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Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Covid Live Updates: As Asia Grapples With Omicron, Cases Rise Again in Europe Global cases have increased over the past two weeks, driven by high caseloads in Asia and Europe. New Zealand, whose border closures were among the strictest in the world, plans to open up to tourists ahead of schedule

Covid Live Updates: As Asia Grapples With Omicron, Cases Rise Again in Europe

Global cases have increased over the past two weeks, driven by high caseloads in Asia and Europe. New Zealand, whose border closures were among the strictest in the world, plans to open up to tourists ahead of schedule.

Commuters crossing London Bridge at sunrise in late February.
Tom Nicholson/Reuters

As the Asia-Pacific region struggles with its first Omicron surge, it appears that Europe may be heading for a second jump, just as countries on both continents have rapidly lifted most pandemic restrictions.

Global cases, which bottomed out in early March, are rising again, driven by high caseloads in Asia and Europe, according to a New York Times database. Cases per capita in Europe were already far higher than any other region in the world when they began creeping up again recently.

Parts of Asia are enduring their worst outbreaks ever as the Omicron variant continues its first sweep through the continent. The situation is especially dire in China, an outlier that remains committed to stamping out the virus, as well as New Zealand and South Korea, countries that like others around Asia have moved on from what had been some of the world’s strictest Covid rules.

In Europe, some are bracing for what could be another Omicron wave, with cases on the rise again in FranceBritainItaly and elsewhere and again approaching record levels in Germany. And the war in Ukraine has prompted fears that another outbreak could explode there at any time.

This comes weeks after many European countries thought they were free of the worst of Covid and raced to lift restrictions in February and March.

On Tuesday, the Netherlands announced it would drop most of its remaining pandemic restrictions, including its mask mandate, on March 23. Cases there have just started declining after surges in February and March, according to Our World in Data.

Austriathe first Western democracy to impose a general Covid vaccine mandate, abandoned the requirement last week. Caseloads have now surged to record levels there, according to Our World in Data.

Dr. Eric Topol, the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said that loosening restrictions in Europe may have contributed to a spike in cases. Other factors could include waning vaccine immunity and the rapid spread of a more contagious Omicron subvariant, BA.2, he said.

Dr. Topol said Europe’s worst periods throughout the pandemic have been a harbinger of what was to come in the United States.

“Every time we followed suit within a matter of weeks,” he said.

While caseloads in the United States have declined drastically since their record highs in mid-January, according to a New York Times database, Dr. Topol said one indicator that will be closely watched for an early sign of a new spike will be wastewater sewage data.

Because people excrete the virus through their stool, wastewater can be used to predict where the coronavirus is or will be prevalent and if a new variant is circulating.

About 38 percent of active U.S. wastewater sampling sites reported an increase in coronavirus levels from Feb. 24 to March 10, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s wastewater data tracker, which surveys 688 wastewater sites across the country.

Dr. Jay Varma, an epidemiologist who was a senior health adviser to former Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City, warned that people should be prepared for another wave of cases and not let their guard down.

“We have to plan for the worst and hope for the best, like hurricane season,” he said.

Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.

James Estrin/The New York Times

Mark Levine, the Manhattan borough president, and Dr. Jay Varma, a top health adviser to former Mayor Bill de Blasio, called on Wednesday for a plan to encourage New Yorkers to get their booster shots and protect residents from any future waves of the coronavirus.

The suggested plan is driven by the potential threat of a new variant, which could cause a fresh rise in cases and hospitalizations and the need for more “forceful” action, Dr. Varma said.

The plan also comes as Mayor Eric Adams has been aggressively promoting efforts to recover the city’s economy in recent weeks, removing the vaccination mandate for indoor activities and mask mandates for schools. The mayor has also been encouraging tourists to visit New York, telling people at a recent news conference in Times Square to come and “spend money.”

If the plan is adopted, New Yorkers who have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine but have yet to get a booster will receive a text, an email and a postcard with a location and an appointment to get the shots. The plan also suggests reinstating the $100 incentive for receiving the booster shot, a program that was introduced by Mr. de Blasio and reintroduced by Mr. Adams in February, although it expired at the end of the month.

“I am thrilled at the progress we’ve made in the past two months and exhilarated by the increasing return to normal life in New York City,” Mr. Levine said in an interview. “We need this.” 

The effect of the Omicron wave over the winter was a major setback for the city’s recovery, he said, one that he doesn’t want to see again.  “There are steps we can take now to prepare ourselves, so that we can blunt the severity of a future wave.”

Positive test rates, deaths and hospitalizations in New York City have all fallen in recent weeks, according to a New York Times database. An average of 662 daily cases were being reported as of Tuesday, compared with more than 40,000 a day during the peak of the Omicron wave.

Booster shots have been shown to be 90 percent effective at preventing hospitalization from the Omicron variant, and were found to be especially beneficial against infection and death for people ages 50 and older. But new city vaccination data shows wide disparities among residents who have received their booster shots.

Almost half of Manhattan has been boosted compared with only 27 percent in the Bronx. Citywide, while 36 percent of the city’s residents overall had received their dose as of Tuesday, only 24 percent of Black residents got a booster compared with 57 percent of Asian and Pacific Islander residents.

Mr. Levine and Dr. Varma’s plan also suggested broader Covid safety measures, calling for the city to provide front-line workers and people in communities hardest hit by the pandemic with “Covid safety bags,” which would contain rapid test kits and masks. It also suggests that government agencies allow more flexibility for remote work, as well as establish a new program to improve data collection on positive coronavirus test rates.

The speed at which Mr. Adams has relaxed the city’s Covid safety precautionshas worried some who have argued that the vaccination mandate allowed more people to feel safer going out in the city.

In an interview, Dr. Varma said he believed it would be difficult to get residents to comply with the mandates if they were reinstated. At this point, he added, the city should focus on preventing as many deaths as possible through an increased effort to get its residents boosted.

“We need to focus on the things that government absolutely can and should do,” Dr. Varma said. “To me, that includes very targeted, directed outreach for people to get vaccinated.”

Mark Tantrum/Wellington International Airport, via Getty Images

New Zealand, whose border closures were among the strictest in the world, plans to welcome back foreign tourists months ahead of schedule in a bid to bolster the country’s economic recovery, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Wednesday.

Vaccinated Australians will be allowed to enter from just before midnight on April 12. Vaccinated travelers with valid visas and those from visa-waiver countries such as Canada and the United States can enter from May 1.

“We are sending a very clear message that we are accelerating our economic recovery,” Ms. Ardern said at a news conference on Wednesday. She added, “In short, we’re ready to welcome the world back.”

The announcement comes as cases remain near peak levels in New Zealand, which, like other countries, is facing economic uncertainty and rapidly rising inflation. The government on Tuesday announced cuts to the cost of fuel among other measures to tackle a “cost of living crisis.”

New reported cases by day

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

Incoming travelers will not be required to quarantine on arrival, but must take a supervised rapid coronavirus test before entering and two additional tests in the first week of their stay. These tests are intended to prevent the spread of new variants, Ms. Ardern said.

The government had intended to allow tourists back starting in July, with a full reopening planned for October. But after an outbreak of the Omicron variant sent cases in the country surging to more than 20,000 per day, tourism operators and businesses pushed to bring forward that timeline. They argued that borders should remain closed to try to keep the variant out because of its prevalence around the globe.

New Zealand closed its borders early in the pandemic, allowing only a trickle of citizens to return, and later essential workers, and mandating a two-week hotel quarantine on arrival. The border closures allowed New Zealand to maintain a “zero-Covid” policy for most of the pandemic, with total deaths and hospitalizations among the lowest in the world.

But the policy also crippled its international tourism sector, which previously catered to millions of foreign visitors each year. Some companies say revenues have plunged by 95 percent since the pandemic began, while others have had to target the less lucrative domestic market.

Dave Sanders for The New York Times

The administration of former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo failed to publicly account for the deaths of about 4,100 nursing home residents in New York during the pandemic, according to an audit released on Tuesday by the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli.

The audit found that Health Department officials at times underreported the full death toll by as much as 50 percent from April 2020 to February 2021, as Mr. Cuomo faced increasing scrutiny over whether his administration had intentionally concealed the actual number of deaths.

“The public was misled by those at the highest level of state government through distortion and suppression of the facts when New Yorkers deserved the truth,” Mr. DiNapoli said in a statement.

The report found that the underreporting of the death data was initially a result of poor data collection by the Health Department when New York unexpectedly became the epicenter of the pandemic in March 2020. But officials still failed to release the full extent of nursing home deaths even as the data gathering improved.

By May 2020, the report suggests, health officials possessed mostly reliable numbers that could have been made public.

More than 67,000 people have died because of the coronavirus in New York since the beginning of the pandemic. As of Tuesday, 15,360 of those were nursing home residents, according to state data.

Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, eventually resigned in August as a result of the controversy over nursing home deaths and other scandals that engulfed his administration, including accusations of sexual harassment from numerous women.

The audit’s release comes as Mr. Cuomo is wading back into public life, seeking to rehabilitate his image.

Rebecca Davis O’Briencontributed reporting.

Adam Hunger/ Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — Some players on the Mets and Yankees may be unable to play in New York when the 2022 Major League Baseball season begins next month because of a city vaccination mandate.

Under a New York City regulation enacted on Dec. 27, people who perform in-person work or interact with the public in the course of business must show proof that “they have received a COVID-19 vaccine.” The proof of vaccination must show that a worker is fully vaccinated, has received a single-dose vaccine or, if only the first shot of a two-dose vaccine has been administered, then there must be evidence of a plan to receive the second dose within 45 days of the first.

While Mayor Eric Adams loosened some vaccine requirements this month, he left in place the private-sector mandate. According to the mayor’s office, the regulation applies to the Mets and Yankees, whose home stadiums are Citi Field in Queens and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

The Yankees open the season on April 7 with a home game against the Boston Red Sox. The Mets’ home opener is against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 15. With those games several weeks away, the mayor’s office said it couldn’t predict if circumstances could change in the intervening period.

The mandate has been a point of contention for Nets guard Kyrie Irving and the N.B.A. Irving has played in only 19 of the team’s 69 games in part because he is unvaccinated against Covid-19 and the regulation has barred him from playing home games. Irving is allowed to play in road games where cities do not have vaccine mandates. He set a single-game franchise record with 60 points in a 150-108 win against Orlando on Tuesday, but he will not be eligible to play the Nets’ next three games.

(The private sector mandate grants an exception for visiting professional athletes and anyone who accompanies them, along with performing artists and college athletes.)

On Monday, the N.B.A. fined the Nets $50,000 for allowing Irving to enter the team’s locker room during Sunday’s game against the Knicks. While he was allowed at the game, he was not allowed to be in team facilities at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

If the city mandate doesn’t change by the first home games for the M.L.B. teams, it would presumably affect the Mets more than it would the Yankees.

By the end of last season, the Mets were among the six teams (out of 30 in M.L.B.) that had not reached the league’s vaccination threshold of 85 percent that allowed teams to loosen pandemic protocols. The Yankees reached the vaccination threshold, but they endured multiple virus outbreaks — many of which were breakthrough cases.

Asked on Tuesday if he was vaccinated, given the city’s mandate, Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge said, “I’m so focused on just getting these first games of spring training so I think we’ll cross that bridge when the times comes. But right now, so many things could change. So I’m not really too worried about that right now.”

Judge was placed on the league’s Covid-19 related injured list after attending the 2021 All-Star Game in July in Denver and testing positive for the coronavirus. He proceeded to miss nine games. Because of other positive cases, potential exposures and testing, the league postponed the Yankees’ first game back from the All-Star break, on July 15 against Boston, which had not reached the vaccination threshold.

The Red Sox, who had a significant virus outbreak last season, were the only one of the 10 teams in the postseason last year that had not reached that mark. Since arriving to spring training, Red Sox players such as Xander Bogaerts and Christian Arroyo told reporters they have since been vaccinated.

M.L.B. and the players’ union each declined to comment on Tuesday, as did the Mets.

“On behalf of the Yankees, Randy Levine is working with City Hall and all other appropriate officials on this matter,” a Yankees spokesman said in a statement, referring to the team’s president, a former deputy city mayor. “We will have no further comment at this time.”

Over the weekend, Yankees Manager Aaron Boone told reporters that he was concerned about his players not being able to play in Canada, saying, “We still have a few guys, at least, who are not vaccinated.”

Canadian border restrictions currently do not allow unvaccinated foreign visitors to enter the country without special exemptions. And a special status issued by the Canadian government for unvaccinated athletes, which allowed them to cross last yearended in January.

As M.L.B. and the union negotiated a new labor agreement, they also agreed that any player who is unable to play in any games as a result of any government regulation because of his vaccination status “may be placed” temporarily on the restricted list, where pay and service time are lost. Service time determines players’ eligibility for salary arbitration and free agency.

The Yankees are in the same division as the Blue Jays and will play nine games in Toronto this season. 

Despite initial resistance from many players last year, the vaccination numbers steadily rose in M.L.B. By the end of the season, 88 percent of all players and key staff members were fully vaccinated. Still, some team executives were openly frustrated during the season with their players’ reluctance to be vaccinated.

The vaccination rates are higher in other professional leagues, such as the N.B.A. and the N.H.L., both of which also have teams based in Canada.“

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