Covid-19: W.H.O. Warns India’s Homegrown Virus Variant May Be Highly Contagious
A virus variant that has been spreading rapidly in India and designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization might be more contagious than most versions of the coronavirus, the agency said in a report it published on Tuesday evening.
The W.H.O. emphasized in its report that it wasnât yet clear how much the variant, known as B.1.617, had contributed to the devastating surge that has crushed India in recent weeks. It cautioned that India, like many countries, is only sequencing a tiny fraction of positive samples, and that with so little surveillance, itâs difficult to make firm conclusions about B.1.617.
The W.H.O. study comes amid growing condemnation of the Indian governmentâs response to its ferocious virus wave and calls for nationwide restrictions to try to limit the death toll, as hospitals are overrun and crematories burn nonstop.
India recorded more than 360,000 new cases on Wednesday and more than 4,200 deaths, the countryâs highest daily death toll since the pandemic began. India has now reported more than 250,000 deaths from the virus, although experts believe that the true toll is far higher.
Experts also caution that it is not yet clear just how much of a factor B.1.617 has played in the explosion of cases in India. They point to a perfect storm of public health blunders, such as permitting enormous political rallies and religious festivals in recent months. Itâs possible that the variant is being lifted up by the surge, rather than the other way around.
The W.H.O. speculated that another variant known as B.1.1.7, first identified in Britain and now dominant in the United States, might also be driving the swell in cases.
Itâs not yet clear whether B.1.617 causes more severe Covid-19. Anecdotally, doctors in India are reporting higher numbers of young people and children testing positive for the virus and more patients with severe disease requiring oxygen support. But until more genetic sequencing is done, itâs impossible to know if the variant is to blame.
Stacia Wyman, a genomics scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, said that the W.H.O. had made the right decision. She pointed to the fact that the variant had already spread to at least 49 countries. âThis appears to be posing the biggest threat right now in terms of transmissibility, with many countries reporting increasing trajectories of the B.1.617 variant,â she said.
B.1.617 is the fourth variant of concern recognized by the W.H.O. The others include B.1.1.7; B.1.351, which swept through South Africa; and P.1, which has devastated Brazil.
B.1.617 first came to light in October 2020. It had a number of mutations, some of which have been proved worrisome in other variants. Preliminary studies on the mutations suggest that some of them might give the coronavirus a tighter grip on cells, increasing their chances of a successful infection.
Other mutations could make it more difficult for antibodies produced by infections with other variants to stick to them. Studies on antibodies produced by vaccinated people also suggest that they work less successfully against B.1.617. Experts expect that most vaccines will remain effective against the variant.
W.H.O. researchers determined that B.1.617 is spreading fast in India, making up over 28 percent of samples from positive tests. The shift suggests that B.1.617 has a higher growth rate than other variants circulating in India, with the possible exception of B.1.1.7. And B.1.617 has been growing rapidly in Britain.
Gagandeep Kang, a pre-eminent Indian virologist, said there was not enough data to conclude whether either variant was contributing to Indiaâs deadlier second wave.
âThere is some conflicting data regarding the B.1.1.7 variant, which seems to indicate in some studies that it does cause more severe disease, in other studies not,â said Dr. Kang, the executive director of the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute in India.
Based on reports from hospitals, Dr. Kang said, it appeared that B.1.617 was causing more severe disease but that, again, there was insufficient data to draw conclusions. She said that real-time genetic information would be needed to determine whether B.1.617-infected people needed more oxygen.
Officials in India are trying to track how many fully vaccinated people have fallen ill. If an unusual number of these so-called breakthroughs are caused by a variant such as B.1.617, then that could point to the variantâs ability to evade a vaccine.
President Biden said on Tuesday that Uber and Lyft, two of the countryâs largest ride-sharing services, would provide free rides to vaccination sites beginning May 24, an agreement intended to help stem the declining pace of immunizations and reach his goal of at least partly inoculating 70 percent of American adults by July 4.
Mr. Biden said that the ride-sharing initiative would last until then.
In a meeting with a group of six governors from states including Ohio, Utah and Maine, he detailed other initiatives as well, including an effort to create vaccination sites at community colleges and another to send FEMA officials around the country to encourage people to receive a shot. The announcement marked an aggressive new phase of the administrationâs efforts to combat vaccine hesitancy and expand access.
âWeâre going to be able to take a serious step toward return to normalcy by Independence Day,â Mr. Biden said, referring to a benchmark he set in March. âAnd thereâs a lot of work to do though to get there. But I believe we can get there.â
Though about 153 million people had received at least one vaccine shot in the United States as of Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the pace of vaccination has slowed in recent weeks.
Experts say they had expected the slowdown, but vaccine reluctance â in part stemming from an 11-day pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine â will remain a significant obstacle. Only a small percentage of Americans who have not yet been vaccinated say they will definitely do so, according to recent polls.
To encourage more shots in arms, some governors, including Jim Justice of West Virginia, have started to experiment with incentives that could sway reluctant or uninterested Americans: Last month, Mr. Justice said the state would give $100 savings bonds to young people who get vaccinated, though officials are still trying to work out the details of the program. In New York, officials are offering free rail and subway tickets with vaccinations.
The governors who met virtually with the president on Tuesday had ideas of their own. Gov. Janet Mills of Maine told Mr. Biden that the state would offer vouchers to L.L. Bean, free fishing and hunting licenses, and tickets to local sporting events as incentives.
âWeâre calling this âyour shot to get outdoors,ââ Ms. Mills said. âOh, itâs corny, I know, but we know that people in Maine found refuge in relief and Mother Nature throughout the pandemic.â
Mr. Biden seemed amused by the idea, replying, âMy guess is thatâs probably going to work.â
Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio said that the Ohio National Guard had set up small vaccination stations at nursing homes around the state. Gov. Spencer Cox of Utah said that pop-up clinics were appearing at churches and that health officials were working with clergy members to communicate information about the vaccines to congregants.
Mr. Cox also praised the move by the Food and Drug Administration to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children 12 to 15 years old: âMr. President, weâre really good at having kids here, so weâre excited to have that opportunity,â he said.
McDonaldâs said it was partnering with the Biden administration on a campaign to promote vaccination. Starting in July, coffee cups and delivery stickers will direct users to vaccines.gov and include messaging from the âWe Can Do Thisâ national campaign.
States and counties have already been getting creative with incentives. New Jersey offered a âshot and a beerâ for residents who get their first vaccine dose in May and visit participating breweries in the state. In Erie County, New York, Buffalo-area breweries doubled as vaccination clinics, giving away a free beer to those who get a shot, WBFO reported. Suffolk County on Long Island is trying something similar.
âWe got 10 times more people to get vaccinated with their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in just a few hours at a brewery than we would have if we had been sitting in one of our full-time clinics for 12 hours,â Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County executive, told WBFO.
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday defended the agency against a series of attacks from Republican lawmakers accusing federal scientists of publishing outdated and overly conservative pandemic guidance.
At a hearing with other top federal health officials on the federal governmentâs pandemic response, Republican senators accused the C.D.C.âs director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, of allowing outside influence in the agencyâs schools guidance and being slow to recognize the low risk of outdoor transmission in its mask-wearing recommendations. They said that the agency had lost the trust of Americans looking to return to normal life.
Their complaints were the latest sign of mounting exasperation, some of it among public health experts, with the federal governmentâs pace in relaxing its recommendations as states across the country move to reopen economies. Frustrations ranged from the practical â asking children to wear masks at camp â to the conspiratorial â suggestions that the National Institutes of Health had supercharged coronaviruses, an accusation Dr. Anthony S. Fauci strongly dismissed.
Throughout the hearing, Dr. Walensky said that the C.D.C. was working to update its guidance documents as more Americans get vaccinated and as scientists glean new insights. She said the agencyâs process for drafting guidance â with internal and external expert input â was collaborative and responsive.
Schools, businesses, physicians and local health departments have long looked to the agencyâs guidance materials as authorities on the most current science.
Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, complained that the C.D.C. had allowed the American Federation of Teachers to exert undue influence over its latest school reopening guidance.
Dr. Walensky said that a change to the schools guidance was because of an âoversightâ â its draft guidance had neglected to include materials on how to protect teachers with compromised immune systems. The back-and-forth was a normal part of the agencyâs process for drafting guidance, she said, when agency scientists consider outside advice from industry experts. C.D.C. scientists wrote the recommendations themselves, she said.
Ms. Collins also accused the C.D.C. of misleading Americans in its recent mask guidance on the risks of outdoor spread of the virus, when it announced that âless than 10 percentâ of transmission was occurring outdoors, a statistic infectious disease experts have said is misleading.
âWe have unnecessary barriers to reopening schools, exaggerating the risks of outdoor transmission and unworkable restrictions on summer camps,â she said. âIt matters because it undermines public confidence in your recommendations.â
Senator Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican and physician, told Dr. Walensky that the public was âbeginning to disregard what you say thatâs true,â warning of consequences if the C.D.C. did not update guidance on how vaccinated Americans could return to offices. He also accused the agency of being slow to acknowledge the minimal risk of outdoor transmission in its mask guidance.
âThe American people have just lost patience with us,â he said. âI just ask you to just kind of be aware of their frustration.â
Dr. Walensky said that one challenge was drafting general guidance on the pandemic that applied to areas of the country with wildly different case rates and vaccination successes.
Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said that her state was still waiting on the C.D.C. to update its cruise ship guidance, which was threatening to sap the stateâs tourism industry.
âOur reality is, if you canât get ships turned north now, there is no season, whether it is for one week or one month,â she said.
After a devastating year with wave after wave of coronavirus infections around the world, new cases and deaths are falling in many of the Western nations that were once among the hardest hit. But while the virus recedes in wealthy nations with robust vaccination campaigns, it is pummeling India and threatening to swamp Southeast Asian countries that until now had largely kept the virus at bay.
Taken together, the opposing regional trends add up to a leveling of global daily new cases at âan unacceptably high plateauâ that leaves the world in continuing danger, the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Monday.
In Southeast Asia, Dr. Tedros noted that âcases and deaths are still increasing rapidly.â
Cambodia and Thailand, which kept the virus under control throughout 2020, have lately recorded sharp increases in infections. Malaysia announced a new nationwide lockdown on Monday, two days after recording its highest daily case total since January.
Scientists warn that if the virus is allowed to spread unchecked in parts of the world with lower vaccine coverage, dangerous variants will continue to evolve, threatening all countries.
âGlobally, we are still in a perilous situation,â Dr. Tedros said. About 772,000 new cases are reported on average each day globally, nearly half in India, where a virus variant, B.1.617, has been spreading.
The W.H.O. deemed B.1.617 âa variant of concernâ on Monday. Other variants of concern include B.1.1.7, first identified in Britain and now dominant in the United States, and P.1, originally detected in Brazil.
In the United States, Britain and parts of Western Europe where vaccines have been widely deployed, the virus is subsiding, and people are flocking back to restaurants and other attractions.
Vaccines could soon be available to even more Americans now that the Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Dr. Robert Schooley, chief of the infectious disease division at the University of California San Diego, said that the global rate of cases âremains quite volatile.â
âWeâre going to see a bit of a Whac-a-Mole situation for some time to come, as local and regional outbreaks flare up and burn out,â Dr. Schooley said. This will continue to be the case, he said, as long as a substantial part of the global population remains unvaccinated.
While new virus variants make a difference, said Dr. Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in New Zealand who helped devise the countryâs coronavirus response, âthe major factors shaping the rise and fall of the pandemic are the behavior of governments and their responses to the pandemic.â
Dr. Baker noted that more than one-fifth of the worldâs population lives in countries that have essentially stamped out the virus, including China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Australia, and New Zealand, and some wealthy nations are vaccinating their people rapidly enough to bring transmission rates down substantially. âHowever, many low- and middle-income countries have far less access to vaccine and other control measures, so are continuing to experience poorly controlled epidemics,â he said.
Saskia Popescu, an infectious-disease epidemiologist who is an assistant professor at George Mason University, said that Americans should not be lulled into thinking the virus is defeated, because âwe have to see the crisis in India as a wake-up call for global vaccine equity.â She added, âCovid-19 isnât gone anywhere until itâs gone everywhere.â
Parents in South Carolina will be able to opt their children out of mask requirements in public schools, effectively ending mask mandates for schools throughout the state, according to an executive order signed by the governor that defies Centers for Disease Control and Protection guidance.
The order signed on Tuesday by Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, also prevented South Carolinaâs local governments from using previously issued orders or states of emergency to enforce mask mandates and barred the use of âvaccine passportsâ in the state. South Carolina was one of several states that never had a statewide mask mandate, though several counties and cities imposed their own.
At least one school district said its legal counsel was reviewing the order. Doing away with masks in schools conflicts with C.D.C. guidance, which recommends universal masking combined with at least three feet of social distancing.
âEverybody knows what we need to do to stay safe â including wearing a mask if youâre at risk of exposing others â but we must move past the time of governments dictating when and where South Carolinians are required to wear a mask,â Mr. McMaster said in a statement, noting the availability of vaccines and falling coronavirus cases. âMaintaining the status quo ignores all of the great progress weâve made.â
Mr. McHenryâs announcement comes as leaders in other states and cities have announced a rollback of restrictions and vaccines have become available to any adult. Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington said on Monday that most of the cityâs restrictions, including capacity limits, time restrictions and limits on types of activities would be lifted on May 21. Capacity limits on bars, nightclubs, and large sports and entertainment venues would be lifted June 11.
Mayor Jim Kenney of Philadelphia announced on Tuesday that all restrictions except the mask mandate would be lifted on June 11. The announcement came a week after Governor Tom Wolfe of Pennsylvania said that all restrictions related to gatherings, businesses and restaurants would be lifted on May 31 and that the statewide mask mandate would be lifted when 70 percent of adults in the state had been vaccinated. But the announcement came with the caveat that municipalities and school districts could continue or implement stricter mitigation efforts, despite the stateâs easing restrictions.
The governor directed the Department of Health and Environmental Control and the Department of Education to develop a standardized form for opting out, the statement said.
As the chaos of Indiaâs coronavirus outbreak spreads across the country, infections are surging in states and rural areas with fewer resources, where sickness and death are much harder to track. One measure of the misery, medical workers say, is that poor people are disposing of bodies in rivers because the cost of cremations has shot up.
The authorities believe that is what happened when villagers in northern India discovered dozens of bloated corpses washed up on the banks of the Ganges River along the boundary of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, two states where the virus is raging.
Residents found the bodies on Monday evening in Chausa, a riverine village in Bihar. Stunned onlookers crowded around the remains, many with brightly colored clothes sticking to them, floating in the shallows.
Some officials said that roughly 30 bodies had been discovered. Witnesses put the figure at more than 100. Some people in the area have a custom of sending the remains of loved ones, weighted with stones, into the Ganges, the holiest river in Hinduism. But authorities suspect that many of these people died of Covid-19.
âIâve never seen so many bodies,â said Arun Kumar Srivastava, a government doctor in Chausa, who said that it was likely that some were Covid-19 victims. In the past few days, he said, he has seen more and more people transporting dead bodies, sometimes on their shoulders.
âDefinitely,â Dr. Srivastava said, âmore deaths are happening.â
The outbreak in India shows no sign of letting up, with the health ministry reporting more than 386,000 new cases and nearly 3,900 deaths on Tuesday. A quarter of a million people have died nationwide from the virus, although experts believe that the true toll is much higher because of low testing levels and the large number of deaths in India that typically go unrecorded.
As Covid-19 deaths have overwhelmed funeral grounds, some crematories are charging five or 10 times the usual price for last rites. Kishan Dutt Mishra, an ambulance driver in the Chausa area, said that the price of wood had risen beyond what many families could afford.
Driving a seven-mile stretch along the Ganges between Chausa and another nearby town, Buxar, Mr. Mishra said that he saw body after body washed up along the river.
âI have never seen even a few bodies, let alone so many of them, lining the river all through this stretch,â he said.
So-called quad tests, now available at thousands of hospitals and clinics, can detect not only the coronavirus but also two types of influenza and the respiratory syncytial virus, or R.S.V.
That might not seem essential given that the United States, like many other countries, witnessed a shocking absence of a flu season this past winter. But as the country begins to reopen, doctors say that flu and other pathogens could make a comeback this fall.
Whatâs more, even as a growing number of people get vaccinated against Covid, there are still some 40,000 new infections every day in the United States, so testing will still be in demand.
Unlike the antigen tests, the quad test looks for a virusâs genetic material using a polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R. The P.C.R.-based method is far more accurate than the antigen approach, though P.C.R. sequencing of patient samples used to be more cumbersome and relied on multistep procedures.
Several factors might precipitate the fluâs return in the fall: children returning to school, declining use of masks and perhaps a lack of recent immune system exposure to the flu. If more people get sick in the fall, they will want to know if it is flu or the coronavirus.
The F.D.A.âs decision to authorize Pfizerâs coronavirus vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds presents a bright new opportunity in the push for broad immunity in the United States. But the challenges are more daunting than for immunizing older, more independent teenagers.
Surveys suggest that many parents â even those who eagerly got their own Covid shots â are reluctant to vaccinate pubescent children. Yet doing so will be critical for further reducing transmission of the virus and smoothly reopening middle and high schools.
Following the F.D.A.âs decision on Monday, states, counties and school districts are trying to figure out the most reassuring and expedient ways to reach younger adolescents as well as their parents, whose consent is usually required by state law. They are making plans to offer vaccines not only in schools but also at pediatriciansâ offices, day camps, parks and even beaches.
âThe game changes when you go down as young as 12 years old,â said Nathan Quesnel, the superintendent of schools in East Hartford, Conn. âYou need to have a different level of sensitivity.â
A year after Americans abandoned parking lots, strip malls, sports arenas and department stores, they are returning to them in their new guise as vaccination centers. Sinna Nasseri, a photographer; and Michael Kimmelman, an architecture critic, lead us through the recolonization of public space.
Two Chinese men who created an online cache of banned reports on the coronavirus, defying government censorship, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to âpicking quarrels and provoking trouble,â a vague charge that Chinese prosecutors often use against politically troublesome defendants.
Chen Mai and Cai Wei, both in their 20s, used Github â an internet platform widely used by software developers to share code and information â to preserve Chinese news reports and articles that censors had erased from their original sites. They stored more than 100 articles about the coronavirus outbreak in China in early 2020.
Their archive, called Terminus 2049, included materials such as a candid account by a doctor who tried to warn others about the spreading contagion and descriptions from medical workers who said they were desperately short of protective wear.
The Chinese government has been reluctant to apply its usual heavy-handed censorship to Github because it is so important to high-tech companies. That makes the platform a place where users can occasionally challenge government controls on information.
Chen Kun, the brother of Chen Mei, said that the accusations laid out by prosecutors made it clear that the authorities were angry at the defendants for challenging censorship at a time when leaders in Beijing faced a surge of public anger over missteps and concealment as the coronavirus was spreading in central China.
The prosecutors accused Mr. Chen and Mr. Cai of operating a separate online forum that they said included âa great deal of fake newsâ and âinsults of national leaders,â according to Chen Kun, who lives in France and relayed accounts from his mother, who attended the trial in Beijing.
âThe whole trial was a charade,â he said in a brief interview, adding that the defendants could not freely choose their own lawyers. âThe court-appointed lawyers clearly played along with official demands.â
Mr. Chen, 28, and Mr. Cai, 27, were detained in April 2020 as China began to emerge from its coronavirus outbreak. Both men pleaded guilty to the charges, possibly in the hope of securing an early release. The verdict is expected to be announced at a later hearing.
In other news around the world:
Malaysia announced a new nationwide lockdown beginning on Wednesday in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus before this weekâs Eid holiday. Restaurant dining and most nonessential travel will be banned under the four-week lockdown. Like many Southeast Asian nations, Malaysia has been grappling with a resurgence of the virus, and over the weekend it recorded its highest daily infection totals since January. Experts trace the latest surge, in part, to the governmentâs decision to relax measures over the Muslim holy month of Ramadan by allowing evening prayer services, reopening food bazaars and permitting restaurants to operate through the night.
The head of the International Olympic Committee postponed a visit to Japan as the country tries to contain a resurgence of the coronavirus less than three months before the Tokyo Olympics. Thomas Bach, the I.O.C. president, had been scheduled to meet with Japanese officials and participate in the ceremonial torch relay next week. But after a state of emergency was extended through the end of the month in Tokyo and other areas, the Gamesâ organizing committee said on Monday that it would try to reschedule Mr. Bachâs visit âat as early a date as possible.â The Tokyo Games, postponed from last year, are facing growing opposition at home as Japan fights a stubborn fourth wave of infections.
A court in northeastern Spain struck down a nighttime curfew imposed by regional authorities in Navarre. In the ruling on Tuesday, the court said the measure did not meet the criteria of ânecessity and proportionalityâ to justify requiring people to stay indoors at night. Spainâs nationwide state of emergency for the pandemic ended on Sunday, leaving the courts to decide whether regional lockdown restrictions can continue.
Novavax, one of the first players in the race to vaccinate the world against Covid, delivered disheartening news on Monday, saying that its highly protective vaccine would not be authorized in the United States or Britain until at least July, and that it would not reach peak production until the end of the year.
The delays, announced during an earnings call with investors, are the latest setback for the little-known Maryland company, which was granted up to $1.6 billion from the U.S. federal government last year and whose product has shown robust results in clinical trials.
Despite these wins, the company has struggled to demonstrate that it can deliver on its promise to supply the world with 2 billion doses this year. Novavax has never brought a vaccine to market in its 34-year history.
On the call, the companyâs president and chief executive, Stanley C. Erck, said that the regulatory and manufacturing hurdles causing the delay have now been resolved.
Investors did not appear to agree: By Tuesday morning, the companyâs stock had fallen to $133.86, down nearly 17 percent, although it rebounded somewhat later in the day.
âI donât see a lot going well for them at this point,â said Rob Smith, the managing director of Capital Alpha Partners, an investment research firm.
The companyâs delay is unlikely to affect wealthy countries like the United States, which is flush with other vaccines.
But it is likely to have significant repercussions for the rest of the world, given that just last week, Novavax finalized a deal with Gavi, a public-private global vaccine partnership, to supply 1.1 billion doses of its shot to low- and middle-income countries.
As employers race to hire before an expected summertime economic boom, they are voicing a complaint that is echoing all the way to the White House: They cannot find enough workers to fill their open positions and meet the rising customer demand.
Many managers are unwilling to raise wages and prices enough to keep up, as they worry that demand will ebb in a few months and leave them with permanently higher payroll costs. They are instead resorting to short-term fixes, like cutting hours, instituting sales quotas and offering signing bonuses to get people in the door, Jeanna Smialek and Jim Tankersley report for The New York Times.
In and around Rehoboth Beach, Del., at least 10 people, managers and workers alike, cited expanded payments as a key driver of the labor shortage, though only two of them personally knew someone who was declining to work to claim the benefit.
In Delaware, Wawa gas stations sport huge periwinkle blue signs advertising $500 signing bonuses, plus free âshortiâ hoagies each shift for new associates. A local country club is offering referral bonuses and opening up jobs to membersâ children and grandchildren. A regional home builder has instituted a cap on the number of houses it can sell each month as everything â open lots, available materials, building crews â comes up short.
Scott Kammerer oversees a local hospitality company that includes a brewery and restaurants. He has been able to staff adequately by offering benefits and taking advantage of the fact that he retained some workers because his restaurants did not close fully or for very long during the pandemic.
But he has also raised wages. The companyâs starting non-tip pay rates have climbed to $12 from $9 two years ago. Mr. Kammerer has not been forced to raise prices to cover increasing costs, because business volume has picked up so much â up 40 percent this year compared with a typical winter â that profits remain solid.
Andrew Ferren, an American citizen who has lived in Madrid for much of the past 20 years, traveled to the United States to get vaccinated. Read his full essay on the experience here.
In mid-March, as friends and family were getting vaccinated in the United States, and as production problems and health concerns about some vaccines slowed the European Unionâs already sluggish campaign, my husband and two children and I found ourselves packing our suitcases for New York.
A few weeks later, we returned for the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Recent news articles have focused on American expats who have considered going back to the United States to get vaccinated. While itâs impossible to determine the exact numbers, I know about half a dozen Americans across Europe who, like us, made that decision.
The U.S. government has no program for vaccinating Americans abroad, and expats â all of whom maintain the same rights (voting, for example) and responsibilities (filing income taxes) of residents â are free to fly home and get vaccinated.
But the act of taking matters into oneâs own hands can feel daunting, and there was also the fear that we might turn up for our shots only to be told they were out of vaccines.
NEW DELHI â The desperation that engulfed New Delhi, Indiaâs capital, over the past few weeks is now spreading across the entire country, hitting states and rural areas with fewer resources.
This week, dozens of bodies washed up on the banks of the Ganges, most likely the remains of people who perished from Covid-19.
States in southern India have threatened to stop sharing medical oxygen with each other, fiercely protective about holding on to whatever they have as their hospitals swell with the sick and infections skyrocket.
And at one hospital in Andhra Pradesh, a rural state in southeastern India, furious relatives went on a rampage in the intensive care unit after lifesaving oxygen suddenly ran out â the latest example of the same tragedy repeating itself, of patients dying while gasping for air.
Cases in New Delhi and Mumbai may be leveling off. But many other places are getting bowled over by runaway outbreaks. The World Health Organization now says that a new variant of the virus detected in India, B.1.167, may be especially transmissible, which is just adding to the sense of alarm.
Every day the Indian media delivers a heavy dose of turmoil and grief. On Tuesday, it was televised images of distraught relatives furiously beating the chests of loved ones who had died after the oxygen ran out, and headlines including âBodies of Suspected Covid-19 Victims Found Floatingâ and âAs Deaths Go Up 10 Fold, Worrying Signs from Smaller States.â
India is suffering from a worrying shortage of medical oxygen. Nearly 200 patients have died because of this, according to an Indian news site that has been tracking the string of deadly incidents.
At the same time, the national vaccine campaign is spluttering. The roughly two million doses that have been administered each day over the past few days are lower than the highs a few weeks ago, when some days the country gave out more than three million doses. Many people canât find any appointments to get the shot. Some vaccination sites have completely run out, officials say.