Live Global Covid-19 News Updates: Moderna, Vaccine, Andrew Yang and More – The New York Times

A vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine with 10 doses. Moderna is seeking to pack 15 doses into a vial in the future.
Credit…Cooper Neill for The New York Times

The upstart drugmaker Moderna is asking U.S. regulators to allow it to increase the amount of coronavirus vaccine put into each vial by as much as 50 percent, arguing that it can speed vaccines to patients by clearing away a simple manufacturing bottleneck: Getting medicine into bottles.

The Food and Drug Administration could decide within a few weeks how much more vaccine Moderna, the developer of one of the two federally authorized Covid-19 vaccines, can put into its vials. Moderna says it can raise the number of doses per vial from 10 to as much as 15.

The company has already been ramping up production of its vaccine, only to find a bottleneck in the bottling, capping and labeling process. With F.D.A. approval, more doses could start going into each bottle quickly, a welcome boost to the campaign to curb a pandemic that has killed more than 440,000 people in the United States alone. In a statement late Monday, Ray Jordan, a Moderna spokesman, said the constraint on dosage per vial was limiting Moderna’s output.

The Moderna proposal is part of a broader push by the Biden administration to speed vaccine distribution, including by clearing away obstacles in the “fill and finish” phase of manufacturing. Although the nuts-and-bolts stage receives less attention than vaccine development, it has been identified for years as a constraint on vaccine production.

On Tuesday, Jeffrey D. Zients, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said that the federal government would allocate a minimum of 10.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccines to states for the next three weeks, a bump of five percent resulting from an expected increase in manufacturing.

At a White House news conference, Mr. Zients framed the increase in doses as an accomplishment of the Biden administration, saying that “we have increased supply by more than 20 percent since we took office.” But the uptick in production has long been expected as the companies that make two federally-authorized vaccines, one from Pfizer and BioNTech and the other from Moderna, have scaled up their efforts. Last week, the companies increased their supply to the U.S. by 16 percent.

Governors were informed of the increase on a call Tuesday morning so that they would have more time to plan for vaccinations, Mr. Zients said, with at three weeks of notice for new allocation numbers — a cornerstone of a new effort by the Biden administration to improve a distribution system mired in uncertainty and confusion over limited supply and unused doses.

“That allows them to plan accordingly and know what staffing to have,” he said. “I think historically, there had been fluctuation. We are very attuned into not having that fluctuation.”

Moderna has discussed the possible change of the number of doses in vials with the F.D.A. but has not yet submitted manufacturing data to support it, people familiar with the discussions said. Federal regulators may be receptive to the idea of more doses in each vial, but could balk at the notion of a 50 percent increase.

The industry standard has long been 10 doses per vial, and federal regulators may be concerned that the extra punctures by needles of the rubber covering of the vial and the time required to extract more doses could increase the risk of contaminating the vaccine with bacteria.

At some point, too much liquid can cause a vial to break. Moderna has tested what happens when it adds additional doses, and determined that the limit is 15 doses, according to people familiar with the company’s operations who were not authorized to speak publicly. Moderna’s proposal to the F.D.A. for the dose increase was first reported by CNBC.

Packing more vaccine into each Moderna vial is one of a number of options White House and health officials are exploring as they push to expand production before the spring, when officials are expecting a renewed surge of infections from emerging variants of the virus. Some proposals have already been considered and dismissed, including a suggestion to combine fractions of doses left over in vials.

The maker of the other federally approved vaccine, Pfizer, is unable to increase the amount of vaccine in its vials because its manufacturing is geared toward a particular size of vial that can hold only about six doses. But Moderna’s vial is big enough to hold more than the 10 doses now allowed.

Asked about Moderna’s proposal, a White House spokesman on Monday said that “all options are on the table.”

Prashant Yadav, who studies health care supply chains with the Center for Global Development in Washington, said Moderna might be able to “relatively quickly” make more of its vaccine if it received the green light to add doses to each vial.

But he said it would not be an instant change. “I don’t think Moderna has a surplus sitting around,” he said.

Mr. Yadav said the finish-and-fill process is intensely automated, devoted to warding off contamination and precise to the microgram. At top speed, as many as 1,000 vials of vaccine can be filled per minute, he said.

He said a 15-dose vial carries a trade-off: It could lead to more wasted doses if the health care professional runs out of people to get inoculated and has to throw out the rest of the doses. But in the midst of a raging pandemic, experts said, that may well be a risk that federal health officials would be willing to take.

A medical worker preparing a syringe with the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at a vaccination center in a public hospital in Brasilia, Brazil, on Tuesday.
Credit…Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

A single dose of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca provided strong protection against Covid-19 in clinical trials when its second shots were delayed by at least three months, researchers reported on Tuesday.

The encouraging results, detailed by Oxford and AstraZeneca researchers in a manuscript that has not been peer-reviewed, lend support to the strategy deployed by Britain and other countries to prioritize providing as many first doses of vaccines as possible without worrying that people will get their second doses later than initially planned.

The latest data do not have bearing on the debate over whether to further space out the doses of the two vaccines authorized in the United States, those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, since the data on AstraZeneca’s candidate cannot be generalized to other vaccines.

Some scientists have called on the United States to follow the lead of Britain and other countries that have opted to delay the second doses of vaccines by up to 12 weeks. But U.S. federal officials have resisted, saying such a move would not be supported by the data from clinical trials of the two vaccines currently available across the nation. Tuesday’s results could amplify pressure on U.S. health officials to delay second doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, though it has not yet been authorized by the country.

The Oxford and AstraZeneca researchers found that a single dose of the vaccine was 76 percent effective at preventing Covid-19. The data measured the three months after the first shot was given, not including an initial three-week period needed for protection to take effect.

The vaccine appeared more effective when the interval between the two shots was longer than the originally intended four-week gap. Among clinical trial participants who got two standard-strength doses at least three months apart, the vaccine was 82 percent effective, compared to 55 percent effective when the doses were given less than six weeks apart.

A vaccination strategy that spaces out doses by three months “may be the optimal for rollout of a pandemic vaccine when supplies are limited in the short term,” the researchers wrote.

Tuesday’s results build on data released late last year, which found that the vaccine was 62 percent effective when given as two standard-strength doses. In those initial findings, the vaccine’s efficacy was much higher, at 90 percent, when the first dose of the vaccine was given at half-strength.

Oxford and AstraZeneca researchers initially attributed the different levels of effectiveness to the lower strength of the initial dose. But they gradually reached a different conclusion: the amount of time between doses was the more likely explanation.

The results on Tuesday were not entirely positive. The researchers also reported that a single dose of the vaccine did not protect against the virus spreading without symptoms. However, overall cases of any positive test for the coronavirus, whether symptomatic or not, were reduced by 67 percent with a single dose. The researchers said that pointed to “the potential for a substantial reduction in transmission.”

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration is waiting on data from a clinical trial that enrolled about 30,000 participants, mostly Americans. Results from that study are expected later this month.

The study is expected to arm AstraZeneca with enough safety data to allow it by around early March to seek authorization to provide the vaccine for emergency use.

The United States has agreed to buy 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, but neither the company nor the federal government has said when and in what quantities those doses will be available after the vaccine is approved.

Dining outdoors at Cafe du Soleil on the Upper West Side in Manhattan last month.
Credit…Clay Williams for The New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said on Tuesday that local governments could begin to provide coronavirus vaccines to restaurant workers, just one day after he dismissed a debate over expanding vaccine eligibility as “a cheap, insincere discussion.”

Taxi drivers and residents at facilities for the developmentally disabled can also be vaccinated, he said.

Mr. Cuomo linked the changes to an increase in the vaccine doses allocated to New York State by the federal government. On Tuesday, the Biden administration said it would bump the supply given to states by 5 percent, which resulted from an expected increase in manufacturing.

“Now there’s additional flexibility,” Mr. Cuomo said. “And I’m leaving it up to the local governments to make a determination of what fits their situation best.”

The debate over whether restaurant workers should be eligible for the vaccine was kicked off last week, when Mr. Cuomo said he would allow restaurants to New York City to resume indoor dining on Feb. 14.

The governor barred indoor dining in the city in December among concerns over a second wave of the coronavirus. At the time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had released recommendations that described eating at indoor restaurants as a “particularly high-risk” activity, and state contact tracing data suggested that restaurants and bars were the fifth main source of new infections in New York.

Still, while hospitalizations and the seven-day average positive test rate have been trending downward in recent weeks, both remain higher than they were when Mr. Cuomo closed the restaurants. New York City is at an extremely high risk level for coronavirus, according to an assessment by The New York Times and public health experts.

With indoor dining set to restart just as more infectious variants are spreading across the country, many were concerned that restaurant workers returning to their jobs would be putting themselves at increased risk.

On Monday, Mr. Cuomo dismissed the suggestion of expanding eligibility, saying the state did not have the vaccine supply necessary to loosen its criteria and that calling for it to do so was a “cheap, insincere discussion.”

“Yes, I would like to see restaurant workers eligible,” Mr. Cuomo said. “It makes total sense. But what does eligibility mean when you don’t have the supply necessary?»

On Tuesday morning, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City said that he believed that restaurant workers should be eligible to receive the vaccine immediately.

“Restaurant workers now are going to be in enclosed places with people eating and drinking,” Mr. de Blasio said. “Every doctor on this line or anyplace else will say that’s an area of concern.”

Researchers at Aalborg University in Denmark analyzing coronavirus samples for the variant B.1.1.7 last month.
Credit…Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix, via Reuters

A fast-spreading coronavirus variant first observed in Britain has gained a worrisome mutation that could make it harder to control with vaccines, Public Health England reported on Monday. And on Tuesday, a team of researchers reported an experiment suggesting that this mutation might make vaccines somewhat less effective against the variant.

The variant, known as B.1.1.7, first came to light in December. Researchers determined that it had rapidly become more common across Britain in just a couple of months.

Its spread appears to occur because of its improved ability to infect people. Experiments in test tubes suggest that some of its mutations allow the B.1.1.7 variant to hold on to cells more tightly than other coronaviruses.

Since B.1.1.7’s discovery in Britain, the variant has been reported in 72 other countries. The United States confirmed its first case of the B.1.1.7 variant on Dec. 29, but is conducting little of the genomic sequencing necessary to track the spread of new variants that have caused concern. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded 467 samples of the variant in 32 states. Officials in New York City said on Tuesday that they had identified 13 cases of the variant and were ramping up testing capacity to detect more.

In its latest analysis, Public Health England estimated that the variant’s rate of infection is 25 percent to 40 percent higher than that of other forms of the coronavirus. Some preliminary evidence suggests that it may also cause more deaths.

Several lines of evidence suggest that vaccines will work against the B.1.1.7 variant. On Thursday, the vaccine maker Novavax announced that its British trial found no evidence that B.1.1.7 could evade the vaccine’s defenses.

But in South Africa, where a variant called B.1.351 has surged to dominance, the Novavax and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have both been less effective in trials.

That variant has been reported in 31 countries so far. In the United States, it has turned up in Maryland and in South Carolina.

Scientists suspect that the B.1.351 variant’s partial escape from vaccines is largely thanks to a single mutation, called E484K. Experiments indicate that the E484K mutation makes it harder for antibodies to grab onto the virus and prevent it from entering cells.

Now it turns out that some B.1.1.7 coronaviruses in Britain also have the E484K mutation.

To search for new mutations, British researchers reviewed the 214,159 genomes of coronaviruses that the United Kingdom has sequenced as of Jan. 26. In its report, Public Health England said that they found 11 samples of the B.1.1.7 variant that also had the E484K mutation.

Since that analysis, more of these viruses have come to light. NextStrain, a website where scientists gather and analyze coronavirus genomes, now identifies 16 B.1.1.7 variants that carry the E484K mutation.

These B.1.1.7 coronaviruses gained the mutation thanks to random copying errors as they multiplied inside of people. The evolutionary tree of the coronaviruses suggests that 15 of the variants descend from one common ancestor that gained the E484K mutation. Meanwhile the sixteenth variant seems to have gained the same mutation on its own.

Commenting on Monday’s report, Kristian Andersen, a virologist at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said that it was impossible yet to say whether the E484K mutation would make these coronaviruses not only more contagious but more resistant to vaccines. “It’s much too early to speculate whether it will, so we’ll have to wait for data,” he said.

Just because the E484K mutation helps the B.1351 variant, the one initially found in South Africa, evade antibodies doesn’t mean it will do the same in other variants. That’s because mutations don’t have a fixed effect. The impact of a single new mutation to a virus depends on the other mutations that the variant already carries.

But in a report posted online Tuesday, Rajiv Gupta, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, and his colleagues reported an experiment they ran to address exactly this question. They combined the E484K mutation with other key mutations found in the B.1.1.7 variant, the one initially found in Britain. The addition of the E484K mutation made it difficult for antibodies to block the viruses. The researchers wrote that they “observed a significant loss of neutralizing activity.”

However, Dr. Gupta and his colleagues used antibodies taken from people who had received just the first of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. It remains to be seen whether the B.1.1.7 variant with the new mutation, E484K, can evade antibodies after a full vaccination.

Nicholas Davies, a mathematical biologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, cautioned that with so few of these new coronaviruses, it’s hard to say whether they will become more common than ordinary B.1.1.7 variant.

But it is striking that the same mutation, E484K, has now been documented arising several times in Britain, as well as in South Africa. Meanwhile, in Brazil, yet another variant has also gained the same E484K mutation on its own.

Dr. Davies speculated that the mutation may give the virus an advantage when it is spreading in populations where a lot of people have already been sick with Covid-19. It may be able to evade their antibodies to other variants. “E484K may well convey a fitness advantage in settings where there is existing immunity,” Dr. Davies said.

If so, the virus may be providing the world with a dangerous new example of a common theme in evolution. A good solution can arise more than once — such as flight, which evolved in birds, bats, and insects. Evolutionary biologists call this repeated pattern convergence.

“It’s not great to see this mutation in the B.1.1.7 lineage, although I think it’s no surprise at all,” said Dr. Andersen. “We should expect that to happen.”

Dr. Gupta argued on Twitter that the best defense against this convergence is vaccination. By making it harder for coronaviruses to get from person to person, they will have fewer chances to gain the E484K mutation or other dangerous changes.

“We need to continue vaccinating and drive down transmission,” Dr. Gupta wrote.

Administering the Sputnik V vaccine in Moscow last month. A report in the medical journal The Lancet showed that the shots appeared to be safe and did not cause serious side effects.
Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

A vaccine developed in Russia, Sputnik V, has been shown to have 91.6 percent efficacy against the coronavirus, according to an analysis published in the medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday.

The peer-reviewed results, based on a clinical trial conducted on nearly 22,000 people, showed that the Sputnik V vaccine appeared to be safe and did not cause serious side effects, according to The Lancet, an early vindication for Russia, which faced international skepticism after the vaccine was approved without the release of data regarding clinical trials.

The results bring the number of vaccines whose efficacy is higher than 90 percent to three, and will leave Russia well positioned to deliver a cheap vaccine at home and abroad — two shots of the Sputnik V vaccine are necessary, each costing $10. The Sputnik V shots also do not need the deep cold storage that can make some other vaccines logistically challenging to use widely.

The study comes after the vaccine’s developer, the Gamaleya Research Institute, which is part of the Russian Health Ministry, announced in December that the vaccine showed 91.4 percent efficacy.

When a Russian health care regulator approved the vaccine in August, becoming the first in the world to do so even though the shots had yet to complete clinical trials, experts raised concerns that the authorities were trying to hastily approve a vaccine without due safeguards.

But researchers at the Gamaleya Institute had gone ahead months earlier: The head of the team that developed the Sputnik V vaccine, Denis Logunov, along with some colleagues, administered the vaccine to themselves as early as April, according to a New Yorker investigation.

Ian Jones of the University of Reading and Polly Roy of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who are both virology professors, wrote in The Lancet, “The development of the Sputnik V vaccine has been criticized for unseemly haste, corner cutting, and an absence of transparency.”

“But,” they added, “the outcome reported here is clear and the scientific principle of vaccination is demonstrated.”

Russia began its vaccination campaign in December, and around 50 countries have pre-ordered the vaccine. Use of the Sputnik V vaccine in more than a dozen countries, including Algeria, Hungary, Iran and Venezuela, is set to begin this week.

In December, the Gamaleya Institute announced that it had partnered with the drug maker AstraZeneca to try to combine their vaccines and see if the mixture could increase efficacy.

A Covid-19 patient from Lisbon arrived at a hospital in Funchal, on the island of Madeira, Portugal, on Friday.
Credit…Duarte Sa/Reuters

Portugal, struggling to contain an outbreak that has led to the highest death rate in Europe, has rapidly filled the beds in intensive care units established for Covid-19 patients and is being forced to create spaces by diverting spaces meant for other critical care patients.

With emergency rooms overwhelmed, particularly in the capital region of Lisbon, hospitals have asked patients to try to treat themselves at home, and the government has reached out to other European countries for assistance.

Some patients have also been airlifted to island hospitals or moved to hospitals in regions not as badly affected.

For those who do show up at hospitals in Lisbon, they are finding a system on the brink, with scores of people lining up outside and waiting to be diagnosed in idling ambulances parked outside.

“We are managing the full capacity of the country,” Pedro Siza Vieira, the Portuguese economy minister, said in a phone interview on Tuesday. While new infections appeared to be falling in some regions, the outbreak in Lisbon was still raging.

“We are looking at a couple of weeks that will be difficult,” he added.

Mr. Siza Vieira himself contracted Covid-19 last month, and about a third of the government’s ministers have also caught the illness recently, or had to isolate after being in contact with a person who had Covid-19.

Portugal, a nation of about 10 million on the Iberian Peninsula, is in the grips of its worst crisis of the pandemic, and 5,000 people died in January.

During the first wave of Covid-19, Portugal was one of the success stories of Europe, after applying a strict lockdown that helped keep its death toll low, particularly in comparison with neighboring Spain.

But since Christmas, Portugal has faced a surge in infections and fatalities.

Government officials have said that the crisis has been amplified by the spread of the Covid-19 variant first discovered in Britain. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of Portugal told a recent news conference that the variant accounted for more than 50 percent of new infections in his country.

Mr. Siza Vieira, the economy minister, said on Tuesday, “We don’t have evidence of the Brazilian variant being significantly active in Portugal while we have evidence that the U.K. variant explains more than half of new cases, particularly in the Lisbon area.”

However, British officials have expressed their own concern about the spread in Portugal of the variant first discovered in Brazil, leading Britain to announce travel restrictions on its European neighbor.

The travel ban was part of wave of new border closures around the world as countries raced to vaccinate their populations while trying to limit the spread of new variants.

Whatever is driving infections in Portugal, new cases are only now starting to show signs of slowing after a national lockdown was reinstated in mid-January.

The defense minister in Germany, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said that the country was preparing to dispatch army personnel and equipment to Portugal, noting that all of those deployed would be vaccinated.

And Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of Austria announced on Twitter that his country would welcome some patients transferred from Portugal, without detailing how many.

Ricardo Baptista Leite, an opposition lawmaker in Portugal who is also a medical doctor and head of the public health department at the Catholic University of Portugal, said he was grateful for the support.

“We now have international aid coming in to try to save as many lives as we can,” he said. “But the time will come to assess what went wrong.”

Health care workers at a drive-through vaccination site in Miami last month.
Credit…Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Although low-income communities of color have been affected disproportionately by the coronavirus, health officials in many cities say that people from wealthier, largely white neighborhoods have been flooding vaccination appointment systems and taking an outsize share of the limited supply.

People in underserved neighborhoods have been tripped up by a confluence of obstacles, including registration phone lines and websites that can take hours to navigate, and lack of transportation or time off from jobs to get to appointments. And skepticism about the shots continues to be pronounced in Black and Latino communities, depressing sign-up rates.

Early vaccination data is incomplete, but it points to the divide. In the first weeks of the rollout, 12 percent of people inoculated in Philadelphia have been Black, in a city whose population is 44 percent Black. In Miami-Dade County, only about 7 percent of the vaccine recipients have been Black, even though Black residents make up nearly 17 percent of the population and are dying from Covid-19 at a rate that is more than 60 percent higher than that of white people.

In data released last weekend for New York City, white people had received nearly half of the doses, while Black and Latino residents were starkly underrepresented based on their share of the population.

And in Washington, D.C., 40 percent of the nearly 7,000 appointments initially made available to people 65 and older were taken by residents of its wealthiest and whitest ward, which is in the city’s upper northwest section and has had only 5 percent of its Covid-19 deaths.

Alarmed, many cities are trying to rectify inequities. Baltimore, for example, will offer shots in housing complexes for older adults, going door to door.

“The key with the mobile approach is you can get a lot of hard-hit folks at the same time — if we just get enough supply to do that,” said the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa.

Officials in Wake County, N.C., which includes Raleigh, are first attempting to reach people 75 and over who live in nine ZIP codes that have had the highest rates of Covid-19. “We weren’t going to prioritize those who simply had the fastest internet service or best cell provider and got through fastest and first,” said Stacy Beard, a county spokeswoman.

Fixing the problem is tricky, however. Officials fear that singling out neighborhoods for priority access could invite lawsuits alleging race preference. To a large extent, the ability of localities to address inequities depends on how much control they have over their own vaccine allocations and whether their political leadership aligns with that of supervising county or state authorities.

The experiences of Dallas and the District of Columbia, for example, have resulted in very different outcomes. Dallas County, predominantly Democratic, has been thwarted by the state health department, under the aegis of a Republican governor, which quashed the county’s plan to give vaccines to certain minority neighborhoods first. But Washington was able to quickly change its course.

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said he would vote to move forward with the budget process.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Democrats took the first step on Tuesday to push through President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, using a budgetary maneuver that could eventually allow the measure to become law without Republican support.

“We are not going to dilute, dither or delay,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on the Senate floor. “There’s nothing about the process itself that prevents bipartisanship.”

Still, the move set the stage for Democrats to advance Mr. Biden’s plan through budget reconciliation, which would allow it to pass with a simple majority vote, bypassing the need for Republican support. It came the day after 10 Republican senators met at the White House with Mr. Biden seeking a smaller, $618 billion package they said could win bipartisan backing.

Shortly after Mr. Schumer announced the action, which would allow for passage of a budget resolution as soon as Friday, a key Democratic swing vote announced he would support it.

Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, said he would vote to move forward with the budget process “because we must address the urgency of the Covid-19 crisis.”

“But let me be clear — and these are words I shared with President Biden — our focus must be targeted on the Covid-19 crisis and Americans who have been most impacted by this pandemic,” Mr. Manchin said in a statement. “I will only support proposals that will get us through and end the pain of this pandemic.”

The budget resolution would instruct congressional committees to draft legislation that could include Mr. Biden’s stimulus proposal, which includes $1,400 direct payments for many Americans, funding for vaccine distribution, reopening schools and other measures. The committees would work on finalizing the plan at the same time as the Senate is scheduled to hold an impeachment trial of former President Donald J. Trump on charges that he incited the mob attack on the Capitol.

But even though Mr. Schumer said Democrats “want this important work to be bipartisan,” Republicans balked at his move, saying it reflected an unwillingness to compromise.

“It’s not a good signal that he’s adopting a take-it-or-leave-it approach right after his president delivers an inaugural address based on unity,” said Senator Todd Young, Republican of Indiana and one of the senators who spent two hours on Monday meeting with Mr. Biden.

Senator Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky and the minority leader, said the group of 10 who met with the president came away from the White House believing Mr. Biden was more interested in compromise than his staff or Mr. Schumer.

“They’ve chosen a totally partisan path,” Mr. McConnell said of Senate Democrats.

More than 100 Democratic lawmakers are also urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Mr. Schumer to repeal a business tax break as part of the economic aid package. The tax cuts in question — which center on so-called net operating losses — were included in a rescue bill Congress passed in March 2020, as the pandemic spread and the nation was in the midst of a recession.

On Tuesday, an influential business group that had welcomed Mr. Biden’s initial proposal urged him to work with Republicans on a compromise — and to scale back his plans, including providing less aid for the unemployed and scrapping a call for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In a four-page letter to Mr. Biden and congressional leaders, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said lawmakers should prioritize money for vaccine distribution, school reopening and child care facilities in their economic aid package. It urged them to tie additional months of assistance for the long-term unemployed to economic conditions in states, cutting off aid when the economy improves, and to provide less aid to unemployed workers than Mr. Biden has proposed.

The Chamber also pushed Mr. Biden to reduce the number of Americans eligible to receive direct payments, as the Republican group has proposed.

Volunteers delivering testing kits in Woking, England, on Tuesday. The authorities are hoping that screening will help to track down a coronavirus variant, first found in South Africa, that has also surfaced in areas of Britain.
Credit…Leon Neal/Getty Images

LONDON — Britain, painfully aware of the dangers posed by mutations of the coronavirus after a variant fueled a surge in deaths this winter, has sounded a full-scale alarm over the detection of another variant, this one first registered in South Africa.

In one of the largest concerted testing efforts in the country since the outbreak of the pandemic, the British authorities dispatched mobile units and began testing for 80,000 residents living in areas where the variant had been detected. Free home testing kits left in mailboxes, mobile testing teams going door to door, and new screening sites were among the measures instituted across the affected regions.

As of Monday, health officials had identified 105 cases of the variant in Britain, including in London, with 11 of them not linked to international travel.

Britain, a world leader in genomic surveillance, is well placed to find mutations.

The country has submitted nearly half of the genomes held in a global library run by the nonprofit Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data.

That early alarm system is now being put to the test.

Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, said on Monday: “There’s currently no evidence to suggest this variant is any more severe. But we need to come down on it hard, and we will.” He urged residents in the affected areas to stay at home and to get tested. “This is so important so we can break the chains of transmission of this new variant,” he added.

The plan is for researchers to sequence the entire genome of any coronavirus infections found, looking for mutations. About two mutations are fixed in the virus per month, said Ewan Harrison, a director at Covid-19 Genomics UK Consortium, a research group of health agencies and academic institutions. He noted that with more people being infected and receiving vaccines, there would be selective pressures on the virus, causing it to adapt.

“We know these mutations may make the virus more capable of surviving in presences of antibodies from people who already had a Covid infection,” Mr. Harrison noted.

The variant found in South Africa has prompted extra concern after laboratory tests suggested it might be more resistant to some vaccines.

Roy Anderson, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said that because the variant was already circulating in the community, probably more widely than has so far been detected, it would be hard to nip in the bud.

“It will be very challenging, indeed, to stop it,” he said. But, he added, “You’ve got to try something.”

Britain, which is still under lockdown, has not been very successful in tracking the virus in the past. After the pandemic’s first wave last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a “world beating” contact-tracing program that aimed to help control the virus’s spread, but a New York Times investigation found that the effort was rolled out too quickly, had poorly trained staff, and suffered from technical glitches.

Susan Hopkins, a senior medical adviser at Public Health England, said that British scientists still expected the available vaccines to reduce hospitalizations and death for those infected with the variant. But they might be less effective, she said.

Professor Anderson of Imperial College said that the emergence of variants added to the urgency of developing vaccines that could easily be adapted or that addressed several variants of the virus at once. “There are going to be lots of other types of this virus emerging,” he said. “It is a taste of what’s to come.”

Flames near a property under construction in Perth, Australia, on Tuesday.
Credit…Paul Kane/Getty Images

MELBOURNE, Australia — Just days after residents of Perth, Australia’s fourth-largest city, were ordered to stay in because of the coronavirus, some were forced to flee their homes on Tuesday as a ferocious wildfire bore down on the city’s outskirts.

The blaze northeast of Perth, which began on Monday and was fueled by hot, dry and windy conditions, was out of control by about 2 a.m. on Tuesday, officials said. Residents described a confused scramble in the middle of the night, as they were unsure where they were supposed to go in light of the lockdown rules.

“We wish it would be either one or the other, not both,” Gemma Martin, a 33-year-old hospitality worker who fled with her three children, said of the fire and the lockdown.

By Tuesday afternoon, close to 20,000 acres had been razed and dozens of properties had been destroyed.

“It’s still a very, very active and very aggressive fire and very much out of control,” said Kevin Bailey, mayor of the City of Swan, a region within the Perth metropolitan area where the blaze had done the most damage.

The fire, reminiscent of the infernos that devoured Australia’s southeast coast more than a year ago, is another reminder that as climate change spurs more frequent and intense natural disasters, Australia and other countries are likely to find themselves dealing with intersecting catastrophes.

Perth and the surrounding area were put on a strict lockdown on Sunday because of a single coronavirus case, the first one outside quarantine in the state of Western Australia in almost 10 months. The wildfire started around noon the next day, sparked by a house fire, according to Mr. Bailey, the mayor.

Ms. Martin said that while the dual disasters were overwhelming, “if anything, last year taught us to be grateful for what we do have, and to be resilient.”

Lowering the coffin of a coronavirus victim during a funeral at a graveyard in New Delhi in August.
Credit…Xavier Galiana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

NEW DELHI — Mayandi Soundara Raj, an engineer pictured astride a motorcycle, was “a perfect husband” to his wife until he died on July 10.

Arkadipta Basu, who died on Sept. 17, showered her family with “love and affection,” according to Anindya Basu, her husband.

“I couldn’t keep my promise to be with you forever,” he writes under a photograph of her in a bright red sari.

Mr. Raj and Ms. Basu are among those memorialized on a new website dedicated to India’s coronavirus victims, who number more than 154,000.

At the height of India’s outbreak last fall, more than 1,000 people were dying every day. As in many other places, pandemic restrictions often meant that friends and family members were unable to attend funerals or be present for last rites.

“As a society, we probably couldn’t provide them the dignity in which we would have loved to bid them a farewell,” said Abhijit Chowdhury of the Covid Care Network, a nonprofit group in the eastern city of Kolkata that established the site.

The group says it hopes that the memorials will broadly represent India’s population, and invites submissions online that are verified with death certificates. “We are initiating this, but we hope this becomes a place where everybody in the country could join,” Mr. Chowdhury said.

India appears to be experiencing something of a breather in its outbreak. The country has registered more than 10 million total cases, the second-highest tally in the world, after that of the United States, according to a New York Times database. Compared with almost 100,000 cases a day last fall, India now has a seven-day average of about 12,000 new daily infections. The country of 1.3 billion people has also begun one of the world’s largest inoculation campaigns, with about 3.9 million health care workers having received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine by Tuesday afternoon.

Researchers say the true toll of the pandemic in India is still unclear because many deaths go unreported.

“We still have to be careful,” said K. Srinath Reddy, a public health expert and president of the New Delhi-based Public Health Foundation of India.

“New mutants have come in, and we have to make sure the gains are not lost.”

Andrew Yang in the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn after announcing his candidacy for mayor in January. He had been campaigning extensively in person despite the pandemic.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

Andrew Yang, who ran for president last year and is now a leading New York City mayoral candidate, announced on Tuesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“After testing negative as recently as this weekend, today I took a Covid rapid test and received a positive result,” Mr. Yang said in a statement. “I am experiencing mild symptoms, but am otherwise feeling well and in good spirits. I will quarantine in accordance with public health guidelines and follow the advice of my doctor.”

More than perhaps any rival in the race, Mr. Yang has been campaigning extensively in person despite the pandemic, holding numerous events outdoors since announcing his candidacy last month.

His approach has generated voter enthusiasm and attracted media attention, but with clear risks. A member of his staff tested positive less than a week after he announced his candidacy.

An entrepreneur with no previous experience in electoral politics, Mr. Yang mounted a long-shot bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 that raised his public profile and won him many fans, especially among younger voters. But he never became a significant factor in the race, and dropped out after the New Hampshire primary.

In his statement on Tuesday, Mr. Yang said, “I will continue to attend as many virtual events as possible,” and said he looked forward to hitting the trail again “when the time is right.” He said his campaign has begun the contract-tracing process.

Joseph Cruz, a pharmacy manager, preparing a dose of Pfizer’s vaccine at a community center in Teaneck, N.J., last month.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

The drug maker Pfizer expects its Covid-19 vaccine to generate $15 billion in revenue this year, executives said Tuesday on a call with investors to discuss the company’s fourth-quarter earnings in 2020.

Pfizer and other companies have struggled to keep up with the demand for their vaccines, as the United States and countries around the world are scrambling to vaccinate as many people as possible to combat the spread of more contagious variants.

In comments to investors on Tuesday, the company’s chief executive, Dr. Albert Bourla, said Pfizer had delivered 29 million doses to the United States by the end of January, and 65 million doses worldwide, and that it expected to manufacture up to 2 billion doses by the end of the year. It shares profits with BioNTech, the German company that developed the vaccine.

Dr. Bourla also said Pfizer now expects to deliver the 200 million doses, for about $4 billion, that it had promised to the United States two months ahead of time, by May instead of July. That accelerated timeline can be attributed in large part to Pfizer now counting six doses in every vial of vaccine that it ships instead of five — after health care providers learned they could extract an additional dose using special syringes.

“We foresee no issues with delivering the commitments we have made,” Dr. Bourla said.

And, in an indication that the coronavirus may be here to stay, Dr. Bourla said he expects the vaccine to become a standard part of its business, given the likely need for booster shots to address waning immunity to the virus as well as variants that could reduce its effectiveness.

Pfizer has said that preliminary tests of its vaccine against more contagious variants have shown that it continues to be effective, but suggested that a third shot of the same vaccine may be needed, and the company has also not ruled out changing its vaccine to address the new variants. Moderna, which has developed a similar vaccine, has said it is already working on an adapted booster shot.

“We believe it is increasingly likely that a durable Covid-19 vaccine revenue stream, like is happening in flu, is a potential outcome,” Dr. Bourla said.


The Justice Ministry in Taiwan said a man was undergoing quarantine at a friend’s home when he was abducted by debt collectors who mistook him for his friend.
Credit…David Chang/EPA, via Shutterstock

TAIPEI, Taiwan — When the authorities in Taiwan believed a man had breached mandatory quarantine rules, they acted swiftly to issue a fine of $3,500.

But in a pandemic-era twist on a classic case of mistaken identity, it turned out that the man, surnamed Chen, did not violate the rules at all.

He had in fact been kidnapped by debt collectors.

Mr. Chen had returned from Hong Kong in late October and was undergoing the required two-week quarantine at a friend’s home in the central city of Nantou when a group of debt collectors showed up one night, the Justice Ministry in Taiwan said last week. The men mistook Mr. Chen for his friend, who owed them money, then assaulted and abducted him.

Reached by telephone on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Justice Ministry said that the kidnappers brought Mr. Chen back to his friend’s home after holding him for several hours. His father reported the abduction to the police, and Mr. Chen was arrested and fined about $3,500 for violating the quarantine regulations.

Later, local officials investigating the situation found that Mr. Chen had been forced to leave his quarantine premises against his will and agreed to rescind the fine.

They said it was the first time that a virus-related penalty had been revoked.

Taiwan has imposed fines of up to tens of thousands of dollars on people who were found to have breached their mandatory quarantines, including around $33,000 for one man who went out one night last year to go clubbing.

The debt collectors have not yet been caught, according to the Justice Ministry spokesperson.

In other global developments:

  • Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan said on Tuesday that the state of emergency in Tokyo and nine other prefectures would be extended by one month, to March 7. Mr. Suga said that while new infections had declined from their peak last month, the health care system was still strained.

Signage for Super Bowl LV outside Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Monday.
Credit…Eve Edelheit for The New York Times

Like everything else in the year since the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Fla., has been adapted to Covid-19 health guidelines and scaled down. While the football being played on Sunday will look largely the same as in other years, nearly everything else surrounding the Super Bowl will be different:

  • Players are being tested even more. Players, coaches and members of each team’s staff have been tested for Covid-19 daily throughout the season. Since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs qualified for the Super Bowl on Jan. 24, team personnel have been tested for coronavirus twice daily, and the teams have not had a positive test in more than three weeks. However, two Chiefs players — receiver Demarcus Robinson and center Daniel Kilgore — came in close contact with an infected person and must isolate for at least five days, Coach Andy Reid confirmed on Monday.

  • Fewer fans will attend the game. This year, the N.F.L. will host fewer than 25,000 fans, a record low for a Super Bowl and less than half the capacity of Raymond James Stadium, where the game will be played. The league has given 7,500 tickets to vaccinated health care workers. Another 14,500 seats will be sold to fans who won’t be required to be inoculated or tested before entering the stadium, and another 2,700 fans will sit in luxury boxes. Every fan attending the game will receive a kit that includes personal protective equipment, including a KN95 mask and hand sanitizer.

  • TV commercials will be toned down. Television commercials during the Super Bowl can often attract more attention than the game itself. This year, some of the broadcast’s biggest sponsors, like Coca-Cola and Hyundai, have decided not to spend millions of dollars for 30-second spots. Younger companies like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Vroom will still be vying for attention, though.

Captain Tom Moore at his home in September.
Credit…Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Tom Moore, the 100-year-old British Army veteran whose charity walks raised $45 million and made him a national symbol of pluck during the coronavirus pandemic, died on Tuesday.

His death was announced on his Twitter account.

Mr. Moore, nicknamed Captain Tom by the British press, had been treated for pneumonia in recent weeks and tested positive for the coronavirus last month, his daughter, Hannah Ingram-Moore, said on Twitter on Sunday. He was taken to a hospital because he needed help breathing, she said, and his condition then deteriorated.

Dapper, spry and droll, Mr. Moore ambled his way into the hearts of people across Britain 82 steps at a time — the number it took to cover the length of a brick patio beside his garden in Marston Moretaine, a village an hour north of London. He did 100 laps before turning 100 last April. With backing from donors including Prince William, who called him a “one-man fund-raising machine,” Mr. Moore quickly raised 32.8 million pounds, or $45 million, for the National Health Service.

In the process, Mr. Moore became a pop-culture phenomenon, with television appearances, a book deal, a chart-topping song and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II, 94, who came out of seclusion to bestow the honor in July.

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