Los Angeles Confronts New Variants as Virus Deaths Climb

Los Angeles News
People waiting in line at a coronavirus testing site in Los Angeles this month.
Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

As the total number of U.S. coronavirus cases surpassed 24 million on Monday, Los Angeles County, one of the hardest-hit areas, may face even more dire weeks ahead. Deaths in the county have continued to climb as the national death toll nears 400,000.

Hospitals have run out of room in intensive care units, though new cases and hospitalizations appear to be leveling off in recent days. The county records a coronavirus-related death roughly every seven minutes, and last week was its highest recorded ever for Covid-19 fatalities.

On Saturday alone, 253 people died of Covid-19, and with variants of the virus that could be more contagious now circulating in California, those numbers may rise.

It took nearly 10 months for the county, America’s most populous, to hit 400,000 cases, but little more than a month to add another 400,000, from Nov. 30 to Jan. 2, according to a New York Times database. On Saturday, the county became the nation’s first to surpass one million recorded coronavirus infections, a number only four states other than California have exceeded: Illinois, New York, Florida and Texas. (California on Sunday became the first state to have recorded more than three million cases.)

And the true scale of infections may be much higher than reported: One in three Los Angeles residents is believed to have been infected with the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the Los Angeles Department of Health. To help quell the spread, the county’s public schools have asked health authorities for permission to begin providing Covid-19 vaccinations.

The virus is surging across California, where daily deaths are averaging 528, an increase of over 15 percent from a week ago. Much of the state, including the southern region, remains under a stay-at-home order.

The crisis has led to a backlog of bodies so severe that the air quality regulator for much of Southern California issued an emergency order on Friday temporarily suspending limits on cremations in Los Angeles County, at the request of the county’s coroner and health department.

The state is among many dealing with the arrival of a more contagious viral variant, first discovered in Britain; the first confirmed case in Los Angeles was reported on Saturday. It is believed to be potentially 50 percent more transmissible than the initial version of the virus.

Officials said they thought the variant, which has caused infections to soar in London and southeast England, has been spreading through Los Angeles for some time. While more contagious, the variant does not appear to cause more severe illness.

On Sunday night, the California Department of Public Health reported another variant that had grown more common across the state since December. Known as L452R, it was first detected in Denmark in March and appeared in California in May. In December, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, sequenced genomes of coronavirus gathered around the state and found that the variant was present in just 3.8 percent of their samples. By January, it had jumped to 25.2 percent.

Charles Chiu, who led the sequencing, cautioned that he and his colleagues worked with a small sample size, so they have not yet proven that this variant is more contagious. “But there are worrisome signs that this variant may be highly transmissible,” he said.

Dr. Chiu and his colleagues are now looking more carefully for this variant across the state and are trying to understand how its mutations have altered it. They want to see if the variant can escape from monoclonal antibodies and perhaps even make vaccines less effective. “These are critical studies that need to be done,” Dr. Chiu said.

After weeks under a stay-at-home order, the county’s positivity rate is starting to taper. Dr. George Rutherford, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said the state and Los Angeles seemed to be “in the process of sort of gradually turning a corner here.”

He cautioned against panicking about the more transmissible variant, noting the same cautious behavior will help keep it at bay: stay home, wear a mask, physically distance.

Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, left, opening the state’s first shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine on Dec. 14.
Credit…David Zalubowski/Associated Press

After a promise from the Trump administration that it would release a stockpile of reserved coronavirus vaccine doses, several states were expecting a huge boost in doses. Some followed federal guidance to expand eligibility to wider swaths of people.

But that promise turned out to be too good to be true — most of the stockpile had already been shipped out. And now those states are scrambling, finding themselves just as mired in the morass of the country’s beleaguered vaccine distribution as they were before.

Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon, expecting the additional doses, opened vaccine registration to people in the state 65 and older, as well as educators and child care providers. Now, she said in a news release, the state’s plan to start vaccinating all of its older residents will be delayed by two weeks.

The confusion began Tuesday, with a statement by Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of the health and human services department, who chided states for not efficiently using their vaccines and urged them to open up eligibility to people 65 and older, as well as to tens of millions of adults with medical conditions that put them at higher risk of dying from coronavirus infection.

“We are releasing the entire supply we have for order by the states, rather than holding second doses in physical reserves,” he said, adding that vaccine doses would no longer be stockpiled.

Several states then assumed that they would get an influx of new doses that could be used to vaccinate new people. Some, including New York, quickly followed the federal government’s advice and widened vaccine access, prompting a surge of interest — and confusion — as thousands of newly eligible people sought appointments to get vaccinated.

On Thursday, Oregon officials discovered that “there were no additional doses available” in the federal distribution system beyond what had been available before the Trump administration’s Tuesday announcement, the director of the Oregon Health Authority, Patrick M. Allen, wrote in a letter to Mr. Azar, which was posted by NBC News.

Mr. Allen and Ms. Brown spoke with an official from Operation Warp Speed, the federal government’s vaccine program, who “informed us there is no reserve of doses,” he wrote.

“This is extremely disturbing, and puts our plans to expand eligibility at grave risk,” Mr. Allen wrote. “Those plans were made on the basis of reliance on your statement about ‘releasing the entire supply’ you have in reserve.”

Governor Brown said on Twitter: “This is a deception on a national scale.”

On Friday, the public learned that the Trump administration had already been distributing all available doses since the end of December, after The Washington Post reported the news.

“Who’s going to be prosecuted for this?” Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota asked at a news conference on Friday. Mr. Walz said he was “not sleeping” over concerns that Minnesotans would be unable to get their second doses.

Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado said his state would get 79,000 doses this week instead of the 210,000 he had been expecting.

“We should’ve known not to believe a word” from the Trump administration, Mr. Polis said.

Senior Trump administration officials told The New York Times on Friday that the reserved doses were already being distributed to states and that they were never intended to be used toward vaccinating additional people.

Shipments of eight to 12 million doses per week will be sent out over the next several weeks, a senior administration official said on Friday. Those shipments will be divided among those getting their first and second shots.

Daniel Larremore, an assistant professor at the BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said that for governors creating distribution plans, “having the sands constantly shifting beneath your feet makes it really hard to make those plans and get people lined up to get the vaccine.”

Federal, state and local officials have traded blame for the faulty rollout. Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it had been “chaotic,” tweeting on Friday that the Trump administration’s current plan “seems to be pointing fingers at states.”

The “only route to success is a whole-of-government, whole-of-society approach,” he said. “If we’re divided, the virus will continue to conquer us.”

Ron Klain, the incoming White House chief of staff, coordinated the Obama administration’s Ebola response.
Credit…Jabin Botsford/The New York Times

Officials in the incoming Biden administration braced the country for continued hardship in the days after the inauguration, with the president-elect assuming control of a struggling economy and surging coronavirus outbreak in less than three days.

Ron Klain, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s incoming White House chief of staff, had a dire forecast for the course of the coronavirus outbreak in the new administration’s first weeks, predicting that half a million Americans will have died from the coronavirus by the end of February. The current toll is nearing 400,000.

“The virus is going to get worse before it gets better,” Mr. Klain said in an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “People who are contracting the virus today will start to get sick next month, will add to the death toll in late February, even March, so it’s going to take awhile to turn this around.”

Average daily U.S. deaths from the virus have risen to well past 3,000, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has sounded the alarm about a fast-spreading, far more contagious variant of the coronavirus that officials project will become the dominant source of infection in the country by March, potentially fueling another wrenching surge of cases and deaths.

Mr. Klain, in comments directed at states’ disappointment that a reserve of additional vaccines that the Trump administration had promised to release did not exist, said that his team was “inheriting a huge mess” in terms of vaccine production and distribution.

“But we have a plan to fix it,” Mr. Klain said, alluding to a federal vaccination campaign that Mr. Biden announced on Friday. “We think there are things we can do to speed up the delivery of that vaccine.”

He was particularly critical of President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, having served as the “Ebola czar” under President Barack Obama during an outbreak of the deadly disease in his second term. A video of Mr. Klain lecturing Mr. Trump about the pandemic was widely seen during the campaign.

Trump administration officials last week urged states to loosen eligibility criteria and to begin vaccinating all Americans 65 and older. Some states, including New York, moved quickly to comply, prompting a surge of interest — and confusion — as thousands of newly eligible people sought appointments to get vaccinated.

But there was no stockpile of additional vaccine doses awaiting distribution to those states, it turned out — only the amounts already promised, much of it to be given as second doses to people who already had received their first doses.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Sunday that he, too, had been trying to sort through the confusion about how many doses were held by the federal government and where they were going.

“I think there was just a misunderstanding,” Dr. Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “When doses were released, an equal amount was kept back to make sure if there was any glitches in the supply flow that the people who got their first doses would clearly get their second doses,” he said.

Once it was clear that production of the vaccines would be reliable, he added, “the decision was made, instead of just giving enough for the first dose and holding back for the second dose, that as soon as they got the doses available, they would give it because now they would have confidence that the next amount they would get.”

Brian Deese, the incoming head of the National Economic Council, also stressed the urgency of passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus plan that the incoming Biden administration unveiled last week to assist in the recovery effort, pointing to data suggesting increasing unemployment and that more Americans are going hungry.

“The truth is, we’re at a very precarious moment,” Mr. Deese said in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “We’ve got an acute economic crisis and human crisis, and we need decisive action.”

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for Covid-19.
Credit…Jean-Francois Monier/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Health officials in Norway, where at least 33 nursing home residents have died after being inoculated against the coronavirus with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, said on Sunday that the vaccine was safe and that the deaths might have been largely unrelated.

Those who died were very ill, they said, including some who were terminal patients.

In such patients, even routine side effects from vaccines may lead to serious complications, Dr. Steinar Madsen, the medical director of the Norwegian Medicines Agency, said in an interview. Yet Covid-19 poses an even greater risk, he added.

The deaths are still being examined, and agency officials plan to discuss the matter this week with the European Medicines Agency. On Sunday, the companies behind the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine said their “immediate thoughts are with the bereaved families.”

The manufacturers also noted that “Norwegian authorities have prioritized the immunization of residents in nursing homes, most of whom are very elderly with underlying medical conditions and some of which are terminally ill.”

Vaccination has not been controversial in Norway, and by and large neither have the health measures necessary to contain the virus. There have been about 59,000 infections and 520 deaths in the country, which has a population of 5.3 million.

Astrid Meland, a commentator at the national newspaper VG, commended Norwegian officials for their transparency but urged them to provide more context.

“Norwegian authorities have failed to communicate clearly how unsurprising this is, and that the rules of how the vaccine is administered have not changed,” she said.

“It is unfortunate this news travels so fast, leaving an impression that the vaccine is lethal,” Ms. Meland added. “Unfortunately, vaccine skeptics all over do not hesitate to use this news.”

The Norwegian Institute for Public Health said the country’s prioritization schedule — which starts with residents in nursing homes, those over 85 and some health care workers — had not changed.

But the institute issued a statement on Jan. 11 saying that careful consideration should be given to “the very frail, those with very short remaining life and terminally ill patients” because “benefit of the vaccine may be marginal.”

Riot police officers clashed with protesters during a demonstration in the Museumplein, a public square in Amsterdam, on Sunday.
Credit…Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

AMSTERDAM — The riot police used water cannons, batons, attack dogs and officers on horseback on Sunday to disperse hundreds of people throwing fireworks and stones in protest against the Dutch government and its coronavirus measures.

The protest followed the resignation of Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his cabinet on Friday over the Dutch tax authority’s treatment of poor families amid a child-care benefits scandal.

The protesters gathered on a central square lined with famous museums, including the Van Gogh Museum, and the American Consulate, waving placards saying “Dictatorship,” “Freedom” and “We are the Netherlands.”

Video footage showed very few wearing masks, which are not mandatory in the open air, and no one keeping a social distance of five feet, one of the key health measures advised by the Dutch authorities.

Like most of Europe, the Netherlands is in a lockdown, at least until Feb. 9. Infections remain high but the rate has slightly dropped, with 34 coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

Those protesting the social restrictions are a relatively small but vocal coterie of groups and individuals opposed to Mr. Rutte and his policies, and also angry at established media organizations. Much like the Trump loyalists who stormed the United States Capitol, they believe the system needs to be uprooted.

“These people live in their own truth, with their own news and own reality,” said Hans Nijenhuis, the editor in chief of The Algemeen Dagblad, the largest newspaper in the Netherlands. “As we have seen in the States, we can’t just ignore their discontent.”

An application to hold Sunday’s protest filed by Michel Reijinga, who was mustering supporters on Facebook, was rejected by officials. To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, all such gatherings have been prohibited in the country.

Hundreds — perhaps thousands, according to the organizers — nonetheless gathered at the central Museumplein square, prompting Amsterdam’s mayor, the police force and the Netherlands Public Prosecution Service to send in riot police officers.

There have been several protests in the Netherlands pver lockdowns and coronavirus measures, as well as protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“We want to party and go to clubs, we are so tired of all these measures,” a younger woman could be heard saying on the livestream of a new Dutch broadcaster called Ongehoord Nederland.

“Traditional media is saying these people are silly and mad, but a demonstration such as this one is a sign of broader dissatisfaction,” said Arnold Karskens, the managing director of the channel. (Mr. Karskens has also opposed the abolishment of Black Pete, a controversial Dutch traditional figure in blackface, who Mr. Karskens says is mythological.)

“The truth is people are tired of all these measures,” he added. “They feel there is no end in sight.”

Volunteers at a checkpoint outside a residential area in Jilin, China, in May.
Credit…Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China’s latest coronavirus outbreak has been traced to a salesman who appeared at a series of workshops in Jilin, a northeastern province in China, and has been linked to 102 infections that have emerged in recent days, officials in the province said in a briefing on Sunday.

The man, identified only by his last name, Lin, had participated in a series of workshops organized by two health care companies over five days this month. He is among 34 people who have now contracted Covid-19 in the province during this newest outbreak, at least 10 of whom have been linked to sales events held in storefronts in the cities of Gongzhuling and Tonghua.

In all, 79 people who attended the workshops have tested positive for the coronavirus, as have another 23 people who were in close contact with them. Mr. Lin may have been exposed to the coronavirus by a couple who traveled with him on a train, according to a statement posted on the provincial health commission’s website.

The outbreak in Jilin was the latest in a small but significant surge in cases in China in recent weeks. China, where the pandemic began more than a year ago, had largely brought cases under control but is taking extraordinary measures again to staunch the latest outbreaks. Officials have locked down more than 28 million people in several cities, including districts of the capital, Beijing.

And yet cases are still climbing, reaching an average of 149 a day in the last week.

Health care workshops like those in Jilin have become a profitable business aimed at China’s growing population of elderly, though the businesses at times have been plagued by fraud and exaggerated claims for products. Mr. Lin worked for two companies, Yuansheng Quality Life Shop and Aishang Hanbang Health Club, according to the officials.

Liu Shunchang, an official in the province’s market supervision department, said at the briefing on Sunday that the authorities had begun an investigation into the two companies’ workshops. “Severe penalties will be imposed if there were violations of laws and regulations,” he said.

Claire Fu contributed reporting.

The music producer Phil Spector at a court hearing in 2004. Since 2009, he had been serving a prison sentence for the murder of Lana Clarkson, a nightclub hostess he took home after a night of drinking in 2003.
Credit…Pool photo by Nick Ut

Covid-19 has taken the life of Phil Spector, one of the most influential and successful record producers in rock ’n’ roll, who spent the last chapter of his life in prison for murder.

Mr. Spector, 81, died on Saturday of complications from Covid-19, according to his daughter, Nicole Audrey Spector.

Ms. Spector said she visited her father the day before his death at San Joaquin General Hospital, near Modesto, Calif. He was not conscious and “appeared to be suffering,” she said.

She said she had also been with him when he died: “He was not alone. He died with love and dignity.”

Prisons nationwide have seen some of the largest clusters of coronavirus infections, and some of those outbreaks have spilled into surrounding communities. In all, 25 California prisons have seen caseloads surpassing 1,000 each over the pandemic.

The largest outbreak has been at overcrowded Avenal, in Central California, which has logged more than 3,500 infections. Whether to inoculate inmates, and when, has become controversial amid limited supplies of vaccine.

A pioneering producer, Mr. Spector was a one-man hit factory, placing 24 records in the Top 40 between 1960 and 1965 alone. Many were classics, by bands like the Crystals, the Ronettes and the Righteous Brothers.

But he entered a decades-long decline after the ambitious “wall of sound” record he made with Tina Turner in 1966, “River Deep, Mountain High,” flopped on U.S. charts. His behavior became erratic, often involving his extensive handgun collection and heavy drinking.

Since 2009, Mr. Spector had been serving a prison sentence for the murder of Lana Clarkson, a nightclub hostess he took home after a night of drinking in 2003. The Los Angeles police found her slumped in a chair in the foyer of his mansion in Alhambra, dead from a single bullet wound to the head. He was sentenced to 19 years to life.

He first served at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran, near Fresno, and then moved to the California Health Care Facility, a medical and mental prison institution in Stockton.

His daughter said he had become very ill before he was admitted to San Joaquin General Hospital on Dec. 31. She said he was intubated in early January.

In late December, Ms. Spector spoke to her father by phone. He “was experiencing severe wheezing, could not get through a sentence without coughing, could not swallow or eat,” she said. “He was begging for medical help.”

It was their last conversation.

On Sunday, she issued a statement requesting privacy for the family and thanking the medical team who last treated her father.

She blamed his death on “cruelty and neglect” at the California Health Care Facility. She called Mr. Spector her “best friend and the maker of so much perfect music” and maintained that he was innocent of the murder for which he had been convicted.

Tennis players and their support teams disembarking on Thursday from one of 17 flights that the organizers of the Australian Open chartered to bring participants to Melbourne.
Credit…Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

A seemingly airtight plan to stage the first major tennis tournament of 2021 without compromising players’ health or the success of Australia’s efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic fell apart over the weekend.

By late Sunday, five passengers from three flights chartered by the tournament organizers had tested positive after arriving in Australia, prompting orders for everyone aboard to go into quarantine for two weeks. The planes — which arrived from Los Angeles; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates; and Doha, Qatar — carried 72 players, including multiple expected contenders at this year’s Australian Open and former Grand Slam champions.

All of those players have been forbidden to leave their hotel rooms for 14 days, while their competitors will be allowed to go to the tennis center for up to five hours a day. There were also journalists, coaches and other support personnel on the planes.

Travelers to the tournament were expected to have negative results from virus tests within 72 hours of takeoff. Then they were to have another virus screening after arrival. In total, there were 17 flights chartered by Tennis Australia, the organization that runs the Open, and it was not clear on Sunday whether more positive tests might still be reported.

After the strict quarantine was first imposed on Saturday, Tennis Australia faced a rebellion from players. Several of those facing the tighter restrictions said that they could not prepare properly for the Open, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 8. Three tuneup events are supposed to begin on Feb. 1.

“It’s about the idea of staying in a room for two weeks and being able to compete,” Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine told a fellow player, Paula Badosa of Spain, in a livestream on Instagram on Saturday night. Kostyuk said she could not remember the last time she had not picked up a racket for two weeks.

Tennis officials appealed for less stringent restrictions on players who repeatedly test negative in their first days in Australia, but government officials declined to soften the rules. Craig Tiley, the chief executive of Tennis Australia, said Sunday that players had been warned that coming to Australia involved the risk of a mandatory quarantine for anyone deemed to have been in close contact with a person who had tested positive.

People arriving at a Disneyland parking lot to receive Covid-19 vaccines on Jan. 13.
Credit…Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The coronavirus has brought the travel industry to its knees. The U.S. Travel Association, a trade group that promotes travel to and within the country, estimates that nearly 40 percent of all travel jobs have been eliminated since the virus took hold in March.

With hotels at record-low occupancy, some airports running on skeleton crews and fairgrounds emptied of guests, many domestic travel companies and operators have become part of an ad hoc relief effort, donating their resources and newly vacant spaces to help get the pandemic under control.

Disneyland has been closed since mid-March, but last week the theme park in Anaheim, Calif., began serving as a vaccination super site.

On Wednesday, a section of its Toy Story parking lot was full. Emergency medical workers and local residents over the age of 75 lined up for the first of five Orange County, Calif., “Super POD” (Point of Dispensing) sites, and Andrew Do, chairman of Orange County’s board of supervisors, says they will soon be able to inoculate 7,000 people a day there.

The site is being run by the county, but in addition to providing space, Walt Disney Co. is providing some staffing assistance.

Many other corners of the travel industry are looking for a way to pitch in to help end the pandemic.

More than a dozen U.S. airports now double as Covid-19 testing sites, including Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway, Los Angeles International, Tampa, Newark and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Sharon Decker is president of North Carolina’s Tryon Resort, which is set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and includes a 300,000-square-foot indoor arena. She wasn’t surprised when Polk County, N.C., officials reached out to see if she would be willing to donate that arena as a vaccination site, although she knew it would present logistical challenges. The site opened in mid-December.

Those robust public-private partnerships will be key to getting the United States out of the pandemic, said Steven Pedigo, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert in urban economic development.

When it comes to a large-scale mobilization effort like nationwide vaccination, there is probably no sector better qualified than the travel industry, he said.

“This is what they do — they move people, and they move large amounts of goods and services,” Mr. Pedigo said. “They’re in the business of crowd control. So it makes sense to do this at a Disney World or an Alamodome. They have the expertise for it.”

Chris Panayiotou, the owner of Gee Whiz diner.
Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

Chris Panayiotou, a burly man with a kind smile, was always known for his playful side. When he wasn’t tending to the family business, the 30-year-old Gee Whiz Diner in Lower Manhattan, he loved to get together with his father to tinker with cars and computers, or build Legos with his sons.

But all that changed when Mr. Panayiotou’s father died of Covid-19 last spring.

Peter Panayiotou had kept Gee Whiz thriving through the Sept. 11 attacks, Hurricane Sandy and years of gentrification and soaring rents. The pandemic proved too much, though, and the diner closed in March; a few weeks later, the elder Mr. Panayiotou died of Covid-19.

Chris Panayiotou was deep in mourning. Gee Whiz remained locked up and untouched for three months. Mr. Panayiotou wondered whether he should just give up and sell it.

When protests over the police killing of George Floyd began in late spring, setting off sporadic violence and looting in Manhattan, Mr. Panayiotou got a call from a handyman who worked in the diner’s building, suggesting he should shore up the property.

To his surprise, Mr. Panayiotou arrived to find that the restaurant was perfectly fine. Indeed, the diner’s doors had been covered with messages and memories by customers, its entry filled with dandelions, orchids and roses.

Mr. Panayiotou entered the diner for the first time since his father’s death. A few minutes later, David Morales, a concierge from a building next door, rushed in. “They put your dad’s name on the sidewalk,” Mr. Morales told him.

Credit…Michelle V. Agins/The New York Times

In the previous few days, a man had been seen welding at night, Mr. Morales told Mr. Panayiotou, engraving the name Peter Panayiotou on the sidewalk. The mystery welder told a passer-by, “Peter was a good friend.”

“This is a sign,” he thought. “We’re going to reopen no matter what. No matter what. This is what Dad would want.”

Gee Whiz reopened in August. The brand-new outdoor space — exploding with the elder Mr. Panayiotou’s favorite color, forest green — was built by the family and employees to evoke a typical diner interior.

The welder’s identity remains unknown.

global roundup

Attending to a patient at the Covid-19 emergency room of Santa Maria hospital in Lisbon last week. Portugal has one of Europe’s smallest intensive-care capacities.
Credit…Patricia De Melo Moreira/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Portugal’s hospitals are on the brink of becoming overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, with fears the country’s hospital system could buckle in the face of steadily rising infections. The country has registered more than 10,000 new cases of Covid-19 daily for the last five days.

Portugal has one of smallest intensive care unit capacities of any country in Europe, with just 672 beds available, and by Sunday, 647 intensive care patients were being treated for the coronavirus, according to the health ministry.

After visiting a hospital on Sunday, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa of Portugal told journalists that there was now pressure on health care structures that were greater than the first peak of the outbreak in March. The rate of infections, he added, could rise significantly in the coming weeks and necessitate “a much longer lockdown.”

Portugal began a month of nationwide restrictions on Friday, with measures similar to those the country enforced last spring, including the closure of nonessential stores and an order for citizens to stay at home.

Marta Temido, Portugal’s health minister, said the country was “very close to the limit” after visiting a hospital in Almada on Sunday and called on citizens to follow the latest lockdown rules in order to help reduce the “very high” pressure on hospitals.

“Everybody needs to make sacrifices,” she said.

Here’s what to know from elsewhere in the world:

  • European leaders are set to debate a proposal this week for coronavirus “passports” that would let vaccinated people travel freely within the bloc. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece, where travel restrictions have hit the tourism industry hard, said in a letter to the president of the bloc’s executive arm that it was “urgent” for member states “adopt a common understanding” on vaccination certificates, according to Reuters. The issue is expected to be discussed during a video conference on E.U. coronavirus coordination on Friday.

  • Australia’s health secretary said the country was unlikely to fully reopen its borders in 2021, despite vaccination efforts and pressures from the tourism industry. Speaking to ABC News on Monday morning, the minister, Brendan Murphy, said that restarting international travel remained “a big question.”

    “I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he said.

  • Germany’s health ministry has announced plans to systematically sequence coronavirus samples in order to detect and track variants of the virus that have the potential to spread more swiftly. “We want to be able to understand even better where known mutations are spreading and whether new mutations are occurring,” Jens Spahn, the health minister, said on Monday. The goal is to sequence at least 5 percent of new infections. Mr. Spahn said that while the variant that spread rapidly in England had been found in Germany, it was mostly linked to patients who had traveled from Britain.

  • In Japan, the health ministry reported three new cases on Monday of the variant that spread in Britain, the first to be discovered among residents with no travel history. Japan has reported a total of 45 cases of three different coronavirus variants, all but these latest three among people who had recently traveled or were close contacts of travelers from Britain, South Africa or Brazil. The three new cases were all confirmed in Shizuoka Prefecture, south of Tokyo and the home of Mt. Fuji, Japan’s highest peak.

Members of the National Guard last week outside the U.S. Capitol, where up to 25,000 troops are expected for the inauguration on Wednesday.
Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

In recent days, tens of thousands of National Guard troops have flooded into Washington from across the country to protect lawmakers and ensure a smooth transition to the next administration.

The soldiers — several times more troops than are deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria — may also be dealing with another risk: the coronavirus. At least 43 troops deployed to Washington contracted the virus, The Military Times reported, though none while on duty in the city, according to Air Force Capt. Tinashe T. Machona.

A spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, Maj. Matt Murphy, said that while Guard members with symptoms were directed to get tested and seek medical care, not all Guard members would be tested. Members underwent temperature checks and filled out questionnaires about their symptoms and exposure, he said.

“All 50 states, three territories and the District of Columbia are involved in this operation,” Major Murphy said. “To track down all 54 surgeon generals to see if they’re able to release numbers regarding their troops at this time would overwhelm us.”

Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, said that while it was “very important for them to be there,” Guard members “should be doing everything reasonably possible” to prevent the spread, including wearing masks, getting tested and exercising extra caution in higher-risk settings like being in vehicles together, resting in the Capitol (as many have been pictured doing) and eating indoors.

“It’s almost certain that some of them are carrying the virus” with such a large crowd, Dr. Marr said.

Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

The troops are frequently photographed in masks, standing at a distance. But many had to sleep huddled in crowded spaces in the Capitol, making room for lawmakers to continue business.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of Brown University’s School of Public Health, said that systematic testing should be a priority for a group of that size, including for asymptomatic cases. “These folks are there to protect our political leaders, but we should not be putting them in harm’s way unnecessarily by not doing what we can to protect them from the virus,” he said.

The troops are mostly processed through the D.C. Armory, where they fill out a medical questionnaire, receive credentials and find out about their assignments and other logistics.

Earlier this summer, when the National Guard deployed troops to Washington for Black Lives Matter protests, a few tested positive, McClatchy reported at the time. The infected Guard members stayed in the city and quarantined while others went back to their home states.

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