseball. If you want to talk politics or stuff like that, you can go talk to my head of sports medicine, Rob Murphy.”

Some fans were not taking the news lying down, and many expressed their frustration with the lack of detail provided about the game’s cancellation on social media. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina expressed his disappointment on Twitter. A former professional baseball player, Aubrey Huff, tweeted a meme of Dr. Anthony Fauci wearing a Vanderbilt baseball jersey.

The N.C.A.A.’s decision raises questions on how the organization will address the Vanderbilt team’s exposure to the N.C. State players who tested positive after participating in Friday’s game. N.C. State is the fourth team to be removed from play because of Covid-19 protocols, joining the Virginia Commonwealth men’s basketball team, the Rice women’s volleyball team and the Michigan men’s hockey team.

It remains unclear if the Commodores’ entire roster will be tested, and if any additional testing will occur for Texas and Mississippi. Without a vaccine mandate for players, the N.C.A.A. will continue to face the challenge of how best to clear both vaccinated and unvaccinated team members for play.

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Australian officials instituted a strict two-week lockdown for Sydney, and surrounding areas on Saturday, to fight an outbreak of the coronavirus Delta variant. It is Sydney’s first full lockdown since early 2020.CreditCredit…Loren Elliott/Reuters

With an outbreak of the Delta variant spreading rapidly, Australian officials on Saturday introduced a strict two-week lockdown for all of greater Sydney and the regions surrounding the nation’s largest city.

The first full-city lockdown for Sydney since early 2020 reflects a sudden rise in concern among officials in the state of New South Wales, who had been hoping that contact tracers and targeted isolation would be enough to keep the more contagious variant under control.

Instead, after initially resisting a full lockdown, officials said on Saturday that strict citywide stay-home orders were necessary because they had found several additional chains of transmission around the city among people who had been infectious for days.

The virus, said New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, was simply moving too quickly through the population. Over the past 10 days, a cluster that began with an airport limousine driver in Sydney, a city of five million, has jumped to nearly 100 cases, with dozens more expected over the coming days.

“We don’t want to impose burdens unless we absolutely have to, Ms. Berejiklian told a news conference on Saturday. “Unfortunately, we have to.”

She said that a shorter lockdown would not be enough to regain control over transmission, describing the Delta variant as spreading far faster than other strains of the coronavirus.

“Unless you stay a step ahead of this virus, it can very easily get out of control,” she said.

Starting at 6 p.m. on Saturday, people across the Sydney metropolitan area will only be allowed to leave their homes to exercise, seek medical attention, care for loved ones, buy food or carry out other essential activities. The lockdown is scheduled to end on July 9, but could be extended.

Australia is one of many countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region that continue to struggle with ups and downs of the coronavirus, mainly because of new variants and a slow rollout of vaccines, which have been in short supply outside the United States, Europe and China.

Health officials have asked for extra doses from Australia’s federal government, and demand for the vaccines has skyrocketed after months of complacency. But most people in Sydney remain unvaccinated, and nationwide, fewer than a quarter of Australians have received even one dose, according to New York Times data.

Of particular concern in Sydney are a pricey hair salon that saw 900 clients while at least a few employees were infectious, and a seafood wholesaler where a delivery driver tested positive after several days of transporting fish across the city.

Charles Muro, 13, celebrated receiving the vaccine in Hartford, Conn., last month.
Credit…Joseph Prezioso/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The vaccination of children is crucial to achieving broad immunity to the coronavirus and returning to normal school and work routines. But though the vaccines have been authorized for children as young as 12, many parents, worried about side effects and frightened by the newness of the shots, have held off.

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only three in 10 parents of children between the ages of 12 and 17 intended to allow them to be vaccinated immediately. But with many teenagers eager to get shots that they see as unlocking freedoms denied during the pandemic, tensions are crackling in homes in which parents are holding to a hard no.

“Isabella wants it because her friends are getting it, and she doesn’t want to wear a mask,” said Charisse, a mother of a 17-year-old in Delray Beach, Fla., who asked that her last name be withheld for family privacy. Charisse fears the shot could have an effect on her daughter’s reproductive system (a misperception that public health officials have repeatedly refuted).

“Isabella said, ‘It’s my body.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s my body until you’re 18.’”

Forty states require parental consent for vaccination of minors under 18, and Nebraska sets the age at 19. Because of the Covid crisis, some states and cities are seeking to relax medical consent rules, but others are marching in the opposite direction. A bill in South Carolina would explicitly bar providers from giving the Covid vaccine without parental consent to minors, who can otherwise give medical consent at 16. In Oregon, where the age of medical consent is 15, Linn County ordered county-run clinics to obtain parental consent for the shot for anyone under 18.

So frustrated teenagers are searching for ways to be vaccinated without their parents’ consent. Some have found their way to VaxTeen.org, a vaccine information site run by Kelly Danielpour, a Los Angeles teenager.

The site offers guides to state consent laws, links to clinics, resources on straightforward information about Covid and advice for how teenagers can engage parents.

“Someone will ask me, ‘I need to be able to consent at a vaccine clinic that is open on weekends and that is on my bus route. Can you help?’” said Ms. Danielpour, 18, who will begin her freshman year at Stanford in the fall.

Utah officials have tried to counter misinformation that may be a factor in many residents’ reluctance to be vaccinated. A billboard in Salt Lake City promoted a state website.
Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

The Mountain West has emerged as one of the most vaccine-hesitant regions of the United States. Along with the South, it is lagging far behind the national vaccination pace.

In both Idaho and Wyoming, fewer than 40 percent of people have received at least one dose so far, ranking those states among the bottom five in the nation, according to a New York Times database. Montana, Utah and Nevada are doing a bit better, but remain well below the national average of 54 percent. None of the five states is on track to meet President Biden’s goal of at least partly vaccinating 70 percent of adults by July 4, and the White House acknowledged this week that the president doesn’t expect the nation as whole to meet that target.

Health officials in the region say that their efforts have been hampered by sparse populations in their wide-open areas and by the deep-rooted brand of political conservatism that is common among rural residents. But there is more to the story than that.

As in other parts of the country, the unvaccinated in the Mountain West can be divided largely into two camps, experts say.

“There are those who are kind of the wait-and-see folks, and then we have the absolutely, definitely not,” said Greg Holzman, who was Montana’s state medical officer until April. Rampant misinformation makes it difficult to change minds, he said, and so does the logistical difficulty of providing convenient access in small, widely scattered communities.

There are crosscurrents beneath the statewide trends. For example, Native Americans in Montana, after some initial hesitancy, have embraced the vaccines while white residents in rural areas have been less accepting.

Garfield County, in eastern Montana, illustrates some of what health officials are up against. The county was the scene of a lengthy standoff in 1996 between the F.B.I. and an anti-government militia called the Montana Freemen. These days, “the life philosophy is pretty much the same, and that’s no government intervention, no way, no how,” said Dr. Randall Rauh, medical director of the Garfield County Health Center, a critical access facility and nursing home.

Just 21 percent of eligible county residents have been fully vaccinated, the lowest rate in Montana, according to state figures.

Dr. Rauh said that after the center vaccinated all of its nursing home residents, he was accused by an employee of experimenting on old people, and the facility received little support from local officials. The county health department will only administer vaccine doses when 10 or more people show up to get them, Dr. Rauh said, so “it’s very difficult for people unless they can make the trip to a surrounding county to get vaccinated.”

In Utah, home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the church’s leadership has voiced strong support for vaccination. Even so, a recent survey found that about half of Mormon respondents were hesitant or unwilling to get vaccinated.

Misinformation appears to be a factor among Mormon women, in a state with one of the nation’s highest birthrates, said Dr. Emily Spivak, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. “I’ve had a lot of questions about fertility,” and whether the vaccines affect menstruation, she said. There is no current evidence that the vaccines impact fertility.

Idaho tends to have lower immunization rates in general, according to Maggie Mann, the district director for Southeastern Idaho Public Health. Many people have told her that their schedules are too busy to fit in the appointment.

The eight counties Ms. Mann oversees are dotted with communities that have not been severely hit by the pandemic, she said, and “it’s hard for people when they haven’t been personally affected to be highly motivated to get that vaccine.”

Only one county in Nevada has fully vaccinated more than half of its residents 12 and older, according to the Times database. Experts say many people in the state’s rural areas simply do not see the need.

Matthew Walker, chief executive of William Bee Ririe Critical Access Hospital and Rural Health Clinics in Ely, Nev., said that health care workers try to win over skeptics by appealing to their sense of self-reliance.

“We try to really push that if you get sick, regardless whether it’s the flu or Covid, and you have to be laid up in bed for a few days, or worse, what’s going to happen?” he said. “You can’t take care of yourself, you’re an hour or two away from a medical facility, you’ve got kids or family — who’s going to take care of your ranch? And oftentimes, that will get people.”

The Federal Aviation Administration has documented more than 3,000 reports of unruly passengers on flights so far this year.
Credit…David Zalubowski/Associated Press

The Transportation Security Administration will once again offer self-defense classes to flight attendants and pilots as the airline industry deals with a surge in cases of unruly passengers and sometimes violent behavior on flights, many related to mask requirements.

The return of the classes comes after the coronavirus pandemic prevented crew members from receiving the training for more than a year — even as unruly events became more common.

The Federal Aviation Administration has documented more than 3,000 reports of unruly passengers on flights so far this year. It has initiated investigations into 487 of those cases, more than triple the 146 cases that were investigated in all of 2019. In May, four people faced $70,000 in civil fines for clashing with airline crews over mask requirements and other safety instructions, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

“With unruly passenger incidents on the rise, T.S.A. remains committed to equip flight crews with another tool to keep our skies safe,” the agency said in a statement.

The training is designed to help crew members handle tense and violent situations with passengers. An agency training video from 2017 shows crew members learning how to physically restrain people and defend themselves, using dummies to practice eye pokes, elbow jabs and kicks to the groin.

Darby LaJoye, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA union, said that while crew members hope that self-defense tactics are never needed, “it is critical to everyone’s safety that they be well-prepared to handle situations as they arise.”

Tourists arriving this month in Mallorca, one of Spain’s Balearic Islands.
Credit…Jaime Reina/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Spain is further easing access for American visitors by removing the requirement that they must be vaccinated against Covid-19 or test negative for the coronavirus to cross its borders.

The new rule goes into effect on Monday and applies to U.S. residents who don’t visit any other country before arriving in Spain, according to a notice from the Spanish government’s tourism office in the United States.

“Vaccination cards, P.C.R. tests or recovery certificates shall not be required any longer,” the tourism office wrote in on its website on Friday. Travelers will still be required to fill out a health declaration form before arriving in Spain.

The change comes after Spain first reopened its borders to Americans on June 7, in a bid to revive a summer tourism season that is a pillar of Spain’s economy.

Earlier this month, the European Union urged member countries to reopen to American leisure travelers, after more than a year of tight restrictions. Europe’s economy ministers added the United States, where nearly half of people have been fully vaccinated against Covid, to a list of countries considered Covid-safe from an epidemiological perspective.

The governments of E.U. member states were left to make their own decisions about when and how to lift requirements for foreign travelers.

Spain, which before the pandemic was the second most visited country in the world, after France, has moved more quickly than other nations to reopen to visitors from outside the bloc. Travelers from Australia, China, Israel, Japan, Thailand and the United Kingdom are among those who do not have to show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test to enter Spain.

CATCH UP

A gravedigger waited for the arrival of the coffin of another Covid-19 victim to be buried at Vila Formosa cemetery, in eastern São Paulo, Brazil, in May.
Credit…Mauricio Lima for The New York Times

Covid-19 deaths in Brazil surpassed 500,000 this week, the second highest known toll in the world, behind only the United States.

At least 18 million Brazilians have been infected so far, and the country is averaging almost 77,000 new cases and nearly 2,000 deaths a day, according to official data. But, as in India, which has the world’s third largest official death toll, many experts believe the numbers understate the true scope of the country’s epidemic. So far, less than a third of Brazil’s population has had at least one shot of a vaccine.

On Thursday, the United States sent three million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to Brazil as part of President Biden’s pledge to dispatch 80 million doses overseas by the end of the month, a White House official said. The United States plans to send 14 million doses to countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

South America is now home to seven of the 10 countries with the highest average daily death toll per person, according to a New York Times database. Colombia, where surging infections and a dearth of vaccines have led to widespread protests, surpassed 100,000 recorded Covid-19 deaths this week, only the 10th country to pass that milestone.

Latin America is emblematic of the global divide between richer nations with reliable access to Covid vaccines, and poorer ones that lack them and are confronting rising death tolls.

Here’s what else happened this week:





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