As Record Coronavirus Wave Hits India, Hospitals Plead for Oxygen
The country reported more than 330,000 cases. It was the second consecutive day on which it set a global record for new infections. Here’s the latest on Covid-19.,
NEW DELHI — A catastrophic second wave of the coronavirus is battering India, which is reporting the world’s highest number of new infections as hospitals and patients beg for fast-diminishing oxygen supplies and other emergency aid.
Canada has joined Britain, Hong Kong, Singapore and New Zealand in barring travelers coming from India. And the U.S. State Department advised people against going to India after the Centers for Disease Control raised the risk level to its highest measure.
Facing a barrage of criticism for his government’s handling of the second wave, Prime Minister Narendra Modi canceled plans to travel to West Bengal for a campaign rally as an election takes place in that state.
Even as cases have climbed, Mr. Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party and other parties have continued to hold mass rallies with thousands of people unmasked. The government has also allowed an enormous Hindu festival to draw millions of pilgrims despite signs that it has become a superspreader event.
The catastrophe in India is playing out vividly on social media, with Twitter feeds and WhatsApp groups broadcasting hospitals’ pleas for oxygen and medicines, and families’ desperate searches for beds in overwhelmed Covid-19 wards. With many hospitals short of ventilators, television reports have shown patients lying inside ambulances parked outside emergency rooms, struggling to breathe.
Swati Maliwal, an activist and politician in Delhi, tweeted that her grandmother had died while waiting to be admitted outside a hospital in Greater Noida near New Delhi.
“I kept standing there for half hour and pleading for admission and nothing happened,” she wrote. “Shame! Pathetic!”
The death toll from the virus rose more than 2,200 on Friday, a new high.
On Thursday, Fortis Healthcare, one of India’s top hospital chains, tweeted an S.O.S. message to Mr. Modi and his chief deputy, Amit Shah, the minister for home affairs, appealing for more oxygen at a hospital in Haryana State on the Delhi border.
“Fortis Hospital in #Haryana has only 45 minutes of oxygen left,” the company wrote, asking government officials “to act immediately and help us save patients’ lives.”
Four hours later, the hospital received a tanker, the company tweeted.
At AIIMS Hospital in Delhi, India’s premier research hospital, contact tracing among health care workers was suspended because there weren’t enough personnel to spare for the exercise, according to Srinivas Rajkumar, a representative for the resident doctors’ association.
In Maharashtra, which includes Mumbai and is one of India’s worst-hit states, a hospital fire blamed on a faulty air-conditioning unit killed at least 13 Covid-19 patients on Friday, the second Covid hospital tragedy in the state this week. At least 22 patients were killed in a hospital in the city of Nashik on Wednesday after a leak cut off their oxygen supplies.
Beginning on Saturday, Indians age 18 or older can register for a Covid-19 vaccine, but demand is expected to far outstrip supply. So far, more than 135 million people have received at least one dose, about a tenth of India’s population of nearly 1.4 billion. Two vaccines have received emergency use authorization, with at least five others in the pipeline.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s independent vaccine advisory panel is meeting today to review the latest findings about a potential rare side effect that led to a pause in the use of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.
If the panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, decides that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the potential risk, then the government is likely to end the pause.
The meeting comes 10 days after the U.S. government recommended that inoculations with the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine be halted while researchers investigated six reports of unusual blood clots out of 6.8 million people who had received it.
Top officials said in interviews with The New York Times that they had found a few additional cases of the rare blood clots, but would not specify how many. They said that the overall rate did not appear to have changed significantly since last week.
The committee could recommend that Johnson & Johnson add a formal warning label about the side effect, as the company has done in the European Union. Roughly 10 million doses or more of the vaccine, produced at the company’s factory in the Netherlands, are sitting on shelves across the United States and could be deployed immediately.
The meeting comes as the federal government is also investigating problems at a Baltimore factory that was slated to help satisfy the country’s demand. Emergent BioSolutions, the plant’s operator, has produced tens of millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, but they cannot be distributed until regulators certify the plant.
After Emergent had to discard up to 15 million possibly contaminated doses of the vaccine last month, federal regulators conducted an inspection that found a series of problems, including the risk that other batches could have been contaminated.
Last week’s pause followed reports of six women who experienced a rare type of blood clot in the brain within three weeks of getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The clots were accompanied by an unusual drop in platelets, components of the blood that normally help heal wounds.
On Thursday, the Oregon health authorities reported that a death was being investigated for a possible connection to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The woman who died was in her 50s and had symptoms consistent with the blood clotting cases identified in eight other Johnson & Johnson recipients in the U.S. Dr. Shimi Sharief, the state health authority’s senior health adviser, emphasized that it was not known whether the woman’s death was related to the vaccine.
The C.D.C. committee met the day after the announcement, and a representative from Johnson & Johnson provided details on the six cases, along with two others. Rather than voting, the panel decided to hold a second meeting the following week, giving them time to better assess the data.
European regulators, who have also been scrutinizing the shots, said on Tuesday that they would allow these vaccinations to resume with the addition of a formal warning label.
AstraZeneca, which shipped millions of doses of its coronavirus vaccine to Mexico and Canada last month at the direction of the Biden administration, said on Thursday that the doses had been made at a Baltimore plant where production was halted because of serious manufacturing flaws.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine, made until recently by Emergent BioSolutions in Baltimore, is not approved for use in the United States, and tens of millions of doses have been sitting idly at manufacturing plants. But the White House said last month that the federal government, which committed last year to buying 300 million doses from the company, intended to “loan” 2.5 million doses to Mexico and 1.5 million doses to Canada.
Whether regulators from those countries inspected the Emergent plant before accepting the AstraZeneca doses, and whether American officials warned them of the ongoing issues at the site, is unclear.
The New York Times reported this month that from early October to January, Emergent discarded five lots of AstraZeneca vaccine — each the equivalent of two million to three million doses — because of contamination or suspected contamination, according to internal logs, a government official and a former company supervisor.
Officials from the Biden administration declined to comment. The Canadian government has said that the AstraZeneca doses were received and distributed, and that it reserved several thousand for quality testing. The status of the doses sent to Mexico is unclear.
In a statement on Thursday, AstraZeneca said that the doses delivered to Mexico and Canada “met the stringent requirements we are required to follow,” and that “required safety tests and quality control measures” were conducted at each step of the production process and before the batches were released.
Last month, The Times reported that an ingredient mix-up at the Emergent Baltimore plant had ruined up to 15 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson. Workers at the plant had conflated ingredients from the two vaccines.
Federal officials ordered major changes to the plant after those revelations.
The Biden administration ordered Emergent to stop making the AstraZeneca vaccine, and put Johnson & Johnson in charge of running the Baltimore plant. A report by Food and Drug Administration inspectors, made public on Wednesday, concluded that Emergent may have contaminated additional doses. It also spotlighted numerous other problems with training and cleanliness at the plant.
The disclosure that the vaccine doses sent to Mexico and Canada came from the Emergent plant raises questions about the Biden administration’s role in arranging for the shipments. Reporting in The Times has shown that federal health officials — and the F.D.A. — were aware of problems at the Emergent plant long before the recent disclosures.
The F.D.A. has not cleared the Emergent plant to release any doses in the United States and has not indicated when, or whether, it will do so. If a drug or biologic made in the United States is shipped to another country, it is up to that country’s regulators to certify whether it is safe.
In its statement on Thursday, which was issued first to CBS News, AstraZeneca said, “The quality information from the manufacturing plants involved was properly submitted to the relevant regulatory agencies in each country to support authorization and approval of shipments from this supply chain.”
TOKYO — Japan on Friday declared states of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and surrounding areas in an effort to stem a widening coronavirus outbreak three months before the country plans to host the Summer Olympics.
The measures will take effect on Sunday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, calling them “a short and concentrated measure” to slow the virus’s spread during the Golden Week holiday, traditionally one of the year’s busiest travel periods.
In addition to Tokyo and Osaka, the states of emergency cover the neighboring prefectures Kyoto and Hyogo and will be in place until May 11. Together, the four prefectures are home to roughly a quarter of Japan’s 126 million people.
Japan has managed the pandemic better than many other large economies, but a stubborn fourth wave, propelled by more infectious variants of the virus, has produced the most daily cases since January. Officials began imposing looser restrictions in early April over parts of 10 prefectures, but those steps have failed to corral the outbreak.
Over all, the country has recorded slightly more than half a million infections and about 10,000 deaths from the virus.
The new restrictions are intended to be tougher and shorter than two states of emergency Japan imposed over parts of the country at the start of the pandemic last year and in January, although they fall shy of the total lockdowns seen in other countries. The measures give the prefectures the authority to ask businesses to close or restrict hours, and to fine those that do not comply.
Large department stores, shopping malls, amusement parks and movie theaters will be asked to close, along with karaoke bars and other establishments that serve alcohol. Schools can remain open, and shops that sell food and other essential items will be spared. But restaurants will be asked to shorten their hours and residents will be told not to drink alcohol in public venues.
Organizers of sporting events, including professional baseball games and soccer matches, will be asked not to allow spectators — although officials have said that the emergency measures will not affect the Tokyo Olympics, whose opening ceremony is scheduled for July 23.
Polls indicate that the Japanese public is increasingly frustrated with Mr. Suga, who took office in September, over his handling of the pandemic and his government’s insistence on going ahead with the Olympics, which were rescheduled from last year. Organizers have said the event will take place without spectators from abroad, and have barred crowds from parts of the ceremonial torch relay. Still, in surveys, more than 70 percent of Japanese say the games should be postponed again or canceled.
Eiji Fukui said he had managed to keep his Tokyo restaurant operating during previous states of emergency by reducing hours and offering takeout items. But this time he plans to close the restaurant completely, even though the rules allow him to stay open until 8 p.m. if he does not serve alcohol.
“It’s almost a tacit message not to operate during this period,” said Mr. Fukui, 39. “I don’t want to be bothered with operating without alcohol, so I will close this time since I received zero reservations anyway.”
Without hospitals or medical specialists in space, NASA and other space agencies have always been concerned about astronauts falling sick during a mission. To minimize the chances of that, they typically spend the two weeks before launch in quarantine.
A Covid-19 superspreader event at the space station would disrupt operations.
The interior of the space station has a volume equivalent to a Boeing 747 jetliner, so there would be space for infected crew members to isolate themselves. But space station managers certainly would not want to worry about the virus spreading in the station’s perpetually filtered and recycled air.
During a news conference last week, Shane Kimbrough, the NASA astronaut who is the commander of Crew-2, said all four astronauts had received Covid vaccinations. “I guess it went fine,” he said. “We all have a little bit different reactions, just like most people do. So we’re no different in that regard. But we’re thankful that we have the vaccines.”
The four astronauts of the Crew-1 mission are not, because no vaccines were available when they launched last November. When they return to Earth, every human not on the planet will be vaccinated against Covid-19.
Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines will effectively prevent serious illness and death from a coronavirus variant that has kept cases in New York City stubbornly high, two independent studies suggest.
City officials had repeatedly warned that the variant may be more contagious and may dodge the immune response. But researcher say that the antibodies stimulated by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are only slightly less potent at controlling the variant than the original form of the virus.
“We’re not seeing big differences,” said Michel Nussenzweig, an immunologist at Rockefeller University in New York who is a member of the team that published one of the studies on Thursday.
The results are based on laboratory experiments with blood samples from small numbers of vaccinated people and have not yet been peer-reviewed. Still, they are consistent with what is known about similar variants, several experts said, and they add to a growing body of research that suggests that the two main vaccines in the United States are protective against all of the variants identified so far.
“The take-home message is that the vaccines are going to work against the New York variant and the South African variant and the U.K. variant,” said Nathan Landau, a virologist at N.Y.U.’s Grossman School of Medicine who led the study.
With summer on the horizon, states are beginning to rethink social-distancing measures.
In Rhode Island, Gov. Dan McKee said that starting May 7, the state will stop requiring masks outside, and social gatherings can increase to 25 people indoors and 75 people outdoors. By May 28, the state will lift capacity limits on businesses and houses of worship, the bar areas of restaurants will be able to open, and dance floors can once again be filled.
“It’s a good day for everyone here in the Ocean State,” Mr. McKee said at a news conference on Thursday. “It’s a little early to put a ‘Mission Accomplished’ sign up, but we’re getting ready to order that sign.”
Mr. McKee attributed the reopening plans to the state’s vaccination rate — 48 percent of residents have received at least one shot, and 33 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database. But masks will still be required indoors.
Rhode Island is not alone.
On Monday, Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut said that the state would phase out all pandemic restrictions, except the indoor mask mandate, by May 19. And in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said on Wednesday that he would announce “a pretty significant amount of guidance” for summer activities next week.
“We don’t want to lurch, in other words go forward and then have to pull something back,” Mr. Murphy said at his weekly news conference. “And we don’t want to start that now. But we also owe people our best guesses for what it’s going to look like for graduation, summer, the beaches and what not.”
As more people get vaccinated and the outdoors become more appealing with spring weather and sunshine, one question persists: Do people still need to wear masks outside? Science shows that the risk of viral transmission outside is very low. The Times’s Well columnist, Tara Parker-Pope, suggests making sure activities meet two out of the following three conditions: outdoors, distanced and masked.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Thursday that the agency was “looking at the outdoor masking question” and whether to revise current guidance.