Virus Updates: U.S. Pledges Almost $200 Million to Track Variants

Here’s what you need to know: Video transcript Back bars 0:00/1:32 -0:00 transcript Spread of New Virus Variants Is Concerning, C.D.C. Says Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said the agency was concerned about the transmission of new coronavirus variants and suggested that relying on U.S. vaccinations alone would not be effective. “While cases and hospitalizations continue to move in the right direction, we remain in the midst of a very serious pandemic and we continue to have more cases than we did even during last month’s — last summer’s peak. And the continued spread of variants that are more transmissible could jeopardize the progress we have made in the last month if our — if we let our guard down. As of yesterday we have confirmed 1,277 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant across 42 states. I know these variants are concerning, especially as we’re seeing signs of progress. I’m talking about them today because I am concerned too. Fortunately the science to date suggests that the same prevention actions apply to these variants. So I would articulate really loudly that if you’re relying on our current level of vaccination rather than the other mitigation efforts to get us to remain low, that we shouldn’t rest in that comfort. We are scaling up vaccination as much as we can, but we are not at the level where we believe that the vaccination alone is what’s driving the decrease in cases right now. In terms of sequencing, we are scaling up sequencing every day. When we will get to 25,000 depends on the resources that we have at our fingertips and how quickly we can mobilize our partners. I don’t think this is going to be a light switch. I think it’s going to be a dial. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said the agency was concerned about the transmission of new coronavirus variants and suggested that relying on U.S. vaccinations alone would not be effective.CreditCredit...Kevin Lamarque/ReutersAs lawmakers push for billions of dollars to boost the nation’s efforts to track coronavirus variants, the Biden administration announced on Wednesday a new effort to ramp up this work, pledging nearly $200 million in federal funding to better identify the new threats as they emerge. Calling the $200 million a “down payment,” the White House said that the investment will result in a threefold increase in the number of positive virus samples that labs can sequence jumping from around 7,000 to around 25,000 each week. But that goal still remains aspirational, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its lab partners are still far from hitting the weekly 7,000-sample mark. “When we will get to 25,000 depends on the resources that we have at our fingertips and how quickly we can mobilize our partners,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said at a White House news conference on Wednesday. “I don’t think this is going to be a light switch. I think it’s going to be a dial.” The move comes as a contagious variant first identified in Britain, known as B.1.1.7, continues to sweep across the United States—1,277 cases across 42 states, Dr. Walensky announced on Wednesday—threatening to slow or reverse the rapid drop of new coronavirus cases. From a peak of almost 260,000 new cases a day, the seven-day average daily rate has fallen to below 82,000, still well above the high point of last summer’s surge, according to a New York Times database. A growing number of other worrisome variants have also cropped up in the United States, including one that was first found in South Africa and weakens the effectiveness of vaccines. The United States reported its first case of B.1.1.7 that had gained a particularly worrying mutation that has been shown in South Africa to blunt the effectiveness of vaccines, Dr. Walensky said. The F.D.A. is preparing for a potential redesign of vaccines to better protect against the new variants. Researchers are hoping to increase the number of coronavirus genomes they sequence and rapidly analyze them to spot dangerous mutations. The current level of sequencing is inadequate, experts say. That, plus the lack of national coordination, has left them blind to where the most concerning variants are spreading, and how quickly. White House officials cast the sequencing ramp-up as a part of a broader effort to test more Americans for the virus. The Department of Health and Human Services and Defense Department on Wednesday announced substantial new investments in testing, including $650 million for K-8 schools and “underserved congregate settings,” such as homeless shelters. The two departments are also investing $815 million to speed up the manufacturing of testing supplies and raw materials. Dr. Walensky said the administration’s efforts to scale up sequencing would result in more “geographic diversity” in the test samples surveyed. “It’s not just the test and getting the test done,” she said. “We need the computational capacit

Virus Updates: U.S. Pledges Almost $200 Million to Track Variants
Here’s what you need to know: Video transcript Back bars 0:00/1:32 -0:00 transcript Spread of New Virus Variants Is Concerning, C.D.C. Says Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said the agency was concerned about the transmission of new coronavirus variants and suggested that relying on U.S. vaccinations alone would not be effective. “While cases and hospitalizations continue to move in the right direction, we remain in the midst of a very serious pandemic and we continue to have more cases than we did even during last month’s — last summer’s peak. And the continued spread of variants that are more transmissible could jeopardize the progress we have made in the last month if our — if we let our guard down. As of yesterday we have confirmed 1,277 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant across 42 states. I know these variants are concerning, especially as we’re seeing signs of progress. I’m talking about them today because I am concerned too. Fortunately the science to date suggests that the same prevention actions apply to these variants. So I would articulate really loudly that if you’re relying on our current level of vaccination rather than the other mitigation efforts to get us to remain low, that we shouldn’t rest in that comfort. We are scaling up vaccination as much as we can, but we are not at the level where we believe that the vaccination alone is what’s driving the decrease in cases right now. In terms of sequencing, we are scaling up sequencing every day. When we will get to 25,000 depends on the resources that we have at our fingertips and how quickly we can mobilize our partners. I don’t think this is going to be a light switch. I think it’s going to be a dial. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said the agency was concerned about the transmission of new coronavirus variants and suggested that relying on U.S. vaccinations alone would not be effective.CreditCredit...Kevin Lamarque/ReutersAs lawmakers push for billions of dollars to boost the nation’s efforts to track coronavirus variants, the Biden administration announced on Wednesday a new effort to ramp up this work, pledging nearly $200 million in federal funding to better identify the new threats as they emerge. Calling the $200 million a “down payment,” the White House said that the investment will result in a threefold increase in the number of positive virus samples that labs can sequence jumping from around 7,000 to around 25,000 each week. But that goal still remains aspirational, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its lab partners are still far from hitting the weekly 7,000-sample mark. “When we will get to 25,000 depends on the resources that we have at our fingertips and how quickly we can mobilize our partners,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said at a White House news conference on Wednesday. “I don’t think this is going to be a light switch. I think it’s going to be a dial.” The move comes as a contagious variant first identified in Britain, known as B.1.1.7, continues to sweep across the United States—1,277 cases across 42 states, Dr. Walensky announced on Wednesday—threatening to slow or reverse the rapid drop of new coronavirus cases. From a peak of almost 260,000 new cases a day, the seven-day average daily rate has fallen to below 82,000, still well above the high point of last summer’s surge, according to a New York Times database. A growing number of other worrisome variants have also cropped up in the United States, including one that was first found in South Africa and weakens the effectiveness of vaccines. The United States reported its first case of B.1.1.7 that had gained a particularly worrying mutation that has been shown in South Africa to blunt the effectiveness of vaccines, Dr. Walensky said. The F.D.A. is preparing for a potential redesign of vaccines to better protect against the new variants. Researchers are hoping to increase the number of coronavirus genomes they sequence and rapidly analyze them to spot dangerous mutations. The current level of sequencing is inadequate, experts say. That, plus the lack of national coordination, has left them blind to where the most concerning variants are spreading, and how quickly. White House officials cast the sequencing ramp-up as a part of a broader effort to test more Americans for the virus. The Department of Health and Human Services and Defense Department on Wednesday announced substantial new investments in testing, including $650 million for K-8 schools and “underserved congregate settings,” such as homeless shelters. The two departments are also investing $815 million to speed up the manufacturing of testing supplies and raw materials. Dr. Walensky said the administration’s efforts to scale up sequencing would result in more “geographic diversity” in the test samples surveyed. “It’s not just the test and getting the test done,” she said. “We need the computational capacity, the analytic capacity to understand the information that’s coming in.” The White House’s announcement added to an effort by lawmakers to insert funds for a national sequencing program into an economic relief package that Democratic congressional leaders aim to pass before mid-March, when unemployment benefits begin to lapse. Senator Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin, introduced legislation this month that would provide $2 billion to the C.D.C. to enhance its sequencing efforts, including through grants the agency would award to state health departments. As House lawmakers worked to finalize the details of Mr. Biden’s stimulus proposal ahead of a floor vote later this month, they incorporated Ms. Baldwin’s proposal and allocated $1.75 billion. In an interview, Ms. Baldwin said she had been working closely with the C.D.C.’s Advanced Molecular Detection program. A substantial amount of money is needed just for staffing and training, she said. She suggested 15 percent as a target of how many positive virus samples should be sequenced around the nation, a goal far beyond what researchers believe is possible in the near term. “This is intended to create the basis of a permanent infrastructure that would allow us not only to do surveillance for Covid-19, to be on the leading edge of discovering new variants, but also we’d have that capacity for other diseases,” she said of her bill. “There’s significant gaps in our knowledge because of a lack of variants resources.” Ms. Baldwin’s target of fifteen percent would translate to about 85,000 sequences a week at the current rate of new positive tests. Last week, the United States sequenced only 9,038 genomes, according to the online database GISAID. At the rate the nation is going, President Biden’s initial vaccination goal could be reached as soon as Day 65 of his presidency. Credit...Mary Altaffer/Associated Press When President Biden set a goal last year of 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots in the first 100 days of his presidency, it now seems that he was aiming low. With the pace of vaccinations quickly rising in the United States, the nation appears likely to get there with more than a month to spare. About 35.6 million doses have been given in the first four weeks of Mr. Biden’s presidency, bringing the total doses administered to about 55.2 million, as vaccinations have steadily increased since December. The country has averaged 1.72 million doses a day over the last week. (The vaccines that have so far been authorized in the United States involve two doses given several weeks apart, so the number of people who have been fully vaccinated by now is much smaller.) Mr. Biden said on Tuesday night that the way things are going, vaccines should be available to anyone in the country who wants one “by the end of July,” a timeline made shorter by increasing production and by the prospect that a third vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson and administered in a single dose, nears authorization. The White House also said that states will collectively begin receiving 13.5 million doses each week, a jump of more than two million, in part because of a shift in how the doses in each vial of the Pfizer vaccine are being counted. Administration officials have framed regular increases in dose allocations as Mr. Biden’s accomplishment, though supplies were expected to grow as Pfizer and Moderna, the makers of the two authorized vaccines, ramped up manufacturing. Even if the pace of vaccination stays where it is now, Mr. Biden’s initial goal would be met in late March, around Day 65 of his presidency. If the pace keeps rising and reaches 2 million doses a day, the nation could hit the 100-million-shot mark by Day 60. Before I took office, I set a big goal of administering 100 million shots in the first 100 days. With the progress we’re making I believe we’ll not only reach that, we’ll break it. — President Biden (@POTUS) February 16, 2021 “When he first announced it, it did seem like an ambitious goal,” said Dr. Eric Toner, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. But by Inauguration Day, it was a “low bar,” he said, and now, “something catastrophic would have to happen to keep us from achieving the 100 million doses.” Mr. Biden first announced the benchmark on Dec. 8, several days before the first shot was given in the country outside of a clinical trial. By the time he was sworn in on Jan. 20, the nation was putting nearly 1 million shots into arms each day, adding to the roughly 19.7 million doses given before he took office. In all, counting both before and after the change of administration in Washington, about 55.2 million doses have been administered, and about 15 million Americans have been fully vaccinated so far, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the president’s initial goal has come within reach, attention has been shifting to the more meaningful challenge of getting vaccine doses to everyone who wants them. With states expanding their inoculation programs and the federal government gradually expanding supply, Dr. Toner said, the country may be able to administer as many as 3 million doses a day within a few months, twice the pace that Mr. Biden identified in January as a target. That could rein in the spread of the virus to the point that state and local governments could ease restrictions, Dr. Toner said, provided they were careful not to relax too quickly. “That could get us where we want to go,” he said. “Sometime over the summer, we want life to be looking fairly normal again.” Noah Weiland contributed reporting. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, shown in January.Credit...Hans Pennink/Associated Press For months, Assemblyman Ron Kim has been one of the few Democratic lawmakers willing to criticize Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York for his handling of the state’s nursing homes during the pandemic, pressing for investigations into the matter. Mr. Kim had told the The New York Post last Thursday that it appeared the governor was “trying to dodge having any incriminating evidence” after a top aide to Mr. Cuomo admitted that his administration had withheld nursing home data from state lawmakers. Hours after he made that comment to the Post, Mr. Kim said Mr. Cuomo called him and yelled at him for 10 minutes. Mr. Kim said the governor threatened to publicly tarnish him if he did not issue a new statement clarifying his remarks. “He goes off about how I hadn’t seen his wrath and anger, that he would destroy me and he would go out tomorrow and start telling how bad of a person I am and I would be finished and how he had bit his tongue about me for months,” Mr. Kim said. “This was all yelling. It wasn’t a pleasant tone.” On Wednesday, the governor used his news briefing to lob allegations of impropriety at the assemblyman, saying that he and his administration have had a “long and hostile relationship” with Mr. Kim, now in his fifth term. Mr. Cuomo accused the assemblyman of a “continuing racket” soliciting donations from nail salon owners, who were upset about a 2015 nail-salon reform law. A spokesman for the governor, when asked about Mr. Cuomo’s call with Mr. Kim, initially suggested that the governor’s remarks on Wednesday had sufficiently addressed the issue. But after this article was published, the spokesman, Richard Azzopardi, said that Mr. Cuomo had only asked Mr. Kim to clarify his remarks because the assemblyman had told him that they were taken out of context in the Post article. Cuomo officials added that the governor never said that he would “destroy” Mr. Kim, and characterized the conversation between the two men as “calm,” denying the governor yelled. Mr. Cuomo also was angered and combative about a letter published by The New York Post that was signed by several Assembly members, including Mr. Kim. The letter, citing the governor’s delays in releasing a complete tally of deaths of nursing home residents, accused Mr. Cuomo of attempting to circumvent a federal probe and “intentional obstruction of justice.” Mr. Cuomo has strongly denied any wrongdoing. Defense officials are studying the demographics of those in uniform who decline the vaccine, but they have not reached any conclusion.Credit...Tech. Sgt. Anthony Nelson/Department of Defense, via Associated Press Roughly a third of America’s military personnel are declining to receive coronavirus vaccines when they are offered, Pentagon officials said Wednesday. The refusal rate is slightly above that of the civilian population, and is the same for active-duty troops and for those in the National Guard, who have been helping state governments administer coronavirus tests and vaccines. About 960,000 members of the military and its contractors have been vaccinated, Robert G. Salesses, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Global Security, told members of the House Armed Services Committee at a hearing on Wednesday. Similar to the civilian world, the focus has been on people working in heath care and those over 65. The Pentagon can require troops to receive standard immunizations, but it cannot make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory, at least for now. That is because the vaccines have been rolled out through federal emergency use authorizations, without waiting to complete the much lengthier approval process. So all the military can do is urge troops to get the shots, not order them to. “We think it’s important that the department continues to communicate to our service members the safety of the vaccine,” Maj. Gen. Jeff Taliaferro, vice director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the hearing. He added that troops who decline the vaccine are still permitted to deploy overseas. In a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 31 percent of the general public said that they would wait until the vaccine “has been available for a while to see how it is working for other people” before getting the shot themselves. Various news reports and studies have found that refusal rates are highest among Republicans and among Hispanic adults, including many who work in health care. Defense officials said they were studying the demographics of those in uniform who decline the vaccines, and had reached no conclusions yet. The Pentagon has been reluctant to say how many troops were declining shots. Most states have relied on National Guard personnel to help respond to the pandemic, including assisting with vaccine distribution and even putting shots in arms. The Biden administration recently announced that it would open 100 new vaccination sites around the country, operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and assisted by hundreds if not thousands of active-duty service members. About 1,100 troops have been deployed at the five centers that have been set up so far. Scientists want the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to call for improved ventilation as well as mask-wearing to fight the airborne spread of the coronavirus indoors. Fourth graders wear masks in class at Elk Ridge Elementary School in Buckley, Wash.Credit...Ted S. Warren/Associated Press Scientists are urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to swiftly set standards to limit the airborne transmission of the coronavirus in high-risk settings like meatpacking plants and prisons. The push comes nearly a year after research showed that the virus can be spread through tiny droplets called aerosols that linger indoors in stagnant air and can be inhaled. Action on air standards is even more urgently needed now because vaccination efforts are off to a slow start, more contagious virus variants are circulating in the United States, and the rate of Covid-19 infections and deaths remains high despite a recent drop in new cases, the scientists said in a letter to Biden administration officials. The C.D.C. issued new guidelines on Friday for reopening schools, but the guidelines made only a passing mention of improved ventilation as a precaution against viral spread. The World Health Organization was slow to acknowledge that the virus can linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, accepting that conclusion only in July after 239 experts publicly called on the organization to do so. The 13 experts who wrote the letter — including several who advised Mr. Biden during the transition — urged the administration to blunt the risks in a variety of workplaces by requiring a combination of mask-wearing and environmental measures, including better ventilation. They want the C.D.C. to recommend the use of high-quality masks like N95 respirators to protect workers who are at high risk of infection, many of whom are people of color, the segment of the population that has been hit hardest by the epidemic in the United States. At present, health care workers mostly rely on surgical masks, which are not as effective against aerosol transmission of the virus as N95 masks are. Mr. Biden has directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which sets workplace requirements, to issue emergency temporary standards for Covid-19, including those regarding ventilation and masks, by March 15. But OSHA will only impose standards that are supported by guidance from the C.D.C., said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University and one of the signatories. (Dr. Michaels led OSHA during the Obama administration; the agency has not had a permanent leader since his departure.) “Until the C.D.C. makes some changes, OSHA will have difficulty changing the recommendations it puts up, because there’s an understanding the government has to be consistent,” Dr. Michaels said. “And C.D.C. has always been seen as the lead agency for infectious disease.” Vials of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.Credit...Johnson & Johnson, via Associated Press Johnson & Johnson, whose Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be federally authorized for emergency use as soon as the end of the month, will have only “a few million” doses on hand for distribution, a key White House adviser said Wednesday. Though the vaccine would be the third to be authorized in the United States, the nation’s vaccine stock would not immediately increase. That is disappointing news for health officials and residents across the country who were hoping that another supplier would add to the 13.5 million doses a week now being delivered to states by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the two vaccines now federally authorized. Even so, President Biden said on Tuesday evening that every American who wanted a Covid-19 vaccination would be able to get one by the end of July, offering a more encouraging forecast than he delivered a week earlier when he warned that logistical and distribution hurdles would delay vaccinations beyond the end of the summer. Mr. Biden, who made the comment in Milwaukee during a town-hall-style meeting hosted by CNN, then qualified the remark slightly, saying that the doses would “be available” by then. But he also said he did not expect it to take months to get the shots into people’s arms. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has several advantages over Pfizer’s and Moderna’s. It is only one dose instead of two and can stay viable in a refrigerator for three months, while the other two have to be kept frozen. But despite the federal government’s plan to compress the timetable for vaccine development by helping companies manufacture vaccines while they tested them in clinical tests, Johnson & Johnson is still struggling to ramp up production at its plant in Baltimore, Md. Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House’s chief pandemic adviser, noted Johnson & Johnson began its work under the Trump administration. Under its contract, it is supposed to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June — with 37 million due by the end of March. Its deliveries will be “more back end loaded,” Mr. Zients said. “We are doing everything we can to accelerate the delivery schedule.” In New York City, like other places across the country, the demand for vaccinations far outstrips the supply allocated each week. Credit...Kirsten Luce for The New York Times The dangerous winter weather has delayed shipments of vaccine doses to New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday, preventing officials from scheduling between 30,000 and 35,000 new vaccination appointments and complicating a rollout already constrained by a limited supply of doses. The problems in New York City, which could extend to suburbs and neighboring states, came as vaccination efforts have been disrupted nationwide. Clinics have closed and shipments have been stalled as snow and ice grounded flights and made highways dangerously slick. Many of the closures and cancellations have been in the South, where the storm hit hardest, with Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky canceling or rescheduling appointments this week. Jeffrey D. Zients, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said on Wednesday that the Biden administration is pushing governors to extend the hours of vaccination sites once they reopen. “People are working as hard as they can, given the importance of getting the vaccines to the states and to providers, but there’s an impact on deliveries,” he said. Mr. de Blasio said he did not know when the shipments would arrive next or which specific weather conditions were snarling the shipments. “It’s obviously a national problem what’s happening with the weather, and it is gumming up supply lines all over the country,” Mr. de Blasio said. In New York City, like other places across the country, the demand for vaccinations far outstrips the supply allocated each week. Mr. de Blasio said on Wednesday that the city had about 30,000 doses on hand, and that those could run out by Thursday. “We’re going to run out of what we have now,” he said. “We could be doing hundreds of thousands more each week.” The weather has caused problems for the city’s vaccination efforts before. A heavy snowstorm earlier this month had forced city and state officials to delay appointments for days until driving conditions improved. On Wednesday, Mr. de Blasio said the city was bracing for another bout of snow on Thursday, with forecasts predicting about six or seven inches of accumulation. global roundup Japan’s late start on vaccines has raised questions about whether it will be ready to host the Olympics, which are scheduled to begin in Tokyo this July after a one-year delay. Credit...Koji Sasahara/Associated Press TOKYO — Japan began its national coronavirus vaccination program on Wednesday, starting with the first of 40,000 medical workers and planning to reach the general population by the summer. The comparatively late start has raised questions at home and abroad about whether the country will be ready to host the Olympics, which are scheduled to begin in Tokyo this July after the pandemic forced a one-year delay. Japan has managed to keep coronavirus infection levels relatively low and, so far, has recorded around 7,200 deaths. But the authorities declared a one-month state of emergency in early January, after daily case counts reached nearly 8,000. They have since extended it until at least the beginning of March, partly in response to more contagious coronavirus variants. The vaccine rollout has been slower than in many other developed countries in part because the authorities requested that Pfizer run separate medical trials in Japan. That reflected some public ambivalence toward vaccinations, a general sense of caution that most recently surfaced after media reports about rare side effects related to vaccines for HPV. Speaking to the news media on Tuesday, Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the rollout, emphasized that it was important to “show the Japanese people that we have done everything possible to prove the efficacy and safety of the vaccine.” While that slowed the program’s start, he said, “We think it will be more efficient.” Major obstacles to a rapid rollout remain. Japan relies on other countries for its entire vaccine supply and is still working to approve the vaccines from AstraZeneca and Moderna. It is also short of the special syringes that would allow its doctors to extract an extra, sixth dose from each vial supplied by Pfizer. In his remarks on Tuesday, Mr. Kono said the vaccination program was not linked to the Games. Speaking on Wednesday, the governor of Shimane Prefecture, which has recorded only 280 cases, threatened to pull it out of activities around the Olympic torch relay for fear of spreading infection. In other developments across the world: President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa received the single-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine on Wednesday, hours after 80,000 doses arrived in the country. Health care workers will be among the first to receive the vaccine. The country paused its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine this month after a study suggested that it failed to prevent mild or moderate illness from a variant found in the country. South Africa has recorded nearly 1.5 million coronavirus infections since the start of the pandemic, with 48,855 deaths, according to a New York Times database. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, secured a contract for an additional 300 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, the commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, announced on Wednesday. The deal allows European countries to order up to 150 million doses in 2021, with an option for as many next year and authorization to donate unused doses to other countries. The commission, which has been under intense scrutiny following the sluggish vaccination rollout across Europe, had previously signed a contract for 160 million doses. A five-day lockdown that started last week in the Australian state of Victoria will end at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, after 24 hours without a new coronavirus case. Residents will remain restricted to five visitors at a time and will still be required to wear masks in indoor public places. The city of Auckland, New Zealand, will also emerge from a lockdown at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, after the authorities said that contact tracers could manage a cluster of six local cases. “We don’t have a widespread but rather a small chain of transmission which is manageable via testing procedures,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters. Hong Kong plans to relax restrictions on a range of businesses on Thursday, provided they enforce use of a government-made app for contact tracing or keep records of customers. Employees must also be tested for the coronavirus every two weeks. Separately, on Tuesday, vaccine experts appointed by the Hong Kong government recommended the use of the Sinovac vaccine, a sign that health authorities will approve it for the city’s 7.5 million residents. They approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in January. Prosecutors in China said that a batch of fake coronavirus vaccines had been shipped outside the country last year, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported on Monday. The fake vaccines were produced by a counterfeiting ring that the authorities broke up in February. Prosecutors said last week that the ring had manufactured and sold about 580,000 vials, for a profit of almost $280 million. The police have also arrested suspects they say smuggled 2,000 vials into Hong Kong, believing them to be genuine. Prosecutors said that 600 of those vaccines were later sent overseas, but did not say where. Health authorities in Germany have documented rapid growth in the more infectious coronavirus variant first found in Britain, despite a general drop in new infections during a monthslong lockdown. Jens Spahn, the German health minister, said during a news conference on Wednesday that the variant now accounted for 22 percent of tested coronavirus samples, up from 6 percent at the beginning of February. New arrivals at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, are quarantined for two weeks to make sure they are not bringing the coronavirus with them. Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times The commander of the U.S. base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, shut down most community activities at the base overnight Tuesday, barring dining in restaurants and closing gyms and the school for sailors’ children, to combat the spread of the coronavirus at the isolated post. Clergy members marking Ash Wednesday held a “drive-through distribution of ashes” in the chapel parking lot, near the base’s McDonalds restaurant, which switched overnight to takeout only. Base residents were not told specifically what had prompted the closures. The last time the base took similar action was in October, after one of the base’s 6,000 residents initially tested positive for the virus. Community activities were restricted for 10 days while health officials conducted new tests and sent samples to the mainland United States for analysis. The case turned out to be a false positive. A notice to residents said that the latest restrictions would be temporary. Saying that the impacts of the closures “on our personnel, family members, services and daily life are understood,” the notice thanked residents for their “enduring patience and support.” After a public outcry, the Pentagon postponed plans to vaccinate the 40 wartime prisoners who are held in a restricted area at the base. The 1,500 troops who staff the detention facility have been offered vaccination, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command. The military has declined to say how many of those troops, mostly National Guard soldiers on nine-month rotations, accepted the offer. Covid-19 vaccinations are voluntary for Department of Defense personnel because the vaccines are being distributed under an emergency use authorization. Health workers at Guantánamo have been offering residents the Moderna vaccine in phases for more than a month. Shuttle bus drivers, commissary workers, schoolteachers, intelligence analysts, bartenders and Marines who guard the fence line separating the base from a Cuban minefield are among those now eligible for shots. Guantánamo Bay reported two confirmed cases of residents with coronavirus in March and April, before the Pentagon curbed most disclosures about individual bases. Both people were put in isolation and recovered, the military said. The Navy requires everyone arriving at the base to be quarantined for two weeks. Amid the pandemic, families of 4-year-olds who are interested in gifted programs will be enrolled in a random lottery in May.Credit...Angela Weiss/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images New York City’s process for admitting young children into its gifted and talented programs will change this year, because of disruptions caused by the pandemic and growing opposition to the high-stakes exam the city has used to evaluate 4-year-olds. For this year only, the families of toddlers interested in gifted programs will be enrolled in a random lottery in May — but only after their children are recommended for the programs by their preschool teachers. Students who are not enrolled in prekindergarten can apply for a virtual interview with an education specialist to determine eligibility. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said this year’s admissions process is a stopgap solution, and has promised to come up with a long-term plan on gifted admissions before he leaves office in January 2022. The announcement caps weeks of uncertainty about how New York City would admit toddlers into gifted programs amid the pandemic. Earlier this year, Mr. de Blasio said he would offer the gifted exam for just one more year to avoid disruption to parents. But an educational panel that typically acts as a rubber stamp for the mayor rejected his plan to renew the gifted testing contract for a final year. That left City Hall scrambling to find another temporary solution. But it was all but inevitable that the city would eventually scrap the test, which has been given for the last 15 years. The test has been widely criticized by experts, including many proponents of gifted education, who have said a single exam given to young children is not an appropriate way to determine intellectual giftedness. The exam is typically given in January for classes that begin that fall. The deeper issue of how or even whether the city’s gifted classes should continue is much more contentious and complex, and will present an enormous challenge for the next mayor. Gifted education is a third-rail political issue in New York City, because the programs are starkly unrepresentative of the overall system. Whereas Black and Latino students make up nearly 70 percent of the district, they represent only about a quarter of the children in gifted programs. Eighty percent of Oregon’s 560,000 public schoolchildren remain in fully remote instruction.Credit...Sara Cline/Associated Press Shortly before Christmas, as Oregon schools faced their 10th month under some of the nation’s sternest coronavirus restrictions, Gov. Kate Brown began a major push to reopen classrooms. She offered to help districts pay for masks, testing and tracing, and improved ventilation. Most important, she prioritized teachers and school staff members for vaccination — ahead of some older people. Her goal: to resume in-person classes statewide by Feb. 15. But today, roughly 80 percent of Oregon’s 560,000 public schoolchildren remain in fully remote instruction. And while some districts are slowly bringing children back, two of the largest, Portland and Beaverton, do not plan to reopen until at least mid-April — and then only for younger students. Oregon’s halting efforts to return children to classrooms are being repeated up and down the West Coast. The region’s largest city school districts — from Seattle to Portland to San Francisco to Los Angeles — have remained mostly closed, even as Boston, New York, Miami, Houston and Chicago have been resuming in-person instruction. And the release on Friday of guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that urge school districts to reopen has not changed the minds of powerful teachers’ unions opposed to returning students to classrooms without more stringent precautions. Tough state health restrictions imposed by Ms. Brown, a Democrat, helped protect the state from experiencing the high death tolls occurring elsewhere. But by December, she was growing alarmed at the toll social isolation was having on children. “Eleven- and 12-year-olds were attempting suicide,” she said in a recent interview. Worried that schools would not reopen until the 2021-22 school year if she waited to vaccinate teachers along with other essential workers, Ms. Brown rejected federal guidelines and bumped school employees up in priority, before people 65 and older, even though that constituency would — and did — protest. Oregon was among a handful of states at the time, and the only one on the West Coast, to single out school employees for the vaccine. (About half of states now prioritize teachers.) Palestinian health workers unloading the Gaza Strip’s first shipment on Wednesday.Credit...Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters JERUSALEM — The first doses of coronavirus vaccine arrived in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after Israel approved their delivery. Mai al-Kaila, the health minister of the Palestinian Authority, said that 2,000 doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine had been shipped to the territory. She said the vaccines would be allocated to frontline medical teams, but the territory’s Health Ministry said the first priority would be dialysis patients and people undergoing transplants, followed by medical workers. The Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule over parts of the West Bank, while the Hamas militant group controls Gaza. In Gaza, with a population of about 2 million, the number of recorded Covid cases has declined sharply after a surge in December. The vaccines were delivered amid a heated debate over whether Israel bears responsibility for the health of Palestinians living in occupied territory. While human rights groups have argued international law requires Israel to provide Palestinians with access to vaccines on a par with what it makes available to its own citizens, supporters of Israel’s policies have contended that the Palestinians assumed responsibility for health services when they signed the Oslo Accords in the 1990s. The vaccines delivered to Gaza were not supplied by Israel but by the Palestinian Authority. Still, their transfer required Israeli approval and provoked a debate in Israel’s Parliament. Several right-wing lawmakers had demanded that the government make their delivery conditional on the return of two Israeli citizens and of the bodies of two soldiers believed to be held by Hamas. “It is forbidden for Israel and its leader to abandon the fate of captive citizens and give up an opportunity to bring back the bodies of the fallen soldiers,” Zvi Hauser, a member of Parliament, told a parliamentary committee that discussed the matter on Monday. A Hamas spokesman rejected the idea as “an attempt at extortion.” However, an Israeli government official said that senior Israeli officials had recommended that the request be approved. It was on Wednesday. — Adam Rasgon The Sambódromo in Rio de Janiero, normally the site of carnival parades, was lit on Friday in honor of victims of Covid.Credit...Buda Mendes/Getty Images In good times and bad, Rio de Janeiro’s famously boisterous Carnival has endured, often thriving when the going got particularly tough. People partied hard during years of war, hyperinflation, repressive military rule, runaway violence and even the Spanish Flu in 1919, when the Carnival was considered among the most decadent on record. This year, though, the only thing keeping the spirit of Carnival faintly alive is online events produced by groups that traditionally put on extravagant street performances. “It’s very sad for Rio not to have Carnival,” Daniel Soranz, the city’s health secretary, said this past Saturday morning, standing in the middle of the Sambódromo parade grounds as elderly residents got vaccinated under white tents. “This is a place to party, to celebrate life.” Marcilia Lopes, 85, a fixture of the Portela samba school who hasn’t missed a Carnival for decades, looked relieved after she got her first dose of the Chinese-made CoronaVac vaccine. She has been so scared of catching the virus for the past year that she refused to leave home for anything. On her birthday, she asked her children not to even bother buying a cake — she was in no mood to celebrate. So Ms. Lopes is missing her beloved Carnival this year, but stoically. “I’m at peace,” she said. “Many people are suffering.” Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak has been among the most severe in the world. It has killed more than 239,000 people here, second only to the death toll in the United States, and several Brazilian states are grappling with large caseloads. As a second wave took hold in recent months, local officials across the country canceled the traditional Carnival celebrations, which normally bring in hundreds of million of dollars in tourism revenue and create tens of thousands of temporary jobs. Marcus Faustini, Rio de Janeiro’s secretary of culture, said that as painful as it was to slog through carnival season without revelry, there was no responsible way to adapt the megaparty for this era of social distancing. “It would make no sense to hold this party at this time and run the risk of driving a surge of cases,” he said. “The most vital thing right now is to protect lives.” Lis Moriconi contributed reporting. In Europe, pandemic spending has largely focused on helping people and businesses through the crisis.Credit...Yann Schreiber/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Billions of euros are being deployed to nationalize payrolls, suppress bankruptcies and avoid mass unemployment as Europe battles the pandemic. Trillions more are being earmarked for stimulus to stoke a desperately needed recovery. The European Union has upended its policies to finance the largess, breaking with decades of strict limits on deficits, and overcoming visceral German resistance to high debt. Austerity mantras led by Germany dominated Europe during the 2010 debt crisis, when profligate spending in Greece, Italy and other southern eurozone countries pushed the currency bloc toward a breakup. The pandemic, which has killed over 450,000 people in Europe, is seen as a different animal altogether — a threat ravaging all the world’s economies simultaneously. In the United States, President Biden is pursuing an aggressive strategy to combat the pandemic’s toll with a $1.9 trillion economic aid plan. While the national debt is now almost as large as the economy, supporters say the benefits of spending big now outweigh the costs of higher debt. In Europe, pandemic spending has so far largely focused on floating people and businesses through the crisis. For Philippe Boreal, a janitor at a luxury hotel in Cannes, the support has been vital. “Without the aid, things would be much worse,” said Mr. Boreal, who is collecting more than 80 percent of his paycheck, allowing him to pay essential bills and buy food for his wife and teenage daughter. But, he said, “at some point you ask yourself, ‘How are we going to pay for all this?’” For now, such spending is affordable. And government debt may never have to be fully paid back if central banks keep buying it. But some economists worry that inflation and interest rates could rise if stimulus investment revives growth too rapidly, forcing central banks to put a brake on easy-money policies. And weaker countries could struggle with the higher borrowing costs that resulted. To people in charge of steering their economies through the pandemic, those potential troubles seem far away. “We need to reimburse the debt, of course, and to work out a strategy for paying down the debt,” the French economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, said in an interview with a small group of journalists. “But we won’t do anything before growth returns — that would be crazy.” For the strategy to work, Europe must act quickly to ensure a robust recovery, economists warn. While leaders approved a €750 billion ($857 billion) stimulus deal last year, countries haven’t been unleashing stimulus spending, to kick-start a revival and create jobs, nearly as rapidly as the United States has. “Most of what’s been done in Europe is survival support,” said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London.