With federal regulators still deciding on expanding eligibility to all adults for Pfizer-BioNTech boosters, some U.S. states are broadening access. In Hong Kong, the head of JPMorgan Chase received a quarantine exemption.
Fully vaccinated people will be allowed to gather in Times Square for New Year’s Eve.
Some states aren’t waiting for the U.S. government to authorize boosters for all adults.
Amazon agrees to pay $500,000 in California over claims that it hid Covid-19 cases from workers.
Over 10,000 Australians seek compensation over vaccines, despite low reports of adverse effects.
Basque region restricts gatherings as cases rise again in parts of Spain.
Hong Kong exempts JPMorgan Chase’s chief from its lengthy quarantine.
Pfizer will allow its Covid pill to be made and sold cheaply in poor countries.
The worst of both worlds: Zooming from the office.
New York City will welcome crowds back to Times Square this New Year’s Eve, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday, as long as they provide proof that they are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. After a pared-down celebration last year, the longtime tradition of the ball drop at midnight will return to the city “at full strength,” he said.
“We want to welcome all those hundreds of thousands of folks, but everyone needs to be vaccinated,” Mr. de Blasio said during a news conference. “Join the crowd, join the joy, join a historic moment as New York City provides further evidence to the world that we are 100 percent back.”
Attendees who are unable to provide proof of vaccination because of a disability will have to show that they received a negative coronavirus test within 72 hours of the event, and children younger than 5 will have to be accompanied by someone with proof of vaccination. Vaccines are available in the United States to those ages 5 and older. Masks will be required for those who are unable to get vaccinated, said Tom Harris, the president of the Times Square Alliance.
The plans are being announced with enough lead time for people to get fully vaccinated, Mr. de Blasio said. In response to questions about why vaccination would be required for the ball drop when it is not required at other outdoor activities in the city, such as outdoor dining and concerts, Mr. de Blasio said a crowded, hourslong event drawing people from around the world required greater precaution.
“When you’re outdoors with a few hundred thousand people packed close together for hours on end, it’s a different reality,” Mr. de Blasio said. “You’re talking about a lot of people really close for long periods of time. It makes sense to protect everyone.”
The announcement comes as Mr. de Blasio is preparing for his successor, Eric Adams, to take over as the next mayor of New York City, and the ball drop will coincide with Mr. de Blasio’s final day in office. That will leave any fallout from the event in the hands of Mr. Adams, who will be inaugurated on Jan. 1, 2022.
Several public health experts have warned that with the constantly changing nature of the coronavirus, it is difficult to predict where the city might be in terms of cases by the end of the year.
“It’s not going to be perfect,” said Denis Nash, a professor of epidemiology for the City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. “We have to assume there will be people with Covid mixing among the revelers outdoors.”
Nor is the risk limited to Times Square. Attendees will also have to consider what happens on the way to the ball drop, with people going in and out of nearby bars and restaurants to eat, get warm and use the restroom.
And with some major restrictions against international travelers recently eased by the United States, the ball drop is likely to attract partygoers from around the country and the world, drawing together people from areas of both lower and higher rates of the virus.
Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at New York University, said she would still urge attendees to exercise caution when deciding whether or not to go.
“I understand that people are so over this pandemic, and people are getting vaccinated and our vaccination rates are high,” Ms. Ompad said. “But I still think it is important to be cautious.”
Wafaa El-Sadr, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University, expressed similar concerns: “I would say, ‘I’ll wait for another year and choose to watch it from home.’”
Other major cities around the world have nixed their New Year’s Eve celebrations. In October, London’s mayor said that the city’s end-of-year fireworks display would be canceled and replaced with a different kind of celebration, while Amsterdam canceled its celebrations this week in response to a surge in cases.
Munich has also canceled its celebrated Christmas market, which was set to be held from next Monday through Christmas Eve. “The dramatic situation in our hospitals and the exponentially increasing infection figures leave me no other choice,” the city’s mayor, Dieter Reiter, told reporters on Tuesday.
Christopher F. Schuetze and Dan Levin contributed reporting.
— Ashley Wong
Arkansas has joined Colorado, California and New Mexico in broadening access to Covid-19 boosters, getting ahead of federal regulators who are close to making a decision on expanded eligibility.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at a news conference on Monday that he had directed the Arkansas health department to issue new guidelines on boosters to allow all adults to get one, provided that they met the timing rules.
State leaders have found themselves in a conundrum since August, when regulators halted President Biden’s plan to make boosters available to all adults. The leaders have had to decide: Do they wait for a federal directive, or do they make their own vaccination rules?
The decisions they make are more timely than ever, as the United States braces for a possible winter surge. As of Monday night, reported new cases in the United States had averaged nearly 85,000 a day for the past week, a 14 percent increase from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times database. Reported new deaths are down 14 percent, to 1,129 a day; hospitalizations have decreased 7 percent and are averaging more than 46,000 a day.
And in Europe, whose Covid trends are often a harbinger of those in the United States, a fourth case wave has been driven by the unvaccinated.
Four states, including Arkansas, aren’t waiting for a federal decision on boosters, and on Monday New York City became one of the first major cities to tell all adults to get a booster if they wanted one.
In Arkansas, a spokeswoman for the state’s health department said it had updated its recommendations and would be advising health care providers that they could administer the boosters to an expanded pool of adults.
“What we’re finding is that we want more people to get their booster shot and that this is somewhat confusing and limiting as to the eligibility,” Mr. Hutchinson said, adding, “We’re changing that.”
However, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office said that Mr. Hutchinson had no plans to issue an executive order to expand booster eligibility.
According to the health department guidelines, Arkansas adults are now eligible for the vaccine booster if it has been at least six months since their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or at least two since they received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
A growing body of early global research has shown that the vaccines remain highly protective against hospitalization and death, but that their effectiveness against infection wanes over time. Public health experts say this does not mean the vaccines are not working.
Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech requested that the Food and Drug Administration expand eligibility of their booster to all adults, a request that the agency is expected to grant before the winter holiday season.
Before a formal recommendation from the federal authorities, several other states have expanded booster eligibility.
The governors of Colorado and New Mexico signed executive orders last week expanding eligibility to all adults, and in California the state’s public health director issued a letter last week saying anyone 18 or over was eligible. The authorities in New York and West Virginia on Monday encouraged all adults to get the booster but stopped short of a formal policy change.
— Alyssa Lukpat and Dan Levin
Amazon has agreed to pay $500,000 to help enforce California’s consumer protection laws after the company was accused of concealing Covid-19 case numbers from its workers, officials said on Monday.
The judgment, which is subject to court approval, is the first of its kind nationwide and is in line with a California “right to know” law that was designed to keep workers safe during the pandemic, according to a news release from the attorney general’s office.
Under the arrangement, Amazon must also tell its warehouse workers within a day about the exact number of new Covid-19 cases in their workplaces, ensure that notifications adequately inform workers of the company’s disinfection and safety plans, tell health officials about new cases and submit to monitoring by the attorney general’s office regarding its Covid-19 notifications.
“We’re glad to have this resolved,” Barbara Agrait, a spokeswoman for Amazon, said in an emailed statement. She said the attorney general’s office “found no substantive issues with the safety measures in our buildings,” only with technical aspects of how the company communicated broadly with its workers.
“We’ve worked hard from the beginning of the pandemic to keep our employees safe and deliver for our customers — incurring more than $15 billion in costs to date — and we’ll keep doing that in months and years ahead,” Ms. Agrait said.
A complaint filed in Superior Court in Sacramento maintained that Amazon’s actions had prevented employees and the public from gaining full access to information regarding Covid-19 cases.
The state’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, said that such information was crucial for workers making difficult decisions regarding their health in the pandemic.
“Amazon’s practices led to workers not knowing if they had been potentially exposed to two, 20 or even 200 cases of Covid-19,” he said at a news conference on Monday. “This left many workers understandably terrified and powerless to make informed decisions to protect themselves and to protect their loved ones.”
“No corporation is too big to follow the law,” Mr. Bonta said. “This is a huge win for the safety and health of Amazon’s tens of thousands of warehouse workers, their families and our communities throughout this state.”
He said that the judgment sent a clear message that businesses must comply with the law, and that it was particularly important as the busy holiday season approached.
— Derrick Bryson Taylor
More than 10,000 Australians have registered for compensation claims linked to complications from coronavirus vaccinations, a situation that could leave the government paying out tens of millions of dollars in public money for rare occurrences of serious problems.
A government program will offer no-fault payouts for factors including extended periods of missed work, and the minimum amount for such claims is 5,000 Australian dollars ($3,670). Applicants will be expected to provide medical bills and other evidence, and the registration surge has already occurred a month before an online portal launches.
In a country where nearly 85 percent of residents over 16 have been fully vaccinated against the virus, the Australia’s main medical regulator has recorded 78,880 adverse events said to be linked to Covid vaccination. That amounts to just 0.21 percent of the nearly 38 million doses given to over 18 million people in the country by early November.
Most of those adverse events involved mild side effects like headache, nausea and sore arms. The regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, has received 288 reports of heart inflammation among people who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as well as 160 reported instances of a rare clotting complication linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The regulator noted in a report last week that new illnesses or deaths within a few days or weeks of inoculation were “often coincidental, rather than being caused by the vaccine.” Nine deaths have been linked to Australia’s inoculation program, nearly all of them among people age 65 or older.
It is unclear how a few hundred recorded cases of adverse effects have led to 10,000 registrations of interest in the compensation program. For the most part, Australia’s vaccination program has been a slow and then rapid success: After initial setbacks, an outbreak of the Delta variant pushed the country to move quickly to vaccinate its population.
The country’s two largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, recently emerged from lengthy lockdowns, and case numbers have been declining nationwide to fewer than 1,500 per day.
— Damien Cave
Spain’s Basque region on Tuesday announced new restrictions on gatherings to control its latest coronavirus wave, after months in which Spain stood out as a country that had largely reined in the pandemic, in particular thanks to a high vaccination rate.
The virus has spread unevenly in Spain in recent weeks, and the infection rates in the Basque region and neighboring Navarra are now more than twice the national average. Lawmakers in the worst-hit regions are leading a nationwide debate over whether Spain should reintroduce more restrictions to prevent a serious Covid-19 resurgence this winter.
The Basque regional government said that all areas in which the infection rate exceeds 150 cases per 100,000 inhabitants should suspend mass events and other gatherings, in particular those where food and drinks were served and where social distancing could not be guaranteed. The region’s 14-day average infection rate climbed just above 180 per 100,000 inhabitants this weekend, compared with a nationwide rate on Monday of 82 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to Spain’s health ministry.
The regional government said it would also ask the Basque judiciary to mandate proof of Covid-19 vaccination for people seeking to enter restaurants and nightclubs.
“We are not doing well,” Gotzone Sagardui, the regional health minister, told a news conference, adding that the virus was again spreading “with a worrying speed of growth.”
Spain’s health regulators lowered the country’s status to “low risk” in October after a plunge in the nationwide infection rate from a summer peak of over 700 cases per 100,000 inhabitants in late July. That improvement was largely attributed to a successful vaccination campaign, and 79 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.
Booster shots are now being given to people who are over 70 or living in nursing homes, and Spain’s government is expected to soon offer vaccinations to children under 12.
At the same time, however, the country’s pandemic response has recently involved a patchwork of restrictions put in place by regional governments, which are responsible for health care.
Iñigo Urkullu, the Basque region’s leader, has led a push to require vaccination in certain business sectors — as has happened sweepingly in Italy and some other countries — and has urged Spain’s central government to set nationwide rules.
Ximo Puig, the leader of the eastern region of Valencia, also said recently that his government was considering whether to require vaccination passes for entry into some venues.
— Raphael Minder
Hong Kong has granted Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, an exemption from one of the toughest pandemic quarantines in the world.
Mr. Dimon this week became the first head of a Wall Street bank to visit the city since the beginning of the pandemic. He was in town on Monday and Tuesday to meet with employees and regulators.
Even as other places loosen travel restrictions, Hong Kong has stuck with its lengthy quarantine mandates for most visitors, leaving little room for exceptions. The last public figure to be granted an exemption in Hong Kong was Nicole Kidman, whose visit to film a television series about rich expatriates prompted outcries, including debate in Hong Kong’s Legislature.
Mr. Dimon’s exemption was “justified to facilitate a short visit” of about 30 hours, a government spokesman said in an emailed statement, adding that Mr. Dimon’s trip was “considered to be in the interest of Hong Kong’s economic development.”
JPMorgan declined to comment.
Hong Kong has remained largely closed to the rest of the world and requires overseas visitors from “high-risk” countries, including the United States, to quarantine in a hotel for 21 days. Other visitors from overseas must quarantine in a hotel for at least 14 days. People coming from mainland China are the only visitors who can skip the quarantine.
Earlier this year, officials carved out exemptions for top bankers and other executives whose work they said was in Hong Kong’s economic interest. Those exemptions were mostly abandoned last month when Hong Kong’s top leader said the government needed to align itself with mainland China’s goal of complete elimination of the virus.
Hong Kong has prioritized opening its border with mainland China over opening its borders to overseas travel. It has reported just two local transmitted cases in more than five months.
During his visit, Mr. Dimon said that Hong Kong’s quarantine rules were making it difficult to retain employees in the city, according to Bloomberg News.
His brief comments echoed those from the Asia Securities Industry and Financial Market, a top lobbying group for financial firms, which publicly urged Hong Kong to loosen rules and warned that the restrictions were threatening the city’s status as an international business hub.
— Alexandra Stevenson
Pfizer announced a deal on Tuesday to allow its promising Covid-19 treatment to be made and sold inexpensively in 95 poorer nations that are home to more than half of the world’s population.
The agreement follows a similar arrangement negotiated by Merck last month, and together the deals have the potential to vastly expand global production of two simple antiviral pills that could alter the course of the pandemic by preventing severe illness from the coronavirus.
Under the agreement, Pfizer will grant a royalty-free license for the pill to the Medicines Patent Pool, a nonprofit backed by the United Nations, in a deal that will allow manufacturers to take out a sublicense. They will receive Pfizer’s formula for the drug and will be able to sell it for use in 95 developing countries, mostly in Africa and Asia, once regulators authorize the drug in those places.
Yet like the Merck deal, the Pfizer agreement excludes several poorer countries that have been hit hard by the virus. Brazil, which has one of the world’s worst pandemic death tolls, as well as Cuba, Iraq, Libya and Jamaica, will have to buy pills directly from Pfizer, most likely at higher prices compared with what the generics manufacturers will charge. (Those five nations are included in the Merck deal.)
China and Russia — middle-income countries that are home to a combined 1.5 billion people — are excluded from both deals.
Still, Pfizer’s approach on its drug is markedly different from the way it has handled its Covid vaccine. The company has shipped more than two billion doses globally but sent only about 167 million of those to the developing countries that are home to about four billion people.
It has not provided any manufacturers a license to make its Covid vaccine, from which it is on track to bring in $36 billion in revenue this year.
— Stephanie Nolen and Rebecca Robbins
At one point, fall was billed across corporate America as the Great Office Reopening. But the Delta variant of the coronavirus intervened, and mandatory return-to-office plans turned optional.
Still, many people chose to report back to their desks. The share of employed people who worked remotely at some point during the month because of Covid-19 dropped in October to 11 percent, the lowest point since the pandemic began, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
A closer look at the New York work force, from a November survey of 188 major employers, showed that 8 percent of Manhattan office workers are back in the office full time, 54 percent are fully remote and everyone else — nearly 40 percent — is hybrid.
Few are finding it a smooth transition period. Some companies used their tentative return-to-office dates as a way to avoid questions about how to balance the needs of their remote and in-person employees, according to Edward Sullivan, an executive coach.
That has resulted in a mushy middle ground: video calls where remote workers have trouble hearing, a sense that people at home are missing out on perks (teammates), while those in the office are, too (pajamas).
At stake isn’t just who is getting talked over in meetings. It’s also about whether flexibility is sustainable, even with all the benefits it confers.
— Emma Goldberg
A local government in eastern China said it had reassigned decontamination workers and called on them to apologize after they entered a quarantined resident’s apartment and beat a pet corgi with a metal rod, triggering anger online.
Video of the incident, from a home security camera, circulated widely on Chinese social media on Saturday. It showed two workers in white hazmat suits pursuing the dog in an unoccupied apartment. It yelps as one worker swings at it with a metal bar. Then it is briefly caught in the legs of a table as it flees to another room off camera.