Covid Live Updates: England Is Expected to Pause Reopening
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is likely to announce a delay in lifting all coronavirus restrictions as scientists study the danger posed by the spread of the Delta variant.,
LONDON — Concerned by the spread of a new coronavirus variant, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain was preparing on Monday to announce a delay of up to four weeks on the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions in England, effectively postponing a long-awaited moment described in the news media as “freedom day.”
In a statement scheduled for Monday afternoon, Mr. Johnson is expected to say that rising cases of the Delta variant, first detected in India, make it impossible to remove the remaining curbs on June 21, as had been envisioned, because a rapid growth in infections would pose a risk to the health service.
The decision is a political setback for Mr. Johnson, an instinctive libertarian, who resisted imposing lockdowns in the first place and whose swift vaccination rollout has provided an exit route from the crisis.
Under the current rules, pubs and restaurants can operate but with limited capacity, and there are limits on gatherings such as weddings. Indoor live theater venues and nightclubs are closed.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, the producer of musicals including Cats, has pledged to reopen his theaters this month “come hell or high water,” telling the Telegraph newspaper that he is willing to be arrested.
It was unclear whether Mr. Johnson would allow any of the remaining restrictions to be eased.
But, having already been forced to impose three lockdowns, Mr. Johnson now says he wants any moves out of them to be “irreversible.” At the weekend, he all but confirmed the delay when he said that Monday’s decision would be driven by caution.
Although Britain is one of the world’s leaders in vaccination, the government’s plans have been thrown off course by the growth in cases of the Delta variant, which British scientists have reported to be even more transmissible than the variant that swept across the country over the winter.
Though case numbers are still relatively low — 7,490 new ones were reported on Sunday — they have risen rapidly in recent weeks and the Delta variant now makes up the overwhelming majority of all coronavirus cases in England.
Critics who say that the government is being too cautious note that as lockdowns were eased, cases were always going to rise. And as variants continue to spread, they argue, policies need to account for the virus’s becoming endemic in the population, for example by focusing more effort on tackling hot spots.
So far, the increase in cases in Britain has not translated into large-scale hospitalizations and deaths.
Still, on Sunday, 187 new hospitalizations were reported and the government says that it is not yet clear that the vaccination campaign is far enough along to sever the link between case counts and serious illness.
Government officials have argued that a delay in easing all restrictions would provide more time to ramp up vaccinations and deliver the second doses that make the vaccine more effective against the Delta variant.
“Clearly, what you’ve got is a race between the vaccines and the virus, and the vaccines are going to win,” Mr. Johnson told the BBC on Sunday. “It’s just a question of pace.”
For days, ministers have been debating whether to opt for a four-week delay or to limit it to two weeks. One alternative is to set out a four-week span but with a review halfway through.
Since people can still go to pubs, restaurants and stores, albeit with social-distancing restrictions, the impact of the delay will be somewhat blunted.
But for businesses operating at a loss, and those that remain closed, the decision will be another bitter blow after a traumatic year and a half.
The Night Time Industries Association called the delay “catastrophic,” noting that businesses such as nightclubs had already spent millions preparing to reopen.
Novavax, a small American company buoyed by lavish support from the U.S. government, announced on Monday the results of a clinical trial of its coronavirus vaccine in the United States and Mexico, finding that its two-shot inoculation provided potent protection against the coronavirus.
In the 29,960-person trial, the vaccine demonstrated an overall efficacy of 90.4 percent, on par with the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and higher than the one-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. The Novavax vaccine showed an efficacy of 100 percent at preventing moderate or severe disease.
Despite the impressive results, the vaccine’s future in the United States is uncertain and it might be needed more in other countries. Novavax says it may not seek emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration until the end of September. And with a plentiful supply of three other authorized vaccines, it’s possible that the agency may tell Novavax to apply instead for a full license — a process that could require several extra months.
The company’s chief executive, Stanley Erck, acknowledged in an interview that Novavax would probably win its first authorization elsewhere. The company is also applying in Britain, the European Union, India and South Korea.
“I think the good news is that the data are so compelling that it gives everybody an incentive to pay attention to our filings,” Mr. Erck said.
By the time Novavax gets the green light from the U.S. government, it may be too late to contribute to the country’s first wave of vaccinations. But many vaccine experts expect that, with waning immunity and emerging variants, the country will need booster shots at some point. And the protein-based technology used in the Novavax vaccine may do a particularly good job at amplifying protection, even if people have previously been vaccinated with a different formulation.
“They may be really the right ones for boosters,” said Dr. Luciana Borio, who was the acting chief scientist at the F.D.A. from 2015 to 2017.
Last year, the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed program awarded Novavax a $1.6 billion contract for 100 million future doses. The company won this tremendous support despite not having brought a vaccine to market in over three decades.
In January, Novavax announced that its 15,000-person trial in Britain found that the vaccine had an efficacy of 96 percent against the original coronavirus. Against Alpha, a virus variant first identified in Britain, the efficacy fell slightly to 86 percent. In South Africa, where the Beta variant was dominant, Novavax ran a smaller trial on 2,900 people and found an efficacy of just 49 percent.
But the South Africa trial was complicated by the fact that a number of the volunteers had H.I.V., which is known to hamper vaccines. In addition, the study was so small that it was difficult to estimate how much protection the vaccine provided H.I.V.-negative volunteers.
With the support of Operation Warp Speed, Novavax drew up plans for an even larger late-stage trial in the United States and Mexico. But difficulties with manufacturing delayed its start until December.
By then, the United States had authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. In February, with the Novavax trial still underway, the government authorized Johnson & Johnson’s.
In Germany, where infection rates have been steadily falling for weeks, masks are still obligatory nearly everywhere, including on downtown sidewalks and at many outdoor venues, such as farmers’ markets. Depending on the state, the rules are even more stringent for riding public transport, shopping or entering public buildings, with medical-grade face coverings often required.
But in an indication that masks may start coming off soon in Germany, the country’s health minister, Jens Spahn, said on Monday that states could start setting their own policies — at least for outdoor areas — as the average number of recorded infections drops under 1,000 per day.
“With the falling infection rates, we should proceed in stages: In a first step, the mask requirement outside can be dropped in general,” Mr. Spahn said in an interview with the Funke group of newspapers.
Germany has recently reopened restaurant terraces, beer gardens and outdoor dining, and most states have started opening indoor dining — but only for those who can show that they have been vaccinated or tested negative. Museums are also now open to visitors.
Although individual states make the final rules, governors look to Berlin — and each other — for guidance on coronavirus restrictions.
On Sunday, Germany registered 549 new cases; in December, before the country’s vaccination drive, cases had reached a daily average of more than 30,000. Currently, 48.4 percent of the population has received a first shot, and 26.2 percent are fully vaccinated.
In an interview on Sunday, Wolfgang Kubicki, a centrist lawmaker with the opposition Free Democratic Party, called for completely abandoning mask rules in areas where there were fewer than 35 new cases a week per 100,000 people. (Currently, Germany is averaging 16.6 cases per 100,000 in a week — and most regions would fall below the threshold of 35.)
But others have expressed more caution, warning that mask rules are still important.
“Completely dropping mask requirements just before millions are vaccinated is just one thing: electioneering on the backs of the health of the citizens,” the Social Democratic lawmaker Karl Lauterbach wrote on Twitter. Mr. Lauterbach, whose party is a member of the governing coalition, has a public health degree from Harvard and has become one of the country’s most prominent experts on the pandemic.
He added: “Of course, the mask requirement outdoors can be waived almost everywhere. There is no superspreading outdoors.”
A federal judge in Texas has dismissed a lawsuit brought by employees of Houston Methodist Hospital who had challenged the hospital’s coronavirus vaccination requirement.
U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes, in the Southern District of Texas, issued a ruling on Saturday that upheld the hospital’s new policy, announced in April. The judge said that the hospital’s decision to mandate inoculations for its employees was consistent with public policy.
And he rejected a claim by Jennifer Bridges, a nurse and the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, that the vaccines available for use in the United States were experimental and dangerous.
“The hospital’s employees are not participants in a human trial,” Judge Hughes wrote. “Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them the Covid-19 virus. It is a choice made to keep staff, patients and their families safer.”
The judge’s decision appeared to be among the first to rule in favor of employer-mandated vaccinations for workers. Several major hospital systems have begun to require Covid shots, including in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.
But many private employers and the federal government have not instituted mandatory immunization as they shift operations back to office settings. This year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance allowing employers to require vaccines for on-site workers.
In Houston, Ms. Bridges was among those who led a walkout on Monday, the hospital’s deadline for getting the vaccine. And on Tuesday, the hospital suspended 178 employees who refused to get a coronavirus shot.
Ms. Bridges cited the lack of full Food and Drug Administration approval for the shot as justification for refusing to get vaccinated. But the F.D.A., which has granted emergency use authorizations for three vaccines, says clinical trials and post-market study shows they are safe, as does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The judge also noted that Texas employment law only protects employees from termination for refusing to commit an act that carries criminal penalties.
“Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a Covid-19 vaccine, however if she refuses, she will simply need to work somewhere else,” he said, also rejecting the argument that employees were being coerced.
And the judge called “reprehensible” the lawsuit’s contention that a vaccination requirement was akin to medical experimentation during the Holocaust.
In a statement late Saturday, Dr. Marc Boom, chief executive of Houston Methodist, said: “Our employees and physicians made their decisions for our patients, who are always at the center of everything we do.”
Houston Methodist said it would begin proceedings to terminate employees who were suspended if they did not get vaccinated by June 21.
Jared Woodfill, the employee plaintiffs’ lawyer, also issued a statement on Saturday, according to news reports, that indicated the workers would appeal the ruling.
Even as the pandemic recedes and cities reopen, local leaders across the United States face another crisis: a crime wave with no signs of ending.
Mayors are trying to quell a surge of homicides, assaults and carjackings that began during the pandemic and has cast a chill over the recovery. Homicide rates in large cities were up more than 30 percent on average last year, and up another 24 percent for the beginning of this year, according to criminologists.
Some city officials have touted progressive strategies focused on community policing in neighborhoods where trust between officers and residents has frayed. Others have deployed more traditional tactics like increasing surveillance cameras in troubled areas and enforcing curfews in city parks to clear out crowds, as the police did in Washington Square Park in Manhattan in recent days.
In Chicago, which fully reopened on Friday, Mayor Lori Lightfoot made clear that her focus was on reducing violence over the summer, and that her administration would focus resources on 15 high-crime pockets of the city as part of that effort.
“We owe it to all of our residents, in every neighborhood, to bring peace and vibrancy back,” Ms. Lightfoot said.
Homicides in Miami are 30 percent higher this year than the same period in 2020, according to data from the medical examiner’s office.
This month, the top prosecutor in Miami-Dade County and local police leaders turned to the issue of public safety, announcing efforts that include additional streetlights and surveillance cameras, prosecutors assigned to “hot spot” areas and a code enforcement crackdown on illegal party venues.