November 27, 2021

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Covid-19 Live Updates: Vaccines, Travel Restrictions and the Latest – The New York Times

13 min read

Officials at a college in Colchester, Vt., are blaming Halloween parties for a Covid outbreak, which comes as the state of Vermont has reported a record number of coronavirus cases over the past week.

The virus is surging in Vermont as more people gather inside to avoid the cold weather. Experts warn that holiday gatherings could lead to more cases this winter.

New daily cases have increased 51 percent over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. Hospitalizations are also trending upward, fueling anxiety about the state’s hospital capacity as winter approaches.

7–day average

315

Source: State and local health agencies. Daily cases are the number of new cases reported each day. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data.

Vermont is testing for Covid more than most states, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Last week, its Republican governor, Phil Scott, said in a statement that while testing had increased and the state’s positivity rate had stayed roughly the same, Vermonters needed to take all precautions they could. He also warned that if cases remain as high as they are, it “would be a significant strain” on the state’s hospitals.

At Saint Michael’s College, a liberal-arts school north of Burlington, 77 students tested positive for the virus this week and last week, according to the college’s Covid-19 dashboard. In letters to the school, Lorraine Sterritt, the college president, said that Halloween parties had fueled the outbreak.

“We were doing really well as a community up to the point where there were numerous Halloween parties where students were unmasked and in close contact,” she said in the letter on Sunday.

Before the post-Halloween surge, the college had reported 11 cases from Aug. 27 to Oct. 22, according to the dashboard. Saint Michael’s has about 1,700 students.

“To be in this situation after such a well-managed semester is heartbreaking,” Ms. Sterritt said in a letter on Friday. “It is imperative that everyone make wise choices.”

The college on Sunday suspended “in-person student social gatherings” through Thanksgiving and asked that students limit off-campus travel. The school moved its classes online on Friday amid the outbreak, but Ms. Sterritt said that in-person classes would continue this week.

The outbreak at Saint Michael’s comes as Vermont grapples with its highest number of new cases since the pandemic began, according to a New York Times database, even though Vermont has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country.

Credit…Melanie Wang, via Associated Press

The first known person to be prosecuted for documenting China’s coronavirus crisis is seriously ill in a Shanghai prison and could die if she does not receive treatment, her family and friends say — a disclosure that has drawn renewed attention to China’s efforts to whitewash its early handling of the pandemic.

On Monday, the U.S. State Department called on the Chinese government to immediately release the woman, Zhang Zhan. Human Rights Watch has called for the same.

“We have repeatedly expressed our serious concerns about the arbitrary nature of her detention and her mistreatment during it,” a State Department spokesman, Ned Price, told reporters.

China has worked aggressively to silence any critics of its early response to the coronavirus, when it played down the virus’s spread and punished whistle-blowers. It has promoted a triumphant, nationalistic narrative of Chinese superiority, focusing on later success in containing new cases.

Ms. Zhang, 38, was one of several self-styled citizen journalists who traveled to the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, early last year. As the chaos of the initial outbreak, followed by strict government controls on information, made it difficult for outsiders to know what was happening in Wuhan, those citizen journalists posted videos and blog posts to social media to share what they were seeing.

Ms. Zhang visited a hospital, where she filmed beds crowding the hallway, and a crematory. She interviewed residents on the street about their livelihood concerns and asked how they viewed the government’s response.

In May 2020, after several months of dispatches, she disappeared. Her family was later told that she had been arrested and accused of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a catchall term that the Chinese authorities use to silence critics. In December, she was sentenced to four years in prison.

Not long after being arrested, Ms. Zhang began a hunger strike, according to her lawyers. One of her lawyers, Zhang Keke, said last year that her hands had been bound during one of his visits; she told him that it was to prevent her from pulling out tubes for force-feeding.

Ms. Zhang has continued to refuse most food after her trial, according to friends and rights activists. She was briefly hospitalized over the summer. Her health has continued to deteriorate: Ms. Zhang, who is 5-foot-10 and once weighed about 165 pounds, appeared to weigh less than 90 pounds in October, according to a Twitter post late last month by her brother, Zhang Ju.

“I think she probably cannot live much longer,” he wrote, adding in a separate post that his mother had recently spoken with Ms. Zhang.

Mr. Zhang could not immediately be reached for comment, but friends of Ms. Zhang confirmed that the Twitter account was his.

Mr. Zhang shared a photo of his sister around age 6 or 7, dancing on a bed at home. “I have never met anyone purer than her,” he said, “nor have I met anyone more determined.”

Credit…Edgar Su/Reuters

Singapore will no longer cover the medical costs of Covid-19 patients who are eligible to get vaccinated against the virus but choose not to, the country’s Health Ministry says.

“We will begin charging Covid-19 patients who are unvaccinated by choice,” starting Dec. 8, the ministry said in a statement on Monday. Those who are not eligible for the shots will be exempt from the rule, it said, including children under 12 and people with certain medical conditions.

The announcement came as the number of severe cases, which have been mainly among unvaccinated people, has stabilized but remains high, the ministry said. Of about 280 intensive-care beds for Covid patients, 134 are occupied, and most are among those not vaccinated, a senior minister of state, Janil Puthucheary, said at a news conference.

“We have to continue to try to keep this number as small as possible,” he said, since health care workers “continue to be stretched.”

Singapore has vaccinated more than 80 percent of its population, outpacing most other countries. But the sustained numbers of severe cases have put such a strain on Singapore’s health care system that officials said they would expand the overall hospital capacity to 4,000 hospital beds from 2,500 by the end of the month.

Most Covid patients vulnerable to severe illness and requiring intensive care are people ages 60 and over, Mr. Puthucheary said. At least 6 percent of people 60 and over in Singapore have yet to get shots, according to the Health Ministry.

“We have to send this important signal to urge everyone to get vaccinated if you are eligible,” the health minister, Ong Ye Kung, said at the news conference.

Patients who are unvaccinated by choice may still use other health care financing options to pay their bills, such as government subsidies and private insurance, it added. Even for those who are unvaccinated, billing “will still be highly supported and highly subsidized,” Mr. Ong said.

Singapore will continue to cover partly vaccinated patients until Dec. 31 to allow them time to get their second shots, the health ministry said.

To encourage vaccinations, the officials said they would also begin allowing five fully vaccinated people from any household to dine in restaurants together starting on Wednesday, up from the two that are currently allowed.

Credit…Neil Sands/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

About 3,000 people marched through Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, on Tuesday to protest vaccination requirements and coronavirus restrictions, forcing a lockdown of Parliament and closure of local streets.

New Zealand’s government has in recent weeks announced sweeping vaccine mandates for about 40 percent of the country’s workers, as well as requirements for vaccination certificates to gain access to most nonessential services, including restaurants, gyms and public events. Thousands of people working in health care are expected to lose their jobs on Monday when some of these vaccine mandates go into effect.

The protest, organized by a group that calls itself the Freedom and Rights Coalition, blocked streets in the central city. While many people carried either the New Zealand or the Tino Rangatiratanga flag, which is widely used by Maori advocacy groups, a handful of protesters flew banners in support of former President Donald J. Trump, whose base of supporters in the United States has rallied against vaccine and mask mandates.

At least one person covered their face with a picture of Mr. Trump’s face, an apparent shorthand for the resistance to the kind of health restrictions imposed by government officials like New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern.

No arrests were made, a police spokesman said.

Before the protests, the New Zealand government had increased security, closing off most access points. Parliament had not locked down this heavily in response to a protest in many decades, a government official told the local news media.

Other demonstrations were held around the country. In Northland, New Zealand’s northernmost region, about 50 protesters blocked a police checkpoint for more than an hour, according to a statement from the New Zealand police. One protester bit an officer as the police tried to move protesters off the road, a spokeswoman for the police said.

Covid-related disinformation in New Zealand has increased since August, when the country went into lockdown in response to an outbreak of the Delta variant, according to a working paper published this week by the University of Auckland.

“Covid-19 and vaccination are being used as a kind of Trojan Horse for norm-setting and norm-entrenchment of far-right ideologies,” the paper said.

Ms. Ardern assailed the protests.

“What we saw today was not representative of the vast bulk of New Zealanders,” Ms. Ardern, the country’s prime minister, said.

New Zealanders have been broadly supportive of vaccination efforts, with nearly 90 percent of people aged 12 and up having received at least one dose of a vaccine as of Tuesday.

Credit…Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When news broke that Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers quarterback, had tested positive for the coronavirus last week and was unvaccinated, Mr. Rodgers justified his decision to not get inoculated by speaking out against the highly effective vaccines and spewing a stream of misinformation and junk science.

Medical professionals were disheartened not just because it will make it harder for them to persuade adults to get vaccinated, but also because they are starting to vaccinate 5- to 11-year-olds.

The N.F.L. is investigating whether Mr. Rodgers and the Packers violated any of the league’s expansive Covid-19 protocols, which were developed with the N.F.L. Players Association. Mr. Rodgers admitted to flouting those protocols, including attending a Halloween party with teammates where he appeared in videos unmasked. The Packers and Mr. Rodgers could be fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for not adhering to the rules.

Mr. Rodgers is in the midst of a 10-day isolation period and did not play in the Packers’ 13-7 loss to Kansas City on Sunday. Like all unvaccinated N.F.L. players who test positive, he must provide two negative tests, taken 24 hours apart, after his isolation to return to the field, which could come as soon as Saturday.

Vaccination rates in the N.F.L. are high compared with the general U.S. population. Nearly every coach and staff member who is around players is vaccinated, and 94 percent of the 2,000 or so players have been inoculated, according to the league.

Credit…Kin Cheung/Associated Press

Hong Kong’s latest “zero Covid” policy — a mandatory smartphone tracking app — is prompting online mockery and pushback.

One mother complained that her 2-year-old had been turned away from a sports center for failing to produce a smartphone with the app. A 63-year-old man said that the only public facility he could visit was the cemetery because he did not own a smartphone. Shops are selling secondhand phones with the app already loaded to cater to the technologically hobbled and those suspicious of government.

Hong Kong has avoided the devastating Covid-19 outbreaks that much of the world experienced over the past year thanks to strict border controls and one of the world’s longest mandatory quarantines.

But some residents, long willing to endure tough pandemic rules, have recently chafed at the restrictions amid low Covid case numbers and widespread vaccine availability. The banking community, one group that rarely speaks out, issued a rare criticism last month.

Others have been frustrated by how Hong Kong has tied its pandemic prevention policies with mainland China’s own rigid approach. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, has said that opening the border with China was a priority over opening international borders.

A recent rule making the contact tracing app mandatory for those over age 12 and under 65 is turning the focus on those in society who cannot use the app, known as the LeaveHomeSafe app. Residents must show the app to enter any public government facilities — including the city’s outdoor markets, libraries and pools.

One nongovernmental organization warned that the requirement, which started on Nov. 1, would hurt the homeless and others who do not have a smartphone but depend on government services. Others have shared online their experiences of being locked out of basic services.

One photograph that went viral showed an older man with a sandwich board that carried the message: “I am now under quarantine indefinitely.” The 63-year-old said that, with no smartphone, he was prohibited from shopping at the wet market, reading books at the library, swimming at the public pool and even getting sick and going to the hospital. The only place he can go, his message noted, is the cemetery.

The mother of a young child said she had been unable to enter the sports center because she could not show government identification proving that her 2-year-old was under age 12. Others shared similar stories.

Unmoved by the complaints, Ms. Lam told the Hong Kong Economic Times that she was looking into making the app a requirement for more places.

She said she was aware that some people would not be happy with the expansion but, she added, “to a certain degree, the majority rules.”

Credit…Ana Miminoshvili

The pandemic made an oxymoron of the term “frequent flier” as the number of airline passengers plummeted in the early days of lockdowns. Leisure travel has recovered somewhat, but the more lucrative business travel market is still way off, with recovery not expected until 2023 and perhaps not even then.

It’s a challenging time to keep fliers loyal. Many are not traveling because of coronavirus concerns, and those who are can be enticed to try out other airlines because they are not flying enough to earn status. Others may be disenchanted with airline loyalty programs, which, in the years leading up to the pandemic, had made upgrades and free tickets more elusive.

In the meantime, airlines are also facing pressure on the climate front. With loyalty programs encouraging flying, they feel out of step with the current moment.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

More than 300 employees at Hearst’s magazine division have signed a petition objecting to the company’s plan to have them return to the office starting next week, and their union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Hearst, whose titles include Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Good Housekeeping, told staff in October that they would be required to return to U.S. offices starting Nov. 15.

For the first two weeks, workers are expected to come in once a week; then the requirement will be two days per week until early 2022. Eventually, workers will be required to be in the office — the Hearst Tower in midtown Manhattan for many — three days a week, the company has said. Hearst is also requiring that all employees be vaccinated.

“We recognize that returning to the office is a big step and that some people are apprehensive about it,” Debi Chirichella, Hearst’s president, said in an email to staff last month. “Adjusting to this new way of working will require the same flexibility, patience and collaboration that we all demonstrated when we began working from home.”

Employees have pushed back. Some 300 — representing a majority of the approximately 550 in the magazine division as well as the 450 in its union — sent their petition to a top Hearst executive on Monday. It calls for the company to do away with required office days, according to a spokesman for the Writers Guild of America, East, the union that represents Hearst journalists.

“We support a continuation of the functional norm that we have reached as a result of our extraordinary circumstances, with employees and teams able to make decisions that are appropriate for their work needs,” the petition said. “We have seen our colleagues adapt to unprecedented changes in our work lives without a drop in productivity.”

A Hearst spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

On Nov. 4, the Writers Guild filed an unfair labor practice charge against Hearst with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the company had failed to provide requested information over return-to-office protocols. The company’s journalists won a vote to unionize in July 2020 and are negotiating their first contract.

The bargaining committee has asked for a flexible arrangement, and the company rejected it, said Jason Speakman, an associate digital visuals editor at Men’s Health who is a member of the bargaining committee.

Mr. Speakman said that most of his colleagues don’t want to be required to return to the office, while others would accept mandatory office days, but not three per week. The reasons for the preference for remote work ranged “from the extra hour of sleep in the morning when they’re not commuting to the mental health toll of commuting on a crowded train to caring for family members in another part of the country,” he said.

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