Covid News: Hong Kong Eases Some of the World’s Strictest Travel Rules – The New York Times

Waiting for shuttle buses to mandatory government-designated quarantine hotels in the arrivals hall at the Hong Kong International Airport last month.
Credit…Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock

Hong Kong said Tuesday it would allow fully vaccinated residents to return to the city from five additional countries and relaxed restrictions on travelers from mainland China, moving away from some of the world’s strictest measures against the coronavirus.

The loosening of rules is expected to remove a significant hurdle for travelers. It is also a step toward focusing more on preventing severe illness and death, rather than stopping the spread of the virus completely. Singapore and South Korea have also eased rules in the past few weeks and leaders there are now acknowledging that the virus may be a permanent part of life.

While Hong Kong’s previous approach had kept new cases at or near zero, business leaders and residents expressed concern that stringent quarantine restrictions would damage the economy. Travelers from countries deemed high risk by officials have been required to quarantine for three weeks, including those who have been vaccinated.

The eased restrictions come after 53 percent of the city’s population has been fully vaccinated and no new local cases have been reported in the last three weeks, according to the health authorities.

Hong Kong residents from India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand and South Korea can now enter the city if they are fully vaccinated, according to a news release, but must still quarantine for two to three weeks.

The addition of those five nations raises the number of countries from which residents are granted entry to 49, in addition to mainland China and Macau.

Quarantine-free travel will restart on Wednesday for Hong Kong residents arriving from mainland China and Macau, said Carrie Lam, the chief executive, at a news conference on Tuesday morning.

Hong Kong will also allow as many as 2,000 nonresidents to enter from the mainland and Macau each day without needing to quarantine starting a week from Wednesday.

Tiffany May contributed reporting.

In May, Prague Castle held a memorial for Czech victims of the coronavirus, with nearly 30,000 candles set out in its plazas. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria have had some of the European Union’s highest excess mortality rates during the pandemic.
Credit…David W Cerny/Reuters

BRUSSELS — More than 70 percent of the European Union’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, making it one of the world’s vaccination leaders. But vaccination rates in Eastern and Central Europe are all below that average, exposing the bloc to new waves of infections and creating a divide that E.U. officials and experts say could hamper recovery efforts.

While 80 percent of the adult populations in countries like Belgium, Denmark and Portugal have been fully vaccinated, European data shows that the figure plunges to about 32 percent in Romania and about 20 percent in Bulgaria, where deaths have been surging.

Those countries, along with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, have had some of the highest excess mortality rates across the European Union during the pandemic. And inoculation rates have fallen broadly in recent weeks, particularly in countries like Poland and Slovakia.

“We cannot afford to have parts of Europe less protected, this makes us all more vulnerable,” Stella Kyriakides, the European Union’s health commissioner, said.

The high vaccination rates in Western European countries are an achievement that few would have believed possible earlier this year, when E.U. member countries were embroiled in sluggish rollouts that probably caused thousands of additional deaths and quarreling with bloc officials and vaccine makers over delivery issues.

But they made a strong comeback, and countries like France and Germany are about to vaccinate millions with booster shots. Spain is aiming to inoculate 90 percent of its total population soon. And Italy is considering making vaccinations mandatory. In contrast, large swaths of the populations of Eastern European nations have yet to receive a single dose.

“The story we hear about the pandemic in France, Germany or the Netherlands is very different than the one we hear in Bulgaria or Poland,” said Ivan Krastev, a Bulgarian political scientist and the co-author of a report on the perceptions of the pandemic in 12 E.U. countries.

The scarcity of doses that dogged early vaccination campaigns across the bloc is no longer an issue. Instead, misinformation, distrust of the authorities, and ignorance about the benefits of inoculation seem to be behind the low uptake in Central and Eastern Europe.

The World Health Organization warned last month that 230,000 people in Europe could die of the coronavirus by December, citing slowing vaccination rates and the lack of restrictive measures to combat the spread.

Paramedics transported a woman believed to be suffering from Covid-19 in Louisville, Ky., on Monday.
Credit…Jon Cherry/Getty Images

More than 40 million cases of the coronavirus have been recorded in the United States, according to a New York Times database.

The total number of known infections, more than the population of California, the nation’s most populous state, is a testament to the spread of the coronavirus, especially lately the highly contagious Delta variant, and the United States’ patchwork efforts to rein it in.

Vaccines are effective in preventing severe disease and death, but about 47 percent of Americans are not fully vaccinated, allowing the Delta variant more than enough opportunity to inflict suffering and disrupt daily life. Health officials say that most of the patients who are being hospitalized and dying are not vaccinated, and that it is those unvaccinated people who are driving the current surge and burdening the health care system.

Over the past week, new virus cases have averaged more than 161,000 a day, as of Sunday. New deaths are up to 1,560 a day, and hospitalizations are averaging more than 102,000 a day. Those numbers, while very high, remain lower than last winter’s peaks.

Before July 4, President Biden said he hoped for “a summer of freedom.” Instead, the Delta variant became the dominant form of the virus, ravaging unvaccinated populations and filling I.C.U.s in some states.

In an appearance last Wednesday, Gov. Brad Little of Idaho, a Republican, pleaded with people to get vaccinated: “I wish everyone could have seen what I saw in the I.C.U. last night.”

On Tuesday Idaho’s Department of Health and Welfare said it has activated crisis standards of care, emergency measures put in place when there are insufficient health care resources available, in the northern part of the state. Hospitals will implement the standards as needed, according to a news release from the department.

“When crisis standards of care are in effect, people who need medical care may experience care that is different from what they expect,” the department said. “For example, patients admitted to the hospital may find that hospital beds are not available or are in repurposed rooms (such as a conference room).”

Dave Jeppesen, director of the department, said “This is a decision I was fervently hoping to avoid.”

Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia said at a news conference on Monday that the virus had flooded many of his state’s hospitals and closed schools there.

“We’ve got a really big time, big time situation in West Virginia, as it is all across this nation,” said Mr. Justice, a Republican.

After reading a list of people who died in his state from causes related to the disease since Friday, Mr. Justice pleaded with the unvaccinated people of West Virginia to get inoculated.

“We’ve got to get vaccinated for all, not just for you but for everybody — we’ve got to do this,” he said. “We can stop a lot of this terrible, terrible, terrible carnage.”

No U.S. state has more than 70 percent of its population fully vaccinated, according to federal data, and while the average pace of vaccinations ticked upward this summer, it remains far lower than when it peaked in the spring.

Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

Cases in the United States make up nearly a fifth of the known global total, more than 221 million cases as of Tuesday, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. That is likely to be an undercount because of factors like insufficient testing and reporting.

The news came at the end of the Labor Day holiday weekend, not long after Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned that unvaccinated Americans should avoid travel.

But data from the Transportation Security Administration suggested people did not stay home in droves. T.S.A. checkpoints recorded 2.13 million travelers through U.S. airports on Friday, close to the number on the Friday before Labor Day two years ago.

Ethan Hauser and Julie Walton Shaver contributed reporting.

A woman waiting for a malaria test in La Paz, Colombia. The pandemic has made treatment for illnesses such as malaria, TB and H.I.V. harder to come by. 
Credit…Federico Rios for The New York Times

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely set back the fight against other global scourges like H.I.V., tuberculosis and malaria, according to a sobering new report released on Tuesday.

Before the pandemic, the world had been making strides against these illnesses. Overall, deaths from them had dropped by about half since 2004.

But the pandemic has flooded hospitals and disrupted supply chains for tests and treatments. In many poor countries, the coronavirus diverted limited public health resources from treatment and prevention of these diseases.

Many fewer people sought diagnosis or medication, because they were afraid of catching the coronavirus at clinics.

Unless comprehensive efforts to beat back the illnesses resume, “we’ll continue to play emergency response and global health Whac-a-Mole,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, a nonprofit organization promoting H.I.V. treatment worldwide.

The report was compiled by the Global Fund, an advocacy group that funds campaigns against H.I.V., malaria and tuberculosis.

Before the arrival of the coronavirus, TB was the biggest infectious-disease killer worldwide, claiming more than a million lives each year. The pandemic has exacerbated the damage.

In 2020, about a million fewer people were tested and treated for TB, compared with 2019 — a drop of about 18 percent, according to the new report.

Compared with 2019, the number of people who sought testing for H.I.V. last year declined by 22 percent, and those who opted for H.I.V. prevention services by 12 percent. Medical male circumcision, thought to slow the spread of the virus, decreased by 27 percent.

However, there were some hopeful developments: The crisis forced health agencies and ministries in many poor countries to adopt innovations that may outlast the pandemic. Among them: dispensing several months’ supplies to patients of TB and H.I.V. drugs, or condoms, lubricants and needles; using digital tools to monitor TB treatment; and testing simultaneously for H.I.V., TB and Covid-19.

Many U.S. employers have delayed plans for returning to the office as the Delta variant prolongs the pandemic.
Credit…Emily Elconin/Reuters

In the nearly 18 months since the pandemic first forced companies to send their employees to work from home, the date that U.S. employers planned to bring workers back to offices has changed again and again.

First it was January, a full year after the coronavirus first surfaced in China. January slipped to July, as tens of millions of people lined up across America to be vaccinated.

But then the surge of vaccinations peaked, and the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus drove another spike in cases. For many companies, September became the new July.

Now September is mostly out as an option, and it’s anybody’s guess when workers will return to their offices in large numbers.

Companies have new variables to consider, including mask mandates that have been dropped and ordered back; evidence that the effectiveness of vaccines, while still strong, may be waning; booster shots; and burned-out workers who are vaccinated at varying rates. There are also the differing infection rates across the country and a shifting power dynamic between employers and employees.

Uber, Google, Amazon, Apple and Starbucks have said they will postpone their return dates to next year. Executives say their rationale for the long delay is twofold: In addition to wanting to keep employees out of harm’s way, they are seeking an end to the roller coaster of anticipated return dates and further changes.

The fits and starts make it difficult for employees to plan, and the hope is that a far-off return date will not need to be adjusted yet again.

Leading the charge of postponements are technology firms, which tend to have significant portions of employees who can do their jobs from home. In April, before Delta had become the dominant strain of the virus in the United States, Airbnb moved its return date all the way to September 2022.

Scottish police officers training in August in preparation for the international climate summit, scheduled for Glasgow, Scotland, this year.
Credit…Pool photo by Jane Barlow

A global network of activists called on Tuesday for international climate talks scheduled for November in Scotland to be postponed, arguing that delegates from the most vulnerable nations would not be able to attend because of the pandemic.

The Climate Action Network said in a statement that travel restrictions, surging coronavirus caseloads and low vaccination levels across the world’s poorer countries would make it impossible for many representatives to attend the annual conference, organized by the United Nations and known as COP-26.

An in-person gathering would exclude government officials, activists and others from countries that are on the United Kingdom’s “red list,” meaning they are barred from entry to Scotland unless they are U.K. citizens or residents.

“There has always been an inherent power imbalance between rich and poor nations within the U.N. climate talks and this is now compounded by the health crisis,” the group’s executive director, Tasneem Essop, said in the statement.

The group, which includes more than 1,500 civil-society organizations worldwide, said that a shortage of vaccines in much of the developing world amounts effectively to a travel ban on citizens of those countries. While nearly 59 percent of people in the European Union have been fully vaccinated, and 52 percent in the United States, the figure stands at only 3 percent in Africa.

Organizers of the climate talks have promised to speed vaccines to delegates, but the Climate Action Network said that no shots had been administered so far, and that officials had not clarified whether attendees would be subjected to hotel quarantines that could be prohibitively expensive for civil society groups and representatives of poorer governments.

If the conference goes ahead as planned, “I fear it is only the rich countries and N.G.O.s from those countries that would be able to attend,” said Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, a research institute in Kenya.

The talks — which were canceled last November because of the pandemic — are formally known as the Conference of the Parties, and include representatives of the countries that signed the U.N. pact to fight climate change. At or before the meeting, scheduled from Nov. 1 to Nov. 12, countries are expected to announce how they plan to strengthen their climate action targets.

In April, Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist, said that she would not attend this year’s talks unless all participants could be vaccinated equally.

The Food and Drug Administration has warned Covid-19 patients against taking the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin, especially in concentrated doses intended for large livestock.
Credit…Rolex Dela Pena/EPA, via Shutterstock

An Ohio judge on Monday reversed an earlier decision requiring a hospital to administer ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug that is primarily used as a veterinary deworming agent, to a patient as a treatment for Covid-19.

The judge, Michael A. Oster Jr., wrote that “there can be no doubt that the medical and scientific communities do not support the use of ivermectin as a treatment for Covid-19” and that the plaintiff had failed to provide convincing evidence to show that it was effective.

The Food and Drug Administration has warned Covid-19 patients against taking ivermectin. Concentrated doses intended for horses and other large livestock can be toxic in humans, the agency has said.

However, the drug has become a popular subject among conservative talk show hosts. Physicians and toxicologists have raised alarms about people obtaining ivermectin from livestock supply centers amid a surge in calls to poison control centers about overdoses and adverse reactions to the drug.

The Ohio lawsuit was filed by Julie Smith, who was acting as the guardian for her husband, Jeffrey Smith. A different judge granted a 14-day injunction last month, ordering West Chester Hospital north of Cincinnati to administer the drug to Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith, 51, tested positive for the virus on July 9 and the following week was admitted to West Chester Hospital’s intensive care unit, according to court documents. On Aug. 1, he was sedated, intubated and placed on a ventilator.

Ivermectin was prescribed by Mr. Smith’s physician, who does not have privileges at West Chester Hospital and did not see Mr. Smith before approving the treatment, court records show.

“While the court is sympathetic to the plaintiff and understands the idea of wanting to do anything to help her loved one, public policy should not and does not support allowing a physician to try ‘any’ type of treatment on human beings,” Judge Oster wrote.

Jill Biden, the first lady, with President Biden arriving at the White House on Monday. Dr. Biden, who has a doctorate in educational leadership, teaches writing at Northern Virginia Community College.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Jill Biden, the first lady, quietly started another school year as an English professor on Tuesday, returning to the physical classroom after a year of teaching remotely.

Dr. Biden, who has a doctorate in educational leadership, teaches writing at Northern Virginia Community College, where she taught full-time as second lady throughout the Obama administration. As first lady, she is the first to balance her career with public-facing duties.

Those taking Dr. Biden’s classes will learn through a hybrid model, with at least half of the semester’s classes taking place in person, according to a schedule listed on the school’s website. All students are required to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Sending the first lady back into the classroom will reinforce President Biden’s promise that his administration can get students safely back into in-person learning, even as the Delta variant surges across the United States. It will also give one of the most influential people in the White House the ability to speak firsthand about the challenges administrators, teachers and students are facing.

The rise of the Delta variant — and the country’s reaction to another surge in deaths and illnesses from the coronavirus — shows how complicated sending students back to school is. Children under 12 cannot yet receive the vaccine, and pediatric hospitalizations for Covid-19 have soared over the summer.

Governors in several states, including Florida, where the virus has hit hardest, have made it harder for school districts to enforce mask wearing. In Arizona, where school mask mandates are banned, thousands of students and teachers have had to go into quarantine.

Dr. Biden, for her part, has long been a proponent of returning to the classroom, and has used her role as first lady to highlight the work of school districts that stayed open throughout the pandemic to educate students using a hybrid model. In March, she and Miguel Cardona, the secretary of education, visited classrooms in Connecticut and Pennsylvania where students were wearing masks and sitting behind plastic dividers as they went about their day.

The East Wing offered no comment on her first day back on Tuesday.

“I can confirm that Jill is teaching and I think her doing so should be an inspiration to women everywhere and a message that no matter what your spouse may be doing, you can have your own career,” Jimmie McClellan, the dean of liberal arts at Northern Virginia Community College and Dr. Biden’s supervisor, wrote in an email this summer in response to a request to discuss the first lady’s work.

“Any spotlight should shine on what she does away from campus,” he wrote. “Here, she should have her peace.”

The Florida A&M University campus in Tallahassee hosts a pop-up vaccination site for students returning to campus. The vaccination is optional and mask wearing cannot be enforced in the state.
Credit…Aileen Perilla for The New York Times

The American College Health Association recommends vaccination requirements for all on-campus higher education students for the fall semester. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends face coverings, regardless of vaccine status, for indoor public spaces in areas where the rate of infection is high.

But this is not how it has worked out on more than a few campuses.

More than 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities have adopted vaccination requirements for at least some students and staff, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education. In an indication of how political vaccination has become, the schools tend to be clustered in states that voted for President Biden in the last election.

But at some campuses, particularly in Republican-led states with high case numbers — including the state systems in Georgia, Texas and Florida — vaccination is optional and mask wearing, while recommended, cannot be enforced. Professors are told they can tell students that they are “strongly encouraged” or “expected” to put on masks, but cannot force students to do so. And teachers cannot ask students who have Covid-like symptoms to leave the classroom.

At least nine states — Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Tennessee — have banned or restricted school mask mandates. It is unclear, education officials say, whether all of these prohibitions apply to universities, but public universities depend on state funding.

A smattering of professors have resigned in protest over optional mask policies, one in the middle of class. Most are soldiering on. But the level of fear is so high that even at universities that do require vaccination and masks, like Cornell and the University of Michigan, professors have signed petitions asking for the choice to return to online teaching.

Universities are caught between the demands of their faculty for greater safety precautions, and the fear of losing students who might drop out if schools return to another year of online education.

“It’s kind of a cat-and-mouse game,” said Peter Lake, an education law professor at Stetson University.

Professors said that Delta blindsided them. They signed up to teach in-person classes in March, before reports of breakthrough infections of vaccinated people. Now their institutions are making it hard, if not impossible, for them to back out.

Keivon Whitfield, right, interviews for a job at Express Employment Professionals in Maryland Heights, Mo. in June.
Credit…Whitney Curtis for The New York Times

Expanded unemployment benefits that have kept millions of Americans afloat during the pandemic expired on Monday, setting up the abrupt cutoff of assistance to 7.5 million people as the Delta variant rattles the pandemic recovery.

The end of the aid came without objection from President Biden or his top economic advisers, who have become caught in a political fight over the benefits and are now banking on other federal help and an autumn pickup in hiring to keep vulnerable families from foreclosure and food lines.

The $1.9 trillion economic aid package Mr. Biden signed in March included extended and expanded benefits for unemployed workers, additional weeks of assistance for the long-term unemployed and the extension of a special program to provide benefits to gig workers who traditionally do not qualify for unemployment benefits.

Monday’s expiration means that 7.5 million people will lose their benefits entirely and another three million will lose the $300 weekly supplement.

Republicans and small business owners have assailed the extension of aid, contending that it has fueled a labor shortage by discouraging people from looking for work. Liberal Democrats and progressive groups have pushed for another round of aid, saying millions of Americans remain vulnerable.

Evidence so far suggests the programs are playing at most a limited role in keeping people out of the work force. States that ended the benefits early, for example, have seen little if any pickup in hiring relative to the rest of the country.

Even in the industries that have had the hardest time finding workers, many people don’t expect a sudden surge in job applications once the benefits expire. Other factors — child care challenges, fear of the virus, accumulated savings from previous waves of federal assistance and a broader rethinking of Americans’ work preferences in the wake of the pandemic — are also playing a role keeping people out of work

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia said that he needed to return to official business after visiting his family, and had acted within the rules by not quarantining.
Credit…Mick Tsikas/EPA, via Shutterstock

Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended traveling to his home state for Australian Father’s Day over the weekend, prompting a backlash in a country where millions of people have been unable to see loved ones because of strict measures against Covid-19.

Mr. Morrison, speaking to Sky News, said he understood why people were frustrated, but that he had acted within the rules when he traveled to New South Wales to see his family. He added that he needed to get back to the capital on official business and that politicians were not required to quarantine for 14 days.

More than half of the nation’s population is under lockdown as states experience prolonged outbreaks of the Delta variant.

Australia got off to a sluggish start vaccinating its population and has seen the average number of daily new cases nearly double to 1,548 in the past two weeks. About 51 percent of the population has at least one vaccine dose, below the 62 percent in the United States and 72 percent in Britain.

Individual states in Australia have set different guidelines, with Queensland and South Australia imposing harsh border restrictions on travelers from New South Wales and Canberra, the capital. Australians have reported being rejected for exemptions to attend funerals and visit dying relatives in other states.

On Sunday, which was Father’s Day in Australia, people gathered on either side of a plastic barricade at the border between New South Wales and Queensland to see family members.

Australians on Twitter criticized Mr. Morrison’s actions, with comments like “One rule for all the other dads separated by border closures and one rule for the Prime Minister,” and “What a disgrace of a leader.

In 2019, Mr. Morrison faced harsh backlash for going on a family trip to Hawaii while Australia suffered record wildfires. Mr. Morrison cut his vacation short soon after the news broke.

Orrin Heatlie at his home in Folsom, Calif., in February.
Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times

As the pandemic-fueled campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom of California heads into its last week, its lead proponent said he has been sidelined with the coronavirus.

Orrin Heatlie, 52, a retired Republican sheriff’s sergeant from Yolo County, said he was at home recovering from a bout of the coronavirus.

“Thought I was immune as I’ve had it before,” Mr. Heatlie said in a text message, adding that he is unvaccinated. “Then spent 13 hours in a warm truck traveling back from Wyoming with a friend who came down with it on the trip.”

The pandemic has played a major role in fueling the recall, which had been regarded as a long shot when Mr. Heatlie and a small group of grass-roots Tea Party activists began circulating petitions in 2019.

Their initial complaint with the governor arose from his stances on the death penalty and immigration, which they disagreed with. But when Mr. Newsom initiated stay-at-home orders, classroom closures and other health restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, recall supporters added those upheavals to their list of grievances against him.

In November, a judge granted them an extension to continue circulating petitions because Mr. Newsom’s health orders had made it harder to gather signatures. That extension allowed Mr. Heatlie’s group to gather the nearly 1.5 million signatures required to bring the proposed recall to a vote — an effort that was helped along when a maskless Mr. Newsom was seen dining at an exclusive restaurant with friends, after he had asked Californians to stay home to avoid spreading the virus.

Throughout the campaign, the recall supporters have blasted the governor’s mandates to get vaccinated, socially distance and wear face masks. Mr. Heatlie said his wife, who is vaccinated, had caught the virus from him.

The acknowledgment came as coronavirus cases, which are surging in other parts of the country, have plateaued in California, which now has some of the nation’s highest vaccination rates. This week, Mr. Newsom, ahead in the polls, released a new ad warning Californians that Republicans backing the recall will “eliminate vaccine mandates,” and endanger the state’s recovery.

A quarantine area in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Monday.
Credit…Reuters

A man who returned to his home in southern Vietnam after traveling to Ho Chi Minh City for work received a five-year prison sentence on Tuesday for spreading the coronavirus, state news media reported.

The man, Le Van Tri, 28, was convicted of “spreading dangerous infectious diseases” to eight people, one of whom died from virus complications, the state-controlled newspaper Thanh Nien said. His sentence for failing to comply with Covid-19 quarantine restrictions also included a fine of 20 million dong, around $880.

Mr. Tri returned to his home in Ca Mau Province by motorcycle in July after a surge in virus cases in Vietnam, which had prompted a tightening of restrictions in Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s largest.

He failed to comply with instructions from health care personnel at travel checkpoints to self-quarantine for 21 days and report his travel history on forms, the Thanh Nien report said. Among the people he spread the virus to were members of his family, it said.

The verdict came after a one-day trial at the People’s Court of Ca Mau.

Vietnam long prided itself on containing the virus, but has struggled to maintain that success since a new wave of infections emerged in late spring. It had a daily average of 12,471 new cases as of Tuesday, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, and had fully vaccinated just under 3 percent of its population, according to the Our World in Data Project at Oxford University.

Sebastian Holst, 12, received his Covid-19 vaccine shortly after his 12th birthday in May. “I knew it was better to get a little pointy needle than Covid,” he said.
Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar/The New York Times

Zoe Tu, a seventh grader in Brooklyn, N.Y., likes to celebrate her birthday with dulce de leche Haagen-Dazs ice cream cake. This year, her 12th, was no exception, but the day was also marked by a treat of another kind: her Covid vaccine.

Zoe got the shot the first day she became eligible, on Aug. 2, and it was accompanied by a $100 gift certificate given as a vaccine incentive at the Barclays Center arena. (Her mother allowed her to spend it on anything she wanted.)

“The nurse was really excited about wishing me a happy birthday,” Zoe recalled.

Zoe’s mother, Nicole Tu, said she had told her daughter she could wait if she wanted. But Zoe said she was excited to be vaccinated, “because I could feel safer.”

Twelfth birthdays have taken on new significance in the United States since early May, when Food and Drug Administration gave the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine emergency use authorization for children 12 and older.

Join Dr. Anthony Fauci and Times journalists (who are parents themselves) for a vital Q&A session for parents, educators and students everywhere.

At least 52 percent of children ages 12 through 17 in the United States have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and about 40 percent are fully vaccinated, according to early September data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists say a decision on whether children younger than 12 can get the shots could still be months away.

That means parents are now navigating a tricky moment in which some children are vaccinated while many others are not. Some parents, including Ms. Tu, are for the most part limiting their children’s indoor play dates to vaccinated friends.

Apple has delayed its return-to-office date until January.
Credit…Stephen Lam/Reuters

The rise of the Delta variant of the coronavirus has disrupted back-to-office plans for many companies, while others have already ordered employees to be at their desks.

Here’s the latest from The New York Times’s Coral Murphy-Marcos on when companies have announced that they plan to return to the office, and whether they’ll require vaccines when they do:

  • Apple is encouraging employees to get vaccinated, but has not announced a mandate. The company delayed its return-to-office date until January from October.

  • CVS will require its pharmacists to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30, while others who interact with patients, and all corporate staff, have until Oct. 31. The company announced to employees that most of its office sites would reopen on Tuesday.

  • Goldman Sachs required its employees to return to the office in June, and it is requiring them to be fully vaccinated to enter its U.S. offices starting on Tuesday.

  • Google said in July that it would require employees who returned to the company’s offices to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. It said on Aug. 31 that it would push back its return-to-office date to Jan. 10, from mid-October.

  • Starbucks is “encouraging” employees to be vaccinated. The company pushed its back-to-office date to January 2022, from October.

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Credit…Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

The Biden administration said on Tuesday that it would provide $700 million in grants to meatpacking, farm and grocery-store workers to help defray some of the financial hardships the essential employees have faced during the pandemic.

The grants will be distributed to state agencies, tribal entities and nonprofit groups that typically support these workers, who were required to go in to work even amid the most deadly outbreaks of the coronavirus. The groups will be eligible to receive grants of up to $50 million, which they can distribute to workers, particularly “hard to reach” communities of immigrants who often work in the meatpacking plants and on commercial farms.

The Agriculture Department said the money could be used to help workers cover the cost of pandemic-related expenses such as personal protective equipment and dependent care and expenses associated with quarantines and testing for the virus. Eligible workers can receive up to $600. At least $20 million in grants will be set aside for grocery workers.

“We recognize that our farmworkers, meatpacking workers and grocery workers overcame unprecedented challenges and took on significant personal risk to ensure Americans could feed and sustain their families throughout the pandemic,” the secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, said in a statement.