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Leaders turn to coronavirus vaccine incentives — Shake Shack, $1 million prizes and more

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 5/13/2021 Paul Schemm, Jennifer Hassan, Laura Meckler, Paulina Firozi, Hannah Knowles, Kim Bellware
In this Tuesday, April 20, 2021, file photo, a man wearing a cannabis costume hands out marijuana cigarettes in New York during a "Joints for Jabs" event, where adults who showed their COVID-19 vaccination cards received a free joint. Free beer, pot and doughnuts. Savings bonds. A raffle ticket for a snowmobile. Places around the U.S. are offering incentives to try to energize the nation?s slowing vaccination drive and get reluctant Americans to roll up their sleeves. © Mark Lennihan/AP In this Tuesday, April 20, 2021, file photo, a man wearing a cannabis costume hands out marijuana cigarettes in New York during a "Joints for Jabs" event, where adults who showed their COVID-19 vaccination cards received a free joint. Free beer, pot and doughnuts. Savings bonds. A raffle ticket for a snowmobile. Places around the U.S. are offering incentives to try to energize the nation?s slowing vaccination drive and get reluctant Americans to roll up their sleeves.

In Long Beach, Calif., the mayor is promoting free aquarium tickets for those who get vaccinated.

In New York, the immunized can grab free fries at Shake Shack — an effort that Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday while digging into his own meal.

Leaders nationwide are increasingly turning to incentives as demand for coronavirus vaccines slows. In the most dramatic offer so far, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said this week that vaccinated residents would be eligible for $1 million lottery prizes and full-ride college scholarships.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar-drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,’" the governor said as he explained the headline-grabbing initiative funded with federal coronavirus relief money. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to covid-19.”

Here are some significant developments:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fully vaccinated people can go without masks or physical distancing in most cases, even when they are indoors or in large groups.
  • The White House said Thursday that it is investing $7.4 billion to hire more public health workers to deal with the pandemic and future health crises.
  • The president of the nation’s second-largest teachers union is calling for full-time school this fall, a move that could smooth the way back after a year in which teachers often resisted a return to classrooms.
  • The CDC approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in children as young as 12 on Wednesday, expanding access to millions of adolescents. D.C.’s first group of 12- to 15-year-olds got their initial vaccine doses Thursday.
  • The number of new cases, deaths and hospitalizations continued to fall in the United States, with new infections decreasing by almost 22 percent in the past week. More than 582,000 people have died in the country as a result of the coronavirus.

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2:36 PM: Experts tackle lingering coronavirus vaccine fears

When the coronavirus vaccines first started rolling out in December, LisaRose Blanchette had doubts. To her, it felt like the shots, particularly the messenger RNA vaccines, had been “rushed through production,” and she did not trust that they would be safe or effective.

“At the time, I was feeling very insecure about them,” said Blanchette, 56, a teacher in Phoenix. But she started doing her own research and soon realized her initial concerns had been misconceptions.

“I needed to understand the mRNA vaccine. I needed to understand how long scientists had been working on it. I needed to understand that it was divorced from the politics that I had been reading about,” she said. She got vaccinated as soon as she was eligible.

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By: Allyson Chiu and Lindsey Bever

12:51 PM: Even with new CDC guidance, many retailers will still require masks

Many of the country’s largest retailers will keep requiring masks in their stores despite eased national restrictions, though industry groups and workers’ advocates fear enforcement will become increasingly difficult and contentious.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear masks in most situations. Workers unions blasted the policy change, saying it creates confusion and puts store employees at increased risk of getting sick.

Target, Home Depot, CVS and Harris Teeter are among the chains that will continue to require masks in stores, though they are reviewing new CDC guidance and reevaluating store policies.

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By: Abha Bhattarai

11:42 AM: Multigenerational living rises in pandemic

Felicia, left, Abby and Karen Wilson on May 8 at their rental home where they are living while their new home is being built in Mallory Park in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. (Saul Martinez for The Washington Post) Felicia, left, Abby and Karen Wilson on May 8 at their rental home where they are living while their new home is being built in Mallory Park in Lakewood Ranch, Fla. (Saul Martinez for The Washington Post)

Like many families who experienced the severe disruption of the coronavirus pandemic, Janice and Don Markell made a major life change by asking Janice’s mother to live with them, accelerating their plan for an eventual move to Florida.

“We were living in Montvale, New Jersey, and my mother was in assisted living nearby, but she wasn’t able to leave, and we couldn’t visit her,” says Janice, 61. “Our son has lived in Lakewood Ranch near Sarasota for a few years, and we planned to move there eventually ourselves.”

The solution for the family is a newly built home in the Lake Club section of Lakewood Ranch designed specifically for multigenerational living.

The upheaval created by the coronavirus pandemic led to an increase in the number of homes purchased for multigenerational households, which rose to 15 percent between April and June 2020, according to the National Association of Realtors. That represents the highest percentage of multigenerational homes since NAR began tracking the trend in 2012 after the Great Recession and was up from 11 percent between July 2019 and March 2020.

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By: Michele Lerner

10:22 AM: WHO chief urges wealthy countries to share doses before vaccinating kids

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wearing a suit and tie: World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at a news conference on July 3, 2020, in Geneva. © Pool New/Reuters World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at a news conference on July 3, 2020, in Geneva.

The director general of the World Health Organization on Friday called for rich countries to share doses with countries in need before moving ahead with plans to inoculate young people.

“I understand why some countries want to vaccinate their children and adolescents, but right now I urge them to reconsider and to instead donate vaccines to Covax,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a new conference, referencing a WHO-backed push to equitably distribute doses.

The comment came not long after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that 12-to-15-year-olds get Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.

For months, Tedros and other officials have warned that the vast global gap in vaccine access is not only a “catastrophic moral failure” but a threat to public health that could extend the pandemic by giving the virus new places to spread and mutate.

As of Thursday, 35.8 percent of the total U.S. population, or 45.6 percent of the population over 18, is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. At the same time, many countries are struggling to obtain and deliver enough doses for those at highest risk, including front-line medical workers. Tedros said the raging outbreak in India was particularly worrying.

“We’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first,” he said.

By: Emily Rauhala

9:28 PM: Reinventing the Kennedy Center Honors for the coronavirus era

a man and a woman wearing a costume: Emeka Perkins-Johnson for The Washington Post © Emeka Perkins-Johnson/For The Washington Post Emeka Perkins-Johnson for The Washington Post

Faced with an extended closure because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Kennedy Center reinvented its annual celebration and largest fundraiser, the Kennedy Center Honors, to adapt to the changing conditions.

And then it adapted it again — and again and again, right up until the clock ran out, officials say — as it designed a part-live, part-recorded show celebrating the lifetime achievements of singer Joan Baez, country musician Garth Brooks, dancer-choreographer Debbie Allen, violinist Midori and actor Dick Van Dyke.

Rather than an early December weekend celebration with a three-hour Opera House performance as its centerpiece, the 43rd Honors will be filmed Tuesday through Saturday in multiple Kennedy Center spaces, including its stages, its roof and the Reach, an expansion that opened in 2019.

Some of the tributes to the five honorees — performed by a roster of A-list artists that remains top secret — will be filmed individually without audiences. The live segments will be presented in two parts for crowds of up to 250 people each: the first on Thursday in the 2,465-seat Concert Hall and the second Saturday on an outdoor stage. The show — hosted by 2017 honoree Gloria Estefan — will air June 6 on CBS.

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By: Peggy McGlone

8:36 PM: How covid has changed honeymoons

Francisco Ovalle posing for the camera in front of a building: Dillon Losk and Amber Tibbitts pose in Colmar, France, on Jan. 5, 2020, after getting engaged during their European vacation. © Dillon Losk/Dillon Losk Dillon Losk and Amber Tibbitts pose in Colmar, France, on Jan. 5, 2020, after getting engaged during their European vacation.

Since Zoie Diana and her fiance, Jake Ford, got engaged in Turin, Italy, in 2018, they had spent a year planning their May 2020 wedding and their honeymoon in Croatia and Italy. Then the pandemic gave the couple even more time to plan.

The wedding industry estimates it lost about a million ceremonies in the United States because of the pandemic. With many rescheduled for 2021, plus new ones on the books from pandemic proposals, this year is projected to be big for weddings — and with that, honeymoons.

But even as more than 116 million people are fully vaccinated in the United States, and with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledging vaccinated people can travel with less risk, planning honeymoon travel is far from back to normal. Some of the world’s most popular honeymoon destinations remain closed to tourism, and not all have plans to reopen anytime soon.

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By: Natalie B. Compton

7:14 PM: Israel’s military assault on Gaza threatens to worsen pandemic in the enclave

A Palestinian coronavirus patient receives oxygen inside the intensive care unit of the Gaza European Hospital on May 6. (Khalil Hamra/AP) A Palestinian coronavirus patient receives oxygen inside the intensive care unit of the Gaza European Hospital on May 6. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

It was just a week ago that a surge in coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip, the worst there since the pandemic began, appeared to be finally waning.

Confirmed infections and deaths, at record levels in April, had declined. And Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza, had eased public health restrictions, even as some coronavirus hospital wards remained stubbornly crowded.

But Israel’s military assault on Gaza — launched Monday in response to rocket fire from the territory as wider tensions flared in Jerusalem — is threatening to undo those fragile gains against the virus. The fighting could cripple the enclave’s overstretched health-care system, aid agencies warn, helping seed new coronavirus outbreaks amid the chaos of war.

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By: Erin Cunningham

6:19 PM: Virus strain fueling crisis in India is spreading globally

a person riding a snowboard down the side of a building: A health worker carries away a body as people mourn their relative who died of covid-19 at a hospital in Ahmedabad, India. © Divyakant Solanki/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock A health worker carries away a body as people mourn their relative who died of covid-19 at a hospital in Ahmedabad, India.

The coronavirus variant that has spread catastrophically in India has seeded itself in dozens of countries, and the World Health Organization has declared it a “variant of concern,” citing preliminary evidence that it is more transmissible than some earlier strains of the virus.

It is not clear to what degree the crisis in India — which reported 4,200 deaths on Wednesday alone — has been accelerated by the emergence of this variant, known as B. 1.617. It is possible the main driver of the outbreak has been mass gatherings in a densely populated nation that still has low levels of vaccination.

But the WHO, which previously categorized the variant as being “of interest,” Monday elevated it to the status “of concern.” WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove noted that any of the strains of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, are infectious, “and everything in that sense is of concern.”

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By: Joel Achenbach

5:14 PM: Experts are cautious — but see the beginning of the end for covid in the D.C. region

Tamaria Kelly, 34, drinks a free beer after receiving a coronavirus vaccine at the DC Health Department's “Take the Shot” walk-up clinic. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post) © Amanda Voisard/The Washington Post Tamaria Kelly, 34, drinks a free beer after receiving a coronavirus vaccine at the DC Health Department's “Take the Shot” walk-up clinic. (Amanda Voisard for The Washington Post)

Public health experts are still cautious, but they say this could be the beginning of the end.

Fourteen months after the Washington region’s first reported case of the coronavirus, daily infections and deaths are trending down as vaccinations take hold. Hospitals are seeing far fewer critically ill patients, and funeral homes are receiving fewer covid-19 victims. A union chief in D.C. says it has been two months since he has had to call a bereaved family to brief them on their loved one’s life insurance policy.

“The most difficult moments for me personally were those 25 calls,” said Jaime Contreras, vice president of the Service Employees International Union in the capital area. “They were draining and devastating. But they’ve — thank God — they’ve stopped.”

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By: Rebecca Tan and John D. Harden

4:10 PM: White House will no longer require vaccinated staff to wear masks

The White House will no longer require staff members who are fully vaccinated to wear masks after revised guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In an email sent Thursday afternoon and obtained by The Washington Post, Anne Filipic, the director of management and administration, said the change was effective immediately.

“We are excited to be taking this step towards a return to normal operations and are grateful to the efforts of health-care workers, first responders and countless others across the country who have helped to make this possible,” she wrote.

Filipic said that mask-wearing was the only policy change but that other changes would follow per CDC guidance.

By: Tyler Pager

3:54 PM: President of second-largest U.S. teachers union calls for full return to school in fall

a close up of Randi Weingarten: American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in November 2017. © Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in November 2017.

The president of the nation’s second-largest teachers union is calling for full-time school this fall, a move that could smooth the way back after a year in which teachers often resisted a return to classrooms.

“There is no doubt: Schools must be open. In person. Five days a week,” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a speech Thursday delivered via YouTube and other streaming services. “Given current circumstances, nothing should stand in the way of fully reopening our public schools this fall and keeping them open.”

Weingarten has long said that she wants schools to operate with in-person learning, though many of her union’s members have resisted. Her call was greeted with skepticism by some who see unions as having been overly cautious or outright obstinate, to the detriment of children.

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By: Laura Meckler

2:52 PM: Johnson & Johnson vaccine shipments to states dry up as production freeze continues

The Biden administration will stop shipping doses of Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine to states next week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as a contamination incident two months ago at a Baltimore subcontractor continues to disrupt domestic production.

No new shipments for the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine were included Thursday in the CDC’s weekly update on expected vaccine shipments. Shipments of the first and second doses of the two-shot Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will continue next week uninterrupted, according to the CDC shipment schedules.

The last federal allocation of Johnson & Johnson vaccine for states was for this week. That was a relatively small 600,000 doses. Weekly allocations have been running at more than 10 million for Pfizer shots and nearly 8 million for Moderna.

The lack of new shipments of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine may not have an immediate impact on individual states, which have some stockpiles, Marcus Plescia, chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said Thursday. But it could cause concern if the shortage continues, he said.

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By: Christopher Rowland and Isaac Stanley-Becker

2:26 PM: CDC says fully vaccinated Americans no longer need masks indoors or outdoors in most cases

Americans who are fully vaccinated can go without masks or physical distancing in most cases, even when they are indoors or in large groups, federal officials said Thursday, paving the way for a full reopening of society.

The change represents a huge shift symbolically and practically for pandemic-weary Americans, millions of whom have lived with the restrictions for more than a year. A growing number have complained about having to endure restrictions even after being fully vaccinated, and have accused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of being overly cautious. More than 117 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, or about 35 percent of the population.

CDC officials cited a growing body of real-world evidence demonstrating the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines and noted that the shots offer protection even against more-contagious virus variants circulating in the United States. They said they also factored in the country’s declining case numbers and the rarity of breakthrough infections in people who have been fully vaccinated. Nonetheless, officials cautioned that the guidelines could change again if the pandemic should worsen.

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By: Yasmeen Abutaleb and Laurie McGinley

1:16 PM: Vaccinated cruise passengers can take off their masks in some cases, says CDC

a large ship in the snow: The Carnival Cruise ship Liberty is docked at Port Canaveral, Fla., as crew members get vaccinated for covid-19 on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. © Joe Burbank/AP The Carnival Cruise ship Liberty is docked at Port Canaveral, Fla., as crew members get vaccinated for covid-19 on Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Cruise ship passengers who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to take their masks off outdoors as long as they aren’t in crowds, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The agency included the new guidance in an update to its operations manual for cruise lines to follow when they eventually restart sailing under new coronavirus-era rules.

“Cruise ship operators, at their discretion, may advise passengers and crew that — if they are fully vaccinated — they may gather or conduct activities outdoors, including engaging in extended meal service or beverage consumption, without wearing a mask except in crowded settings,” the manual says.

Spokeswoman Caitlin Shockey said the revision was made to “align with the CDC’s current guidance for fully vaccinated people.” More updates are coming soon, she added.

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By: Hannah Sampson

12:30 PM: Analysis: Office microaggressions can make remote work more appealing

For those of us lucky enough to have had a job throughout the pandemic, remote work offers certain freedoms that many of us are loath to give up after a year: freedom from the time, expense and effort of commuting and traveling.

There’s another freedom that particular subsets of remote workers are experiencing: freedom from dealing with subtle, often unintended expressions of bias known as microaggressions. Individually, these incidents are seldom serious enough to merit HR confrontations. But experiencing them daily is like death by a thousand paper cuts.

Future Forum, a consortium formed by workplace communication platform Slack, said its surveys of remote employees suggest that most remote workers would prefer to keep at least some remote work as an option. Future Forum also said it found Black employees have a more pronounced preference for continued remote work than White employees.

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By: Karla L. Miller

11:39 AM: D.C. has started vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds

The District’s first 12- to 15-year-olds got their initial coronavirus vaccinations Thursday morning, just hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for their age group.

Children’s Hospital hosted a vaccination clinic for younger adolescents starting at 8 a.m. The District also opened its city-run walk-up vaccination sites that are using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to residents ages 12 and up.

Children can get shots at eight no-appointment-necessary sites across town at specified days and times, officials said. They can also get appointments in the District at commercial pharmacies and several hospitals and health clinics.

Officials in Maryland and Virginia have also said that vaccinations would be available for younger adolescents once CDC approval came through. School systems are working with public health officials to arrange voluntary, in-school vaccination clinics for students, and elected leaders say getting more young people vaccinated will speed the timeline for lifting capacity and mask restrictions.

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By: Michael Brice-Saddler and Julie Zauzmer

10:43 AM: Biden announces $7.4 billion to hire more public health workers amid pandemic

Joe Biden wearing a suit and tie: President Biden speaks Wednesday about the covid-19 response and vaccines at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington. © Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post President Biden speaks Wednesday about the covid-19 response and vaccines at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington.

The White House announced Thursday that it is investing $7.4 billion to hire more public health workers to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and future health crises. The money will come from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which Congress passed in March.

The funds could give a much-needed boost to America’s crumbling public health infrastructure. After decades of chronic underfunding, U.S. public health departments last year showed how ill-equipped they are to carry out basic functions, let alone serve as the last line of defense against the most acute threat to the nation’s health in generations.

The Biden administration said $4.4 billion will go toward boosting states’ overstretched public health departments, allowing them to hire disease specialists to do contact tracing, case management, and support outbreak investigations and school nurses to help schools reopen. Some of the money will also go to expanding the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — which plays a critical role in containing outbreaks.

The remaining $3 billion will be used to create a new grant program to train and modernize the country’s public health workforce. Applicants for those grants will be asked to prioritize recruiting staff from the communities they will serve, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds.

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By: William Wan

10:15 AM: ‘If you are vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask outside,’ Fauci says

Anthony S. Fauci has a reminder for the fully vaccinated: You mostly don’t need to wear a mask outside.

“We’ve got to make that transition,” the top infectious-diseases expert said Thursday on “CBS This Morning.” “If you are vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask outside.”

Fauci told viewers that if they are entering a “completely crowded situation, where people are essentially falling all over each other, then you wear a mask.”

“Any other time, if you’re vaccinated and you are outside,” he added, “put aside your mask.”

Federal health officials announced guidance late last month telling fully vaccinated people that they can forgo masks outdoors when walking, jogging, biking or dining at outdoor restaurants. The guidance urged the use of masks only in certain crowded settings, such as sporting events, live performances and parades.

By: Paulina Firozi

9:50 AM: Jill Biden, Sen. Manchin and actress Jennifer Garner to visit West Virginia vaccination center

a person wearing a suit and tie: First lady Jill Biden speaks with military spouses during a visit to Fort Carson military base south in Colorado Springs, Colo., on May 6. © Chancey Bush/AP First lady Jill Biden speaks with military spouses during a visit to Fort Carson military base south in Colorado Springs, Colo., on May 6.

First lady Jill Biden, actress Jennifer Garner and Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) — a pivotal lawmaker on much of the president’s proposed agenda — plan to travel together Thursday from Washington to Charleston, W.Va., to visit a coronavirus vaccination center.

According to Jill Biden’s office, the trio will visit a center at Capital High School in Charleston before delivering remarks on vaccinations. The trip comes as the Biden administration is seeking to encourage people reluctant to get shots to do so.

The first lady and Manchin are also scheduled to visit members of the West Virginia National Guard and their families before returning to Washington.

Manchin, among the more conservative Senate Democrats, has emerged as a key player in the evenly divided chamber, particularly on issues that lack Republican support.

By: John Wagner

8:15 AM: In Britain, concerns grow that variant found in India may be more transmissible than U.K. variant

a man wearing a suit and tie: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves as he leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on Wednesday. © Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves as he leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on Wednesday.

LONDON — Scientists in Britain are warning that there is mounting evidence that the coronavirus variant first detected in India, which is taking hold on British soil and is known as B.1.617, could be more transmissible than the Kent variant, first identified locally, that fueled the country’s second outbreak.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that regional lockdowns may be necessary in areas where cases of the variant have been recorded, with the aim of curbing the spread of infections as England emerges from its third national lockdown. Johnson said officials were weighing other possible methods, such as surge testing and contact tracing, to help lower the risk of another severe outbreak.

A new study from Imperial College London found that the number of infections in England has fallen dramatically in recent months, with just 1 in 1,000 people currently coronavirus-positive. But it also found cases of B.1.617 among the 127,000 home swab tests conducted between April 15 and May 3.

“The fact that our study detected the Indian variant among a small number of samples could be cause for concern,” Imperial College London professor Steven Riley said. He added that there was a threat of the variant being more transmissible — especially as the country works to fully emerge from stringent lockdown measures.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organization said the mutation was a “variant of global concern.” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the government was monitoring the variant, even though there was no evidence that vaccines would not work against it.

On Wednesday, Labour Party lawmaker Yvette Cooper slammed the government for failing to contain the variant.

“Delays in putting India on red list, gaps in previous home quarantine enforcement & testing - serious questions why the border policy has failed to prevent this spread,” she tweeted. British media reported that officials were set to meet Thursday to discuss the rise in variant cases, as the country prepares to reopen more venues next week.

By: Jennifer Hassan

8:00 AM: The passenger refused to wear a mask, was abusive to attendants and then blew his nose in a blanket. FAA has fined him $10,500.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced this week that it had proposed a civil penalty of $10,500 against a JetBlue passenger whose disruptive behavior on a flight included coughing and blowing his nose into a blanket.

“The FAA alleges the passenger repeatedly ignored, and was abusive to, flight attendants who instructed him to wear a face mask,” the agency said in a news release. “The passenger’s disruptive behavior diverted flight crew members from their duties.”

It was just the latest such announcement from the FAA, which has been cracking down on passengers who refuse to wear masks and otherwise disrupt crew members.

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By: Hannah Sampson

7:08 AM: Japanese towns abandon plans to host Olympians amid covid capacity concerns

a person walking down a street holding an umbrella: A man walks past a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games banner on May 13 in Tokyo. © Eugene Hoshiko/AP A man walks past a Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games banner on May 13 in Tokyo.

SINGAPORE — About 40 Japanese towns have pulled out of arrangements to host Olympic athletes for pre-competition events this summer, the country’s Nikkei newspaper reported Thursday, in the latest blow to the already delayed and troubled Tokyo 2020 Games.

The towns cited concerns about medical capacity as Japan battles its latest covid-19 outbreak. The East Asian nation reported 7,056 new coronavirus cases Wednesday amid rising concerns by medical professionals of a potential shortage in critical care capacity. Some 14 elderly covid-19 patients who resided at an Osaka nursing home died before they could be hospitalized, local media recently reported.

Local officials in Chiba, near Tokyo, said earlier this week that the U.S. track-and-field team had canceled a training camp over concerns about the virus. Other international athletes affected by the latest outbreak include India’s hockey team, which had been scheduled to hold a pre-Olympics training camp in a town about 80 miles outside Hiroshima.

Japanese residents had been enthusiastic about hosting international athletes, with one city raising about $300,000 to help a group of South Sudanese runners stay in the country and train after the Olympics were postponed last year. But public opinion appears to have turned sharply against hosting the games in the middle of a pandemic; one online petition calling for the Olympics to be canceled had recorded nearly 350,000 signatures as of Thursday.

The International Olympic Committee has signaled that it intends to continue with the Games, which are set to begin July 23. “We listen but won’t be guided by public opinion,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told reporters earlier this week.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has come under heavy criticism for Japan’s vaccination rollout, which is among the slowest for an advanced economy. Tokyo is now seeking help from Japanese corporations in accelerating its vaccination program.

By: Katerina Ang

6:00 AM: More bodies found along India’s Ganges River as covid-19 hits rural areas

a group of people on a beach: This image from video provided by KK Productions shows police officials stand guard at the banks of the river where several bodies were found lying in Ghazipur district in Uttar Pradesh state India, Tuesday, May 11, 2021. © AP/AP This image from video provided by KK Productions shows police officials stand guard at the banks of the river where several bodies were found lying in Ghazipur district in Uttar Pradesh state India, Tuesday, May 11, 2021.

NEW DELHI — More than 100 bodies have been found at different locations along India’s Ganges River in recent days, according to local officials and media reports, raising fears that covid-19 victims are being cast in the river as crematoriums are overwhelmed.

India is in the grips of a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections that is causing more than 4,000 deaths a day, a figure that experts consider an undercount.

Earlier in the week, 71 bodies were recovered from the Ganges in the Buxar district of Bihar, one of India’s poorest states. Local authorities erected a net in the river Tuesday and since then 10 more bodies have been intercepted, said Aman Samir, a district official. He said the cause of the deaths could not be established.

Around two dozen bodies were found floating upriver in a nearby district in the state of Uttar Pradesh, police told media Tuesday. An additional 12 bodies were recovered from the river in a neighboring district, the Indian Express reported Thursday. Officials have also found bodies shallowly buried in sand near a cremation ground on the river in another location in Uttar Pradesh.

The Ganges is considered a sacred river by Hindus. Apart from a few isolated sects, there is no practice of consigning bodies to the water. The tradition in Hinduism is to cremate the dead, but cremation grounds across India have struggled to accommodate rising numbers of bodies as deaths have soared.

By: Joanna Slater

5:34 AM: Taiwan battles new virus outbreak as vaccination efforts accelerate

a man and a woman standing in front of a building: Pedestrian wearing mask cross the street in Taipei, Taiwan, May 13, 2021. © Ritchie B Tongo/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Pedestrian wearing mask cross the street in Taipei, Taiwan, May 13, 2021.

SINGAPORE — Taiwan reported 13 new local coronavirus cases on Thursday, just 24 hours after recording its largest daily spike in domestic cases, as local authorities scramble to contain a growing outbreak.

Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told local media that the vast majority of the newly detected cases were tied to clusters that had been traced to dining and entertainment establishments. Taiwan has shut over 150 entertainment venues for cleaning since the outbreak, which authorities traced to an airport hotel outside Taipei, was detected in late April.

Taiwan, which has reported 12 deaths and just over 1,230 coronavirus cases, is regarded as a global model of coronavirus containment. Last year, it went over 200 days without a single locally-transmitted case. The East Asian island has avoided a complete nationwide lockdown although limitations were recently placed on mass gatherings. Some municipal authorities have also tightened social distancing requirements in gyms and closed libraries and Internet cafes, Reuters reported.

The new restrictions come as a record 11,018 people in Taiwan were vaccinated on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg News. Only the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is in use on the island, though Taipei has also signed an agreement with Moderna. Taiwan has opened its vaccination program to front-line workers, seniors over 65 and those intending to travel abroad.

The Taiwanese economy expanded by 2.98 percent last year, amid a global recession, based in large part off the strength of its coronavirus response. Its benchmark TAIEX stock index, one of Asia’s best performers this year, is down sharply from April highs.

In recent months, Singapore and South Korea, which had also been praised for their coronavirus containment efforts, have increased restrictions on social gatherings as they battle a new wave of covid-19 cases.

By: Katerina Ang

5:04 AM: World must double vaccine production, says United Nations secretary general

a man and a woman looking at her cell phone: Grace Mondillo, 13, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease vaccine after Pennsylvania authorized the vaccine for those over 12-years-old at Skippack Pharmacy in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, May 12, 2021. © Hannah Beier/Reuters Grace Mondillo, 13, receives the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease vaccine after Pennsylvania authorized the vaccine for those over 12-years-old at Skippack Pharmacy in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, May 12, 2021.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres has called on the world to work to double its production of coronavirus vaccines as countries, particularly in Asia and the Pacific, grapple with climbing virus caseloads.

Guterres on Wednesday joined calls for vaccine equity amid the global health crisis, saying that it was “totally unacceptable” that some countries had successfully vaccinated much of their population while others had been left behind with a lack of resources and planning, Reuters reported.

“Many developing countries have not access to one single dose,” Guterres said, adding that working to vaccinate more people would significantly help to lower the risk of future waves of infection often sparked by new variants.

“We need two things: to double the world’s capacity of production of vaccines and at the same time to have a more equitable distribution of vaccines,” he explained.

While countries like Israel, Britain and the United States are leading the way on mass vaccination and seeking a return to life before the health crisis, the world has seemingly been divided into two groups: coronavirus vaccine “haves” and “have-nots,” a split that may define the next stage of the pandemic, The Washington Post reported earlier this month.

More than 3.3 million people have died of the virus worldwide.

By: Jennifer Hassan

4:34 AM: Muslims mark subdued Eid al-Fitr under shadow of covid

Indonesian Muslims pray at Al Akbar mosque during Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Surabaya, East Java province, Indonesia, May 13, 2021. © Antara Foto/Via Reuters Indonesian Muslims pray at Al Akbar mosque during Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Surabaya, East Java province, Indonesia, May 13, 2021.

DUBAI — For a second year in a row, the shadow of covid-19 fell heavily on Muslims as they gathered to pray and mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan with the normally joyous Eid al-Fitr holiday.

The annual celebration, with family visits, sumptuous meals, presents and communal prayer, practically represents everything people aren’t supposed to do during the pandemic.

In Indonesia, mosques were closed in high-risk areas and authorities instituted a travel ban, as in the previous year, to stop people from flooding into the countryside to visit their relatives. Police said some 1.5 million people had left Jakarta despite the ban.

Malaysia also announced a lockdown ahead of Eid in an effort to curb cases and domestic travel. Parts of Southeast Asia have been battling new outbreaks in recent weeks.

In the United Arab Emirates, mosques and prayer halls were opened to the faithful, unlike last year when worshipers were told to pray at home. Prayers, however, were limited to 15 minutes and other restrictions were in place, including limiting family gatherings to just five people.

Muslim leaders in India and Pakistan also called for subdued commemorations and social distancing during prayers. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan wished Muslims a happy Eid al-Fitr but warned “this Eid is different; as the world combats the pandemic.”

In Gaza, however, people awoke on Thursday to pillars of smoke rising from buildings bombed by Israeli forces — with the dangers of covid probably far from their thoughts.

By: Paul Schemm

3:49 AM: Britain’s Boris Johnson criticized for delaying covid inquiry until 2022

Boris Johnson wearing a suit and tie: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual news conference to announce changes to lockdown rules in England. © Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a virtual news conference to announce changes to lockdown rules in England.

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been widely criticized for waiting until spring 2022 to launch an investigation into the country’s coronavirus response, with grieving citizens and officials warning that if lessons are to be learned from the outbreak, they should be investigated sooner.

On Wednesday, Johnson agreed that it was “absolutely vital” that a public inquiry take place but said it would be “wrong” to take up the valuable time of leading experts to launch an investigation at this stage in case there is another wave of infection and their expertise is needed elsewhere.

“Why can it not be later this year? Why can it not start earlier?” questioned Keir Starmer, the opposition party leader. A World Health Organization official said, “If there are lessons to be learned, they should be learned quickly and applied now.”

Families of those who died of covid-19 have long been pressing for an investigation into the government’s handling of the crisis — with many accusing officials of acting too slow to control borders, implement lockdowns and provide health-care staff with protective gear needed to treat covid-positive patients.

Britain’s Bereaved Families for Justice group told the Guardian that their fight had been “hell on Earth” and said that their tireless campaign for a public inquiry has left “a legacy of mistrust.” They say Johnson has refused to meet with them, despite their pleas.

Britain was hit particularly bad by the health crisis, with more than 4.4 million confirmed cases of the virus and almost 128,000 deaths.

By: Jennifer Hassan

3:04 AM: How experts recommend better supporting survivors of domestic violence during the pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, many experts warned that the isolation could contribute to a rise in domestic violence. Nearly a year later, a February meta-analysis published by the National Commission on Covid-19 and Criminal Justice found that domestic violence incidents in the United States rose by about 8 percent in 2020.

The researchers linked this to the pandemic lockdowns, which may have put survivors in proximity with their harm-doer for extended periods. They also believe pandemic-related economic impacts, like job loss, financial insecurity and higher caregiving responsibilities, contributed to this increase.

The psychological and economic impacts of the pandemic can increase stress in the harm-doer, and they may turn more often to alcohol and drugs to cope, according to Emily Rothman, a professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health who researches intimate partner violence. Violence and abuse likely follow as a result, she said.

Read the full story

By: Seraphina Seow

2:19 AM: For 12 frantic days, two sisters tried to save their parents dying of covid in India

a plate of food on a table: Images of Indian residents Indira Chatterjee (L), 72, and her husband Malay Kumar Chatterjee, 82, and who both died after contracting the coronavirus, are seen following a puja ceremony on what would have been their 51st wedding anniversary at their home in New Delhi on May 7, 2021. © Rebecca Conway/FTWP Images of Indian residents Indira Chatterjee (L), 72, and her husband Malay Kumar Chatterjee, 82, and who both died after contracting the coronavirus, are seen following a puja ceremony on what would have been their 51st wedding anniversary at their home in New Delhi on May 7, 2021.

It was midnight on April 16 in New Delhi, and Sujata Hingorani was desperately trying to find her father a hospital bed. His oxygen levels had dropped that evening. Doctors said he needed to be hospitalized immediately.

She went to seven hospitals across the city, updating her sister, Supriya Das, who was waiting at home with the ambulance.

Finally at 5 a.m. she found an open bed at Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, a government facility in the city’s center. “It took them hours to prepare admission paperwork,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post.

“He was whisked [sic] to a ‘covid isolation’ facility where no visitor could enter..... sometimes 5patients were taken together on one stretcher,” she later posted on Twitter.

Sujata and Supriya’s ordeal has become horrifyingly ordinary in India. The country has recorded more than 250,000 deaths and over 23.3 million cases as it buckles under an unexpected second wave of the pandemic.

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By: Ruby Mellen

2:18 AM: DC Improv reopens for stand-up — socially distanced

a man standing in front of a brick building: Comedian Paris Sashay was among the performers during the DC Improv's reopening weekend in mid-April. © DC Improv Comedian Paris Sashay was among the performers during the DC Improv's reopening weekend in mid-April.

When the DC Improv opened its doors to audiences in mid-April for the first time in 13 months, Director of Creative Marketing Chris White wondered whether the venue’s charms could survive in a socially distanced environment.

The basement club, which typically packs in nearly 300 people, was limited to a capacity of 50 masked patrons. The usual intermingling of strangers — seated together, sharing a laugh — was gone, with tickets sold by the table and each party spaced at least six feet apart. Audience members were kept at least 20 feet from the stage, limiting comedians’ ability to work the crowd.

Then the lights dimmed and the show began. As laughs flooded the room, White began to cry.

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By: Thomas Floyd

2:14 AM: Australia’s vaccine rollout, plagued by delays, gets Moderna boost

a large ship in the water with Sydney Opera House in the background: A ferry moves past the Sydney Opera House in Australia, which has just signed a vaccine procurement deal with Moderna. © Lisa Maree Williams/Bloomberg A ferry moves past the Sydney Opera House in Australia, which has just signed a vaccine procurement deal with Moderna.

SYDNEY — Australia has reached a deal with Moderna to buy 25 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine, as the country attempts to get its vaccination program back on track. Health Minister Greg Hunt said the U.S. company would deliver 1 million vaccine doses by September and another 9 million by December.

Australia’s rollout was delayed by issues with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The government had planned to manufacture the vaccine locally and use it to vaccinate most of the population, but health authorities limited its use to individuals over age 50 after several people contracted blood clots after receiving the vaccine.

The government now hopes to give all Australian adults at least one shot by the end of the year. As of Wednesday, the country had administered almost 2.9 million doses of coronavirus vaccines.

Australia has agreed to import 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and 51 million Novavax doses, but many of those won’t arrive until later in the year. The deal with Moderna includes updated booster shots in 2022 for variants, Hunt said.

Hunt also said Thursday the government was starting discussions about producing mRNA vaccines, such as those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, in Australia. It will continue to manufacture 50 million Oxford-AstraZeneca doses, as planned, donating any shots it doesn’t need to neighboring countries.

Moderna’s vaccine has yet to be approved by Australian health regulators. One advantage of the Moderna vaccine is that it does not need to be stored at temperatures as low as the one developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer with German partner BioNTech, making it easier to distribute, especially to remote Indigenous communities.

After early success, concerns about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and changes to the rollout have hit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander vaccination rates particularly hard, according to Aboriginal health authorities.

By: Rachel Pannett

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