Covid News: Britain Will Require Fully Vaccinated Travelers From France to Quarantine Over Beta Variant Concerns – The New York Times

Signs at Heathrow Airport explaining Britain’s quarantine requirements.
Credit…Andy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

British medical officials announced Friday that fully vaccinated travelers returning to England from France must continue to quarantine because of the threat posed by the Beta variant.

Travelers arriving from France must quarantine for five to 10 days, at home or elsewhere, the British health ministry said.

Beginning on Monday, vaccinated travelers from other European nations that Britain had placed on its medium-risk amber list no longer have to quarantine. Most virus-related restrictions in England will be lifted, allowing pubs and restaurants to operate at full capacity and nightclubs to open their doors. Curbs on the number of people who can meet indoors, generally limited to six, will also be removed.

“With restrictions lifting on Monday across the country, we will do everything we can to ensure international travel is conducted as safely as possible, and protect our borders from the threat of variants,” Health Minister Sajid Javid said in a statement.

While attention has been focused on the threat from the Delta variant, which is now dominant in Britain and France as well as the United States, scientists are also concerned about the Beta variant because clinical trials of vaccines are showing that they offer less protection against it. The Beta variant was first identified in South Africa in December.

The presence of Beta in France remains relatively low, according to GISAID, an international open source database; it accounts for 3.4 percent of new cases over the past four weeks.

Some research has shown that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, the backbone of Britain’s inoculation campaign, has been less effective in preventing mild and moderate Beta cases. In February, South Africa halted use of the vaccine over those concerns.

In France, concerns that the Delta variant, which accounts for about half of the country’s new cases, could unleash a fourth wave of the virus prompted President Emmanuel Macron this week to announce new vaccination requirements. They include mandatory inoculations for health care workers and proof of immunization or a recent negative test to enter restaurants and cultural venues.

Mr. Macron’s announcement came just three days after nightclubs reopened for the first time in 16 months, which many believed had signaled the completion of France’s protracted efforts to emerge from the pandemic. But the new measures dashed hopes of a return to a prepandemic normal and of a smooth summer vacation season.

British travelers, after enduring a miserable winter and a four-month national lockdown, are finding it difficult to visit some of their favorite summer destinations. In June, British tourists had to scramble to leave Portugal ahead of a quarantine deadline, after London changed travel rules over concerns about the Delta variant.

“The U.K. is entrenching itself as an outlier in its confused approach to travel. This, in turn, is destroying its own travel sector and the thousands of jobs that rely on it,” Willie Walsh, director-general of the International Air Transport Association, said in an interview with Reuters.

Graham McLeod, from Bolton in northwest England, said that the government’s messaging was “inconsistent, irregular, unclear and frankly unworkable.” In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. McLeod, who is staying at his vacation home on France’s Atlantic coast, added: “We struggle to understand the sudden desire to introduce quarantine for returnees from France and cannot help feel this has far more to do with politics and much less to do with science.”

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‘A Pandemic of the Unvaccinated,’ C.D.C. Director Says

Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that outbreaks of coronavirus cases were cropping up predominantly in areas with lower vaccination rates.

There is a clear message that is coming through. This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated. We are seeing outbreaks of cases in parts of the country that have low vaccination coverage because unvaccinated people are at risk and communities that are fully vaccinated are generally faring well. The good news is that if you’re fully vaccinated, you are protected against severe Covid hospitalization and death. And are even protected against the known variants, including the Delta variant, circulating in this country. If you are not vaccinated, you remain at risk. And our biggest concern is that we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and sadly deaths among the unvaccinated. As we have said, this is very heterogeneous across the country. And these decisions have to be made at the local level. If you have areas of low vaccination and high case rates, then I would say local policymakers might consider whether masking at that point would be something that would be helpful for their community until they scale up their vaccination rates because more people than not in the community are unvaccinated.

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Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that outbreaks of coronavirus cases were cropping up predominantly in areas with lower vaccination rates.CreditCredit…Elijah Nouvelage/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus fuels outbreaks in the United States, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Friday that “this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

Cases, hospitalizations and deaths remain far below last winter’s peak, and vaccines are effective against Delta, but the C.D.C. director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, urged people to get fully vaccinated to receive robust protection, pleading: “Do it for yourself, your family and for your community. And please do it to protect your young children who right now can’t get vaccinated themselves.”

The number of new virus cases is likely to increase in the coming weeks, and those cases are likely to be concentrated in areas with low vaccine coverage, officials said at a White House briefing on the pandemic.

“Our biggest concern is that we are going to continue to see preventable cases, hospitalizations and, sadly, deaths among the unvaccinated,” Dr. Walensky said. The nation surpassed 34 million cumulative cases on Friday, according to a New York Times database.

Delta now accounts for more than half of new infections across the country, and case numbers have been rising in every state. Roughly 30,400 new cases are reported each day, up from just 11,000 a day less than a month ago.

So far, data suggests that many of the vaccines — including the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots — provide good protection against Delta, especially against the worst outcomes, including hospitalization and death. (Receiving a single dose of a two-shot regimen provides only weak protection against the variant, however.) Nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults have been fully vaccinated, but fewer than 50 percent of all Americans have been; only those 12 and older are eligible.

“We have come a long way in our fight against this virus,” Jeffrey D. Zients, the administration’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said at the briefing.

The pace of vaccination has slowed considerably since the spring, and vaccine coverage remains highly uneven. Delta is already driving case numbers up in undervaccinated areas, including in parts of Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana.

Arizona’s governor, Doug Ducey, spoke in Yuma, Ariz., in May.
Credit…Randy Hoeft/The Yuma Sun, via Associated Press

The office of Arizona’s governor has said that school districts in the state cannot require unvaccinated students to quarantine for 10 days if they have been exposed to the coronavirus, prompting a standoff with some local education officials.

A senior adviser to Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, sent letters dated on Wednesday to two large school districts, asserting that their policies of requiring unvaccinated students to quarantine was illegal under state law. Governor Ducey’s office posted the letters on Twitter on Wednesday evening.

“Parents are the sole decision makers in the State of Arizona when it comes to the health and well-being of their children,” the letters said, adding later that “children of parents who choose not to have their children get the Covid-19 vaccine should not be discriminated against for such decisions.”

READ: Our office today notified the superintendents of Peoria Unified School District and Catalina Foothills School District of their unlawful policy to require unvaccinated students who have a #COVID19 exposure to quarantine. @dougducey pic.twitter.com/iCuCuAoq53

— The 9th Floor (@9thFloorAZ) July 14, 2021

The two districts — the Catalina Foothills Unified School District of Pima County and the Peoria Unified School District in Maricopa County — disputed the Ducey administration’s position in a joint response sent to the governor’s education policy adviser, Kaitlin Harrier.

The districts said their policies were in compliance with state law, arguing the statute only bans districts from requiring students to wear masks or to get vaccinated but does not address the 10-day quarantine policy. They also said they were following the guidance of federal and local officials.

“While parents in Arizona are empowered to decide whether and where their children attend public school, they are not permitted to dictate which of the school’s otherwise lawful health and safety procedures their children will follow,” the districts said in their letter.

Mary Kamerzell, the Catalina Foothills superintendent, called the letter from the governor’s office puzzling and said her district, which is in Tucson, was “in full compliance with the new statutes.”

“Our number one priority is to provide a safe and rigorous learning environment for our students,” she said in an email. “We are counting on the state for support, not roadblocks, in this endeavor.”

The dispute has pitted the governor against local school officials in the state’s continuing battle over how to handle the coronavirus pandemic.

With many districts preparing to start school in the next few weeks, the Arizona School Boards Association sent a statement to its members on Thursday expressing support for the two school districts.

“The lack of state leadership has and continues to put our schools at risk for political gain and attention,” a spokeswoman for the association, Heidi Otero, said in an email.

Gov. Ducey lifted stay-at-home orders in mid-May of last year, making Arizona one of the first states to reopen widely after the spring Covid-19 lockdowns. But the state soon was forced to reimpose to stricter orders to counter a rapid rise in cases, closing bars and gyms and allowing cities and counties to declare mask mandates.

While the governor announced some measures aimed at curbing the virus in early December — and has urged people to follow recommended public health guidelines — he has consistently rebuffed appeals for more stringent restrictions, such as a statewide mask mandate, the cancellation of big sports events or a delay to the return of in-person schooling.

C.J. Karamargin, a spokesman for Governor Ducey, said the governor was not going to back down because “we’re not going to allow anyone to deny Arizona kids an education.”

Officials preparing to administer coronavirus tests to members of the U.S. gymnastics team at Japan’s Narita International Airport on Thursday.
Credit…Issei Kato/Reuters

Athletes in isolation. A host city under a state of emergency with coronavirus cases surging. Empty venues where winners will place medals around their own necks.

One week before the Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin in Tokyo, organizers, participants and officials in Japan face ever-growing challenges as they try to pull off the world’s biggest sporting event in the middle of a pandemic.

Organizers have instituted strict Covid rules, barring spectators from most events, mass-testing Olympics personnel, and creating bubbles aimed at separating the public from the thousands of athletes, coaches and guests flying in from around the world. On Thursday, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, insisted that there was no risk that the Games would spread infections, saying that organizers would do everything they could to ensure “that we do not bring any risk to the Japanese people.”

But concerns have grown after several coronavirus cases emerged in recent days among competitors and others involved with the Games.

On Friday, the organizing committee reported four new infections among Olympics-related personnel, bringing to 30 the total confirmed cases this month. One of the cases is of a Nigerian official who tested positive upon arrival and was hospitalized, according to Japanese news outlets, the fifth case detected among delegations from overseas.

This week, 21 South African rugby players went into isolation after being identified as close contacts of an infected person on their flight. Several staff members at a hotel where Brazilian athletes are staying also tested positive for the virus, sending the competitors into isolation.

Bradley Beal, a guard who had been expected to be one of the primary scorers for the U.S. men’s basketball team, will miss the Tokyo Olympics after being placed in health and safety protocols.

Team USA also canceled Friday’s scheduled exhibition against Australia and placed forward Jerami Grant in health and safety protocols as the team faces hurdles in anticipation of the Olympics. Gregg Popovich, Team USA’s coach, told reporters that he expected Grant would still participate in the Olympics.

Australian player Liz Cambage said she had been suffering panic attacks about the prospect of entering an Olympic Covid-19 bubble.

“Every athlete competing in the Olympic Games should be at their mental and physical peak, and at the moment, I’m a long way from where I want and need to be,” she said.

Out of an abundance of caution, the USA Men’s National Team exhibition versus Australia on Friday has been cancelled.

The USA Women’s National Team’s matchup with Australia will be played at 2:30 PM ET on NBCSN.

— USA Basketball (@usabasketball) July 16, 2021

Cases are climbing in Tokyo, which recorded 1,271 new infections on Friday, continuing its biggest surge in six months. Across Japan, despite social distancing restrictions in much of the country, the daily average of cases has risen 63 percent in the past two weeks, according to New York Times data. About 20 percent of Japan’s 126 million people are fully vaccinated, far lower than in many Western countries.

The developments prompted one of Japan’s leading newspapers, The Asahi Shimbun, to declare that the Olympics’ Covid bubble “has already burst.” In an article published on Thursday, the newspaper described confusion at airports, where some arriving athletes took selfies and exchanged fist-bumps with other passengers, and at hotels, where staff members said they sometimes could not determine which guests were part of Olympics delegations and subject to stricter rules.

“It has become clear that organizers’ plans to separate Olympic-related people and the general public are failing miserably,” the newspaper wrote.

Organizers say that their protocols are working and that infections have occurred among only a handful of the tens of thousands of people involved in the Games. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, said on Friday that the Games would “draw attention from the world, where they can be a light of hope under the predicament of Covid.”

During a meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday, Mr. Bach said that 85 percent of residents of the Olympic Village would be vaccinated against Covid-19, and that nearly all I.O.C. members and staff would arrive in Japan fully immunized.

The Daily Poster

Listen to ‘The Daily’: What the Japanese Think of the Olympics

Despite low coronavirus vaccination rates and an ambivalent public, Tokyo is still set to host the Games.

transcript

transcript

Listen to ‘The Daily’: What the Japanese Think of the Olympics

Hosted by Kevin Roose; produced by Soraya Shockley, Jessica Cheung, Rob Szypko and Michael Simon Johnson; edited by Paige Cowett and Lisa Chow; and engineered by Corey Schreppel.

Despite low coronavirus vaccination rates and an ambivalent public, Tokyo is still set to host the Games.

michael barbaro

From The New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.

[music]

Despite the fact that fewer than 10 percent of its population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, Japan says that the Olympic games will be played this summer in Tokyo. Kevin Roose spoke to our colleague, Motoko Rich, about why the Japanese people remain so ambivalent about the idea.

It’s Monday, June 28.

kevin roose

Hello.

motoko rich

Nice to see you.

kevin roose

Good to see you. So we’ve all been watching and waiting to see whether the Olympics are actually going to happen. And now, it’s a month out and it seems like they’re on.

motoko rich

It does. It’s sort of hard to believe. They were postponed last year, and now we’re at this point where we’re kind of amazed that it’s going to happen in about a month.

kevin roose

And I guess on one hand, that makes sense because we are in a moment of recovery. More and more people are getting vaccinated. But on the other hand, my impression is that Japan and many parts of the world, in fact, are not nearly as vaccinated as we are here in the United States. And it also occurs to me that, like, the Olympics is kind of the perfect superspreader event. Like, you’ve got all these people coming from all different parts of the world, bringing with them all kinds of regional and local diseases, possibly. And so I wonder if actually having the Olympics now is a good idea.

motoko rich

You and the Japanese public both are wondering that exact same thing. I mean, I think there’s a lot of anxiety. Japan’s borders have been closed for well over a year. And so all of a sudden, you’re going to have thousands of people, tens of thousands of people from over 200 countries descending on Japan all at once.

And of course, a lot of them will be vaccinated, but as we’re already seeing, some of them may have had the Sino vaccine that has led to some outbreaks in some countries. We’ve already had two Ugandan athletes test positive since landing in Japan. Japan itself doesn’t have the virus completely under control, and as you say, it’s not nearly as vaccinated as the United States or Europe. So there are all kinds of reasons to worry about the public health implications of this event. You’re absolutely right.

kevin roose

But they’re still doing it.

motoko rich

They’re absolutely still doing it. It seems bound and determined. It feels like a runaway train. There’s no stopping it.

kevin roose

And on a very broad level, like, why is that? Why are they so determined to hold the Olympics?

motoko rich

Well, I think there are two reasons and two kind of main parties here. We’ve got the International Olympic Committee that really wants the games to go ahead. They really don’t want to cancel them. They’ve already postponed them for a year. They make a lot of money off the broadcast rights, so they need to have the games go ahead. They need the athletes to compete so they can put them on television.

And for Japan, there’s many reasons, in fact, to want to hold the Olympics. They’ve waited for a whole year. They’ve invested over $15 billion in preparing for this event. 3 billion of that came in the last year alone, during the postponement. And they also see this symbolically as a very important event that will sort of showcase Japan to the world that they have recovered.

kevin roose

And say more about that symbolic recovery. What do you mean?

motoko rich

2011 was probably the worst disaster that Japan has experienced in about a century.

archived recording

The ground began to shake. 32 million people here in Tokyo braced themselves for the worst.

motoko rich

It was a huge magnitude nine earthquake.

archived recording 1

An earthquake so strong it literally shifted the Earth’s axis by about 25 centimeters.

archived recording 2

And then, round two, as the tsunami sirens wailed.

motoko rich

Which led to a devastating tsunami that killed more than 19,000 people.

archived recording 1

[NON-ENGLISH SPEECH]

archived recording 2

The walls of water crash ashore with astonishing power, swallowing everything in the way.

motoko rich

And then it also caused a massive nuclear meltdown.

archived recording

An explosion shortly after the quake at this power plant damaged a building housing a reactor, causing a radioactive leak and the evacuation of a 12-mile radius.

motoko rich

150,000 people who lived near the plant were forced to evacuate. So when they bid for the Olympics, it was just a couple of years after that disaster. It was 2013. And as then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, this would be a symbol to show the world that Japan had recovered, and also something to kind of inspire and revitalize the Japanese public themselves.

kevin roose

Right. So it sort of feels like every time the Olympics are held, the host country basically uses it as a kind of signal, a way to, like, send a message to the world. I’m thinking about, like, Beijing, and that opening ceremony they had with all the amazing, like, synchronized marching. And it was sort of an announcement that, like, China is a global superpower. And so it seems like you’re saying, this time for Japan, the message they were hoping to send was not so much, like, “We have arrived on the global stage,” as “We are back. We have recovered from this terrible catastrophe. We are ready to assume our former position.”

motoko rich

Exactly. And it’s kind of a glorious propaganda opportunity, right? You have weeks in which your country is showcased on international television. And I think a lot of what Japan wanted to get out of this was, hey, come and visit us. I mean, all Olympic host cities want that, right? They would have lots and lots of kind of propaganda-type advertisements that run during the Olympics and, you know, soft features that run on the government-friendly TV stations and what have you, like, look at our beautiful country, come visit.

kevin roose

So that’s what Japan hosting the Olympics was supposed to symbolize to the rest of the world, but what did this plan to host the Olympics mean to the Japanese people?

motoko rich

I think, overwhelmingly, they were just excited about it. This was a very popular event before things kind of went south.

kevin roose

Say more about that. What do you mean by going south?

motoko rich

So I mean, the first thing was that the bid itself came under a cloud.

[music]

There were questions about corruption involved in Tokyo winning as host city.

archived recording

Last month, the French investigating magistrate indicted Tsunekazu Takeda for allegedly making two payments of over 200 million U.S. dollars

motoko rich

And then there was this question about the new national stadium.

archived recording

Reports say it could cost more than — get this — $2 billion.

motoko rich

And then there was this new logo that they designed.

archived recording

Now, Olympics organizers are scrapping the logo after allegations of plagiarism.

motoko rich

So there were all these sort of little nips at the heels of the glow of the Olympics. And then Covid hit.

[music]
kevin roose

So by early 2020, Covid is breaking out across the world. And at that point, the Olympics were supposed to happen that summer, just a few months away. What did Japan and the Olympic Committee decide to do?

motoko rich

Well, for a little while, the Tokyo organizers and the Japanese government seemed to believe that they could pull it off, partly because Japan was, frankly, just not suffering as much as the rest of the world. So I don’t think they quite had their heads around how disastrous the pandemic had become. And they had put in all kinds of measures with the Japanese public that seemed to be working. You know, everyone was wearing masks and doing social distancing and working from home and what have you. But as things started to really go bad and get worse across Europe and the United States, it became clear that even if Japan was doing OK, there was no way that the whole world could come together in four months. And so on March 24, 2020 —

archived recording (prime minister shinzo abe)

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

motoko rich

— in partnership with the International Olympic and Paralympic Committee, they decided to postpone for a year.

archived recording (prime minister shinzo abe)

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

motoko rich

And this was unprecedented. It’s never been postponed before. It’s been canceled. And in fact, Tokyo was supposed to host one of those canceled Olympics during World War II, 1940, but this is the first time that an Olympics has been postponed for a year.

kevin roose

Wow.

motoko rich

And Japan did relatively well compared to the rest of the world, in terms of managing the virus itself. So I think there was this sense in 2020 that things were under control, and so for the organizers and the government, it was this feeling like, OK, we’ve managed it, and then we’re going to turn to kind of the albeit logistical nightmare of restaging an event a year later and inviting the world, but we sort of feel like we have it under control. But then after the break of the new year in 2021, things really started to change in Japan.

kevin roose

How so?

motoko rich

So basically, the success that Japan had had managing the virus in 2020 started to deteriorate in 2021. I mean, think partly because people were starting to get a little bit complacent about it, but also they weren’t getting vaccinated. And so those two forces conspired to drive the infection rate up. Various cities, including Tokyo, were setting records of case loads and record deaths. And so all of a sudden, the government had to initiate some clampdowns, putting various cities, including Tokyo, into a state of emergency.

And people were starting to get a little bit scared. And at the same time, they were seeing around the world on their TV or their Instagram feeds that people in the United States and the UK and Europe were starting to get vaccinated, and it wasn’t really happening in Japan. It was taking so long to get the vaccination rollout going. And so people were starting to get worried. And now, the scenario where Japan was sort of under control was no longer true.

kevin roose

I guess I would have assumed that Japan would be very proactive about getting vaccines for its citizens. Like, it’s a rich country, has good access to global markets, and has a lot riding on the success of these Olympics. They must have known that vaccines and access to vaccines would be kind of the difference between having a successful Olympics and not. So why aren’t more Japanese people getting vaccinated?

motoko rich

I mean, it is a true puzzle because when you put it that way, and many people have, it just doesn’t make sense that they wouldn’t have done everything they could to get everybody vaccinated as fast as they could. But there were a number of factors in play. One is that there is quite a lot of vaccine hesitancy in the Japanese public. There has been previously, and specifically for vaccines developed outside of Japan.

So there was a concern within the kind of health ministry and the health establishment that if we rush this out, that everyone will refuse to get it and that will be counterproductive. And so one of the things that the Japanese health ministry said that they need to do, and the kind of regulatory authorities, was that they needed to approve the drugs themselves. And that part of the process is they needed to conduct clinical trials. So that was going to take some time.

Then on top of that, when they negotiated their contracts with Pfizer and Moderna and AstraZeneca, the people who negotiated these contracts were not hard-charging trade negotiators, they were health ministry bureaucrats. And so they probably didn’t negotiate very good contracts. So when I talked to Pfizer, for example, they said, yes, we will fulfill our contracts to get them our vaccines by the end of 2021.

So I think there was a supply issue at the beginning. Also, Japan is very, very cautious in matters of health care. And because of the vaccine hesitancy, the only people who are authorized to give vaccines are doctors and nurses. So whereas in the United States you can walk into any Walgreens or Walmart or CVS and a pharmacist can give you a jab, that is not the case in Japan. And so that kind of throttles things.

And so there were just so many factors that were slowing it down at the beginning. And so when it came to the Olympics, I think people were starting to get genuinely angry. There was this feeling that there was this focus, almost a monomaniacal focus, because the central government, the Tokyo government and the organizing committee kept talking about — we are going to hold this successful Olympics. But instead of talking about it as a symbol of recovery from the Fukushima disaster of 2011, they’re now talking about it being a triumph over the pandemic. And the public was saying, we don’t see a triumph over the pandemic. We’re seeing, actually, the opposite. And why are you spending all this energy on holding this Olympics, and why are you inviting a potential superspreader event to our country?

You know, as the days moved forward, the torch relay started, people were starting to get more and more angry.

archived recording

[CHANTING]

motoko rich

There were some protests.

archived recording

They’re chanting for the Olympics to be canceled. They are scared and angry.

[music]
motoko rich

There were people gathering signatures on petitions to have them canceled.

archived recording 1

It’s too dangerous.

archived recording 2

[SPEAKING JAPANESE]

motoko rich

Certainly on social media, there was a lot of outcry. And so it got to the point where, in March of this year, close to 80 percent of those polled were saying the games should either be postponed again or just canceled all together. So people were definitely angry about that notion that there was so much energy being expended on holding the Olympics that they thought could genuinely be dangerous.

[music]
michael barbaro

We’ll be right back.

kevin roose

So the Japanese people are basically saying, like, something’s got to give. Like, we can’t host the Olympics, this potential global superspreader event, and also not have access to vaccines, which seems pretty reasonable. And I guess I’m wondering what the Japanese government’s case is for pushing forward with this. Obviously, they have a huge interest in having the Olympics happen — financial, national pride, et cetera — but they also have a huge interest in not having a massive Covid spike that could result in a bunch of infections and deaths.

motoko rich

Correct. I mean, it is interesting that they have these reasons to want to push ahead, and yet you would think that the desire to avoid a true disaster — you don’t want to be known as the Olympics with the asterisk by it, this is the Olympics that caused a rebound of Covid after a year and a half of everyone going through this devastating, traumatic pandemic. But I think there’s a combination of a lot of factors.

I mean, I think there’s a little bit — part of that national pride is this sense that we can manage it, we can handle it. We’ve got all these precautions in place and we’re going to pull this off. And I certainly think that politically for the current government, and certainly for the current prime minister, that he sort of knows that his career is dead in the water if he cancels the event. So I think that’s partly it.

I think that there is also this concern that they don’t want to be overtaken by China. The whole point of hosting the Olympics is to show that Japan is back and is still a global power. And Beijing is the next host of the Winter Olympics. And those will be happening in 2022. So if China becomes the first post-pandemic Olympics — and make no mistake, they will certainly market it that way if they end up being so — Japan does not want that to happen. And so there’s a certain sense of, kind of in a geopolitical stakes, that they want to make sure that they have this marker here.

And the third reason is something that’s external to Japan, which is that they have a contract with the International Olympic Committee which states that they can’t cancel this. And if they do, they would be financially on the hook for quite a lot of money. They’ve already put in $15 billion. And then if they’re on the hook for sort of fines for canceling it, that would just be beyond the pale, I think, for them. So they really feel like they’re caught and under pressure by the contract, that they really can’t pull out.

kevin roose

Hm. So they’re kind of damned if they don’t and maybe damned if they do.

motoko rich

Yeah, there’s a good chance they’re damned if they do. I mean, even though people seem to have become a little more resigned to the fact that they’re going ahead, that the polls are not quite as dramatic about that they should be canceled or they should be postponed, but still, over 85 percent of people are genuinely concerned that the Olympics will cause a rebound in the coronavirus in Japan.

kevin roose

Hm.

motoko rich

And the truly scary part of it is it’s not just about Japan, right? It’s about the whole world, because this is an asymptomatically transmitted disease, and everybody’s going to leave the country and be on planes. So there could be outbreaks that affect the Japanese public, but there could also be outbreaks that affect people after they go home.

kevin roose

So Motoko, what is Japan actually doing to try to pull this off? I’m thinking about the NBA bubble, which seems like it was pretty successful, the Major League Baseball non-bubble — which didn’t turn out so well. Like, what have the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics learned from watching these other sports leagues try to contain the pandemic while still holding their events, and what can we expect these Olympics to look like?

motoko rich

I mean, I think a lot of what they’ve learned, both through managing the pandemic internally in Japan, where, by the way, they are holding sports events, and by watching the events that you reference, is that you’ve got to reduce human-to-human contact as much as possible. That’s kind of counter to what the Olympics are about. I mean, the whole notion of the Olympics is bringing the world together, and everything about the rules about these Olympics are about keeping them as far apart as possible.

So the athletes cannot arrive four or five days before their competition, and they must leave two days after they finish competing. So they won’t get to hang out in the village. And as a kind of marker of that, this will be the first Olympics since 1988 when condoms will not be handed out in the village.

kevin roose

Whoa.

motoko rich

So there’s no partying, there’s no going to the local bars and restaurants. Everybody has to get tested every day. And when the spectators are in the stands, they’re not even allowed to shout. They have to just clap. I went to a soccer match last year that were conducted under the rules that will be imposed on the Olympics. And we all had to sit two seats in between us, masks on, no drinking, no cheering. I mean, it was so quiet in the stands that I could hear every call on the field, and I could even hear the guy who was, like, crinkling a wrapper three rows in front of me. So everything about this Olympics suggests not fun.

kevin roose

Wow, that’s amazing. I mean, sounds like it will be so different from any Olympics we’ve ever seen, where we expect these huge cheering crowds decked out in their country’s colors cheering on their country’s athletes, you know, fist bumping, high fiving, celebratory drinking. Like, none of that is going to happen.

motoko rich

No.

kevin roose

And so I guess I just wonder if, instead of showing the world that Japan is back and the pandemic is over and this is this triumphal moment of return, these Olympics — even if they’re successful at containing the spread of Covid — could shine the brightest of lights on the fact that Japan is not back and the pandemic is not over. If you’re one of us sitting on your couch watching this all happen, the picture that you get might be not how normal things are, but how abnormal.

motoko rich

I think that’s 100 percent correct, that you will be thinking how abnormal it is. And I think there is going to be a certain proportion of the public, both in Japan and outside, who will definitely think that this was a colossal waste of energy and money. But in fairness, I don’t think we should discount what the Olympics mean to a certain component of the public that loves them and does feel this sort of sense of international coming together, and then the national pride of any country for the medals that it wins, and for the athletes themselves to be able to put themselves in this competition that they’ve worked all their lives for. All of that will still be present, but I think it will have been tainted by all that has come before.

kevin roose

Right. We will still be able to cheer for Simone Biles, for example. And unlike the people who are actually in Tokyo watching the Olympics live, those of us at home will be allowed to cheer with our mouths, and not just our hands.

motoko rich

That is correct, yes. You will not have to repress your joy.

[music]
kevin roose

Motoko, thank you.

motoko rich

Thank you so much for having me.

[music]
michael barbaro

Here’s what else you need to know today.

archived recording

What are you telling families who are still hoping to find their loved ones?

archived recording (charles burkett)

One thing I’m telling them that we are working 24 hours a day nonstop, nothing else on our mind, with the only objective of pulling their family members out of that rubble safely.

michael barbaro

The mayor of the Florida town where a condominium tower collapsed on Thursday, killing at least nine residents, said that workers are undertaking a major search and rescue operation in the hope of finding more than 150 people who remain unaccounted for.

archived recording (charles burkett)

Listen, buildings don’t fall down in America. That is a third-world phenomenon.

michael barbaro

In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, the mayor, Charles Burkett, said that the cause of the collapse is still unknown.

archived recording (charles burkett)

It’s very disturbing. There was something obviously very, very wrong in this building, and we need to get to the bottom of it.

michael barbaro

But a consultant hired by the condo’s board three years ago had discovered that the columns and walls of the parking garage beneath the building were cracking and crumbling, and urgently recommended repairs that were never completed.

Today’s episode was produced by Soraya Shockley, Jessica Cheung, Rob Szypko and Michael Simon Johnson. It was edited by Paige Cowett and Lisa Chow, and engineered by Corey Schreppel.

[music]

That’s it for The Daily. I’m Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow.

Last week, officials said that they would bar spectators from most events, after Tokyo’s decision to extend a state of emergency for the duration of the Games. On Thursday, the I.O.C. announced changes to the medal ceremonies, saying that medals would be laid out on trays for the athletes to pick up themselves and that podiums would be larger than usual to ensure social distancing.

Still, public opposition to the Games, which were postponed from last year, has remained intense. Protesters have picketed outside Mr. Bach’s hotel and circulated petitions demanding that the event be called off. Kenji Utsunomiya, a former chairman of Japan’s bar association, submitted a petition with more than 450,000 signatures to the Tokyo metropolitan government on Thursday, arguing that the Games should not be held under a state of emergency.

“We won’t be able to save lives if the infection spreads further and the medical system collapses,” he told reporters. “Now is the time to cancel the Games with courage.”

From protests and Covid-related bans on fans, join Times journalists for an exclusive virtual event as we discuss what this moment means for Tokyo 2020. Plus learn about the sports new to the Olympics through interviews with U.S. surfer Carissa Moore and Czech climber Adam Ondra. Click the button above to R.S.V.P.

Video

transcript

transcript

Biden Slams Social Media Companies for Pandemic Misinformation

President Biden said that companies like Facebook were responsible for spreading misinformation about vaccines and the coronavirus pandemic, attributing preventable deaths to the platforms.

“What’s your message to platforms like Facebook?” “They’re killing people. I mean, really. Well, look, the only pandemic, we have is among the unvaccinated and that, and they’re killing people.”

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President Biden said that companies like Facebook were responsible for spreading misinformation about vaccines and the coronavirus pandemic, attributing preventable deaths to the platforms.CreditCredit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

President Biden unleashed his growing frustration with social media on Friday, saying that platforms like Facebook were “killing people” by allowing disinformation about the coronavirus vaccine to spread online.

Mr. Biden’s forceful statement capped weeks of grievance in the White House over the dissemination of vaccine disinformation online, even as the pace of inoculations slows and health officials warn of the rising danger of the Delta variant.

Just before boarding Marine One for a weekend in Camp David in Maryland, Mr. Biden was asked what his message was to social media platforms when it came to Covid-19 disinformation.

“They’re killing people,” he said. “Look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated, and that — and they’re killing people.”

Mr. Biden spoke a day after the surgeon general of the United States used his first formal advisory to criticize tech and social media companies to stop dangerous health information that presents “an urgent threat to public health.”

The Biden administration has warned of the spread of misinformation about vaccines and the coronavirus from a range of sources, including politicians and news outlets. But this week, White House officials went further and singled out social media companies for allowing false information to proliferate. That came after weeks of failed attempts to get Facebook to turn over information detailing what mechanisms were in place to combat misinformation about the vaccine, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The spread of false information has become the latest flash point for social media companies. Facebook and other social media sites have struggled with their role as platforms for speech while protecting their users from disinformation campaigns, like Russian efforts to influence presidential elections or false statements about the pandemic.

Fowlds Cafe in London has bucked the trend of the rest of the hospitality industry. Last Spring it only needed to close for five days while the owner quickly transformed it into a coffee shop and general store with no seating.
Credit…Eshe Nelson/The New York Times

The relaxation of pandemic restrictions and the growing ranks of people vaccinated against the coronavirus have propelled Europe’s economy forward in the past few months. And the European Commission even upgraded its forecasts for the region.

But the rapid spread of the more contagious Delta variant has made the path of the recovery much more unpredictable and uneven.

In Britain, the final lifting of restrictions on Monday is expected to add fresh momentum to the economic recovery. But the surge in infections presents a new hurdle to businesses trying to operate at full capacity. Sectors like hospitality, theater and trucking are having to temporarily shut as workers go into self-isolation because they have either caught the virus or have been told they have come into contact with someone who has.

In Spain, which once again has one of the highest infection rates in Europe, some regional governments have reintroduced restrictions. Portugal has reintroduced a curfew in Lisbon, Porto and other popular tourism spots, dampening a second summer travel season. The Netherlands also announced new measures this week.

The German economy has been bouncing back quickly, and the country’s unemployment rate, at 5.9 percent, is almost back to the pre-crisis level.

But Germany’s recovery has also been bumpy. The number of new cases has doubled in the last week, and three-quarters of those were attributed to the variant. Although there is no talk of renewed lockdowns in Germany so far, quarantine rules for returning travelers may discourage tourism.

That is bad news for the rest of Europe: Germans are among the continent’s most avid travelers.

Attending to a patient in Kairouan, Tunisia, earlier this month.
Credit…Fethi Belaid/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Africa is in its deadliest stage of the pandemic so far, and there is little relief in sight.

The more contagious Delta variant is sweeping across the continent. Namibia and Tunisia are reporting more deaths per capita than any other country. Hospitals across the continent are filling up, oxygen supplies and medical workers are stretched thin, and recorded deaths jumped 40 percent last week alone.

But only about 1 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated. And even the African Union’s modest goal of inoculating 20 percent of the population by the end of this year seems out of reach.

Rich nations have bought up most doses long into the future, often far more than they could conceivably need. Hundreds of millions of shots from a global vaccine-sharing effort have failed to materialize.

Supplies to African countries are unlikely to increase much in the next few months, rendering vaccines, the most effective tool against Covid, of little use in the current wave. Instead, many countries are resorting to lockdowns and curfews.

On Friday, Gavi, the vaccine alliance that co-lead the vaccine sharing program Covax, said the United States would deliver 25 millions doses of the vaccine manufactured by Johnson & Johnson to African countries in the coming weeks.

Yet even a year from now, supplies may not be enough to meet demand from Africa’s 1.3 billion people unless richer countries share their stockpiles and rethink how the distribution system should work.

“The blame squarely lies with the rich countries,” said Dr. Githinji Gitahi, a commissioner with Africa Covid-19 Response, a continental task force. “A vaccine delayed is a vaccine denied.”

At a restaurant in Los Angeles last month. Face masks indoors will become compulsory there again on Saturday.
Credit…Kendrick Brinson for The New York Times

Last month, flanked by the “Transformers” robot hero Optimus Prime and a bevy of Minions from the “Despicable Me” movie franchise, Gov. Gavin Newsom triumphantly stood before the Universal Studios Hollywood globe, lifting more than a year’s worth of pandemic health restrictions and announcing California’s “grand reopening.”

“We are here today, June 15, to turn the page,” the governor said, his clean-shaven face mask-free in the Los Angeles sunshine.

On Saturday at midnight, Los Angeles County health authorities will turn back that page.

Just four weeks into California’s push for a return to normalcy, health officials in the state’s most populous county announced that face masks would again be required indoors starting this weekend, the first major county in America to restore indoor masking requirements regardless of vaccination status.

Driven by the rise of the ultra-contagious Delta variant and pockets of low vaccination, the announcement, which affects more than 10 million Californians, led a wave of heightened health warnings in a state of 40 million people. It also reflected concern nationally that vaccine defiance, disinformation and the variant have been responsible for significant increases in coronavirus cases in Arkansas, Louisiana and elsewhere.

Los Angeles County’s new rules came Thursday as the University of California’s 10-campus system announced that most faculty, staff and students will be barred from its campuses this fall if they show up without vaccinations. Health authorities in Sacramento, Fresno and Yolo Counties also recommended, but did not yet require, that residents return to indoor masking, a move that was followed on Friday by Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma Counties in the Bay Area.

The new local and institutional health rules also sowed confusion.

The C.D.C. as well as the state’s Department of Public Health have said fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks indoors in most situations. However, Los Angeles has been among the more cautious jurisdictions throughout its response to the pandemic, and California’s guidance gives counties the option to impose tighter restrictions locally.

Julius Ssekitoleko competing in Australia in 2018.
Credit…Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

A Ugandan weight lifter who traveled to Japan in the hopes of competing in the Tokyo Olympics has gone missing after failing to show up for a coronavirus test, officials said on Friday.

The weight lifter, Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, is one of nine Ugandans who had been staying in Izumisano, a city in Osaka Prefecture in western Japan, since mid-June.

Olympic organizers have tried to keep all Games participants in a “bubble” and under strict rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus while they are in the country. Athletes training outside Japan have been restricted to hotels and training venues.

Last month, two people traveling with the Ugandan Olympic delegation tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Japan. It is not clear whether Mr. Ssekitoleko was one of them.

The police are conducting a search, said Katsunobu Kato, the chief cabinet secretary to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Mr. Kato said the police and city officials were making an “all-out effort” to find the weight lifter.

Yuji Fukuoka, a spokesman for the city of Izumisano, said that an official who had traveled with the Ugandan delegation checked Mr. Ssekitoleko’s hotel room on Friday, only to find that he was not there.

“All we want is that he’s found as soon as possible,” Mr. Fukuoka said. “He might be having a tough time.”

The Detroit-Windsor Tunnel in March 2020.
Credit…Paul Sancya/Associated Press

The mayor of Windsor, Ontario, said the Canadian government had blocked his plan to vaccinate residents inside the tunnel that connects his city with Detroit, using some of Michigan’s surplus, soon-to-expire Covid-19 vaccine doses.

It was an ambitious idea: Since Canadian officials wouldn’t allow U.S. vaccines into the country, American pharmacists would come to the edge of the U.S. border inside the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, which connects the two cities, and jab the vaccine into the arms of Canadians on the other side.

The plan, which was reported by The Detroit Free Press, was the brainchild of Drew Dilkens, the mayor of Windsor. He said in an interview on Thursday that medical professionals in Detroit had told him they were tossing extra vaccines as the demand for the shots in the United States slowed.

Michigan has scrapped nearly 150,000 unused vaccine doses since December, said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to looming expiration dates, she said, doses were also discarded because of broken syringes or vials.

The Canadian government has not allowed those surplus vaccines to enter the country, so Mr. Dilkens figured that his tunnel plan would keep the doses in Michigan and his residents in Canada. He even arranged for a white line to be painted along the border in the tunnel.

“When the Canadians go down, their feet would stay on the right side of the line,” he said, “and the United States folks, their feet stand on the left.”

But the Canada Border Services Agency denied the request, saying in a letter last month that closing the tunnel for the proposed vaccination effort could disrupt trade and would have “significant security implications.”

Canada had lagged behind the United States in distributing vaccines but has recently caught up. According to the government’s health database, nearly 68 percent of Canadians have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and nearly 36 percent have been fully vaccinated. In the United States, where demand for vaccines has cooled in recent weeks, nearly 56 percent of Americans have received at least one dose and just over 43 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a Times database.

Aaron Judge, the Yankees’ star outfielder, celebrating at Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Denver.
Credit…John G Mabanglo/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Yankees were allowed to return to baseball on Friday, but without two of their best players. Aaron Judge and Gio Urshela, along with backup catcher Kyle Higashioka, were placed on the Covid-19 injured list after testing positive for the coronavirus. All are expected to miss at least 10 days.

A total of six Yankees are now on the Covid list, the second outbreak to hit the team this season. While many of the positive tests among Yankees players and staff have been so-called breakthrough cases, where a player who was vaccinated tested positive, the team said that was not the case for all of Friday’s positive tests, meaning at least one of the players was not vaccinated. But the Yankees did not identify which players were, or weren’t, vaccinated.

Judge, one of the most popular Yankee players, was at Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Denver, and was near many of the game’s biggest stars, igniting concern that the game’s best players may have been exposed. Five Boston Red Sox All-Stars shared a clubhouse with Judge, but all five were active on Friday. The three position players among that group, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez, were all in Boston’s starting lineup.

Officials with other teams, in conjunction with Major League Baseball, have been following up with Judge’s close contacts at the All-Star festivities and have been conducting testing where appropriate.

In Denver, the Colorado Rockies announced it had made four players inactive because of Covid and contact tracing protocols.

The series between the Yankees and Red Sox was permitted to resume Friday night after Thursday’s game was postponed. The postponement had come after three Yankee pitchers — Nestor Cortes Jr., Jonathan Loaisiga and Wandy Peralta — were confirmed as positive for the virus. After Friday’s round of testing, M.L.B. determined the series could go on and the postponed game would be made up on Aug. 17 as part of a doubleheader.

For M.L.B., it was the eighth postponement because of virus concerns within the first 2,964 games this season. Last year, 45 out of 900 games were postponed.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays, Canada’s only big-league baseball team, will be returning to their home city on July 30. Because of the closed U.S.-Canada border, the team has been forced to find makeshift regular-season homes in Dunedin, Fla., its spring training site, and in Buffalo, where it displaced the franchise’s top minor league team.