Chinese officials said on Thursday that they were shocked and offended by a World Health Organization proposal to further investigate whether the coronavirus emerged from a lab in Wuhan, exposing a widening rift over the inquiry into the origins of the pandemic.
Senior Chinese health and science officials pushed back vigorously against the idea of opening the Wuhan Institute of Virology to renewed investigation after the W.H.O. director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, laid out plans to examine laboratories in the central city of Wuhan, where the first cases of Covid-19 appeared in late 2019.
Zeng Yixin, the vice minister of the Chinese National Health Commission, said at a news conference in Beijing that he was “extremely shocked” at the W.H.O. plan to renew attention on the possibility that the virus had leaked from a Wuhan lab.
“I could feel that this plan revealed a lack of respect for common sense and an arrogant attitude toward science,” Mr. Zeng said. “We can’t possibly accept such a plan for investigating the origins.”
A joint investigation by the W.H.O. and China found that said it was “extremely unlikely” that the coronavirus escaped from a Wuhan lab, according to a report released in March. Many scientists say that the virus most likely jumped from animals to people through natural spillover in a market or a similar setting.
But some scientists have said that the initial inquiry was premature in dismissing the lab leak idea. The United States and other governments have pressed China to share more information, especially from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
At the news conference on Thursday, several Chinese officials asserted that the W.H.O. inquiry got it right the first time, and that there was no evidence to justify renewed checks of the labs. The W.H.O. investigators should instead focus their search on signs of natural transmission, they said, and the possibility that the virus may have first spread outside China.
In recent days, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry and Global Times, a news outlet overseen by the Chinese Communist Party, have gone even further in pushing back against the demands on Beijing. They have reiterated claims — widely dismissed by scientists — that the coronavirus may have escaped from a U.S. military laboratory. A petition organized by Global Times calling for an inquiry into the American facility claims to have collected nearly six million signatures.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia apologized on Thursday for delays in the country’s vaccine program, amid mounting pressure to take responsibility with half the population in lockdown because of outbreaks driven by the Delta variant.
“I’m certainly sorry we haven’t been able to achieve the marks we had hoped for at the beginning of the year, of course I am,” Mr. Morrison said at a news conference. “But what’s more important is we’re totally focused on ensuring we’ve been turning this around.”
At the beginning of the year, Mr. Morrison had said that he aimed to vaccinate everyone who wanted the shots by the end of October. The target has since been pushed back to the end of the year.
One month ago, only 5 percent of Australians over age 16 were fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among rich countries. Mr. Morrison said the program had picked up pace and that rate was now 15 percent, with 36 percent having received at least one dose, according to government statistics.
Mr. Morrison’s comments as New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, reported 124 new community cases — its highest daily total so far — in its fourth week of lockdown. The state’s premier, Gladys Berejiklian, warned that she was “expecting case numbers to go up even higher” because many people had been infectious while in the community.
The state of Victoria, also in lockdown, recorded 26 daily cases, its highest this year.
On Wednesday, Mr. Morrison had refused to apologize for the vaccine rollout during a radio interview on the commercial station KIIS. The host, Jason Hawkins, asked him to apologize repeatedly, at one point saying: “Scott, I’d even take a ‘My bad, Jase.’”
The prime minister replied: “We’re fixing the problem and getting on with it.”
President Biden told a town hall audience in Ohio on Wednesday evening that he expected the Food and Drug Administration would give final approval “quickly” for Covid-19 vaccines, as he pressed for skeptical Americans to get vaccinated and stop another surge of the pandemic.
Mr. Biden said he was not intervening in the decision of government scientists, but pointed toward a potential decision soon from the F.D.A. to give final approval for the vaccines, which are currently authorized for emergency use. Many medical professionals have pushed for the final approval, saying it could help increase uptake of the vaccines.
“My expectation talking to the group of scientists we put together, over 20 of them plus others in the field, is that sometime maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, they’ll get a final approval” for the vaccines at the F.D.A., Mr. Biden said.
The president also said he expected children under the age of 12, who are not currently eligible to receive the vaccine, would be approved to get it on an emergency basis “soon, I believe.”
The president’s comments at the town hall came as the spread of the Delta variant has led to a national rise in coronavirus cases. Over the past week, an average of roughly 41,300 cases has been reported each day across the country, an increase of 171 percent from two weeks ago. The number of new deaths reported is up by 42 percent, to an average of 249 a day for the past week.
In some states, such as Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida, new infections have increased sharply, also driving an increase in hospitalizations. Cases are increasing more rapidly in states where vaccination rates are low.
In Ohio, where Mr. Biden traveled on Wednesday to talk up what he pitched as the good-paying union jobs that his infrastructure plan would create, the president found himself fielding questions from audience members concerned about low vaccination rates in their communities.
“This is simple, basic proposition,” he said. “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized. You’re not going to be in an I.C.U. unit. And you are not going to die.”
Later, Mr. Biden exaggerated the efficacy of the vaccine, even as some vaccinated staffers in the West Wing have recently tested positive for the coronavirus. “You’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations,” he said.
In response to a move by Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier Wednesday to bar two of former President Donald J. Trump’s most vociferous Republican defenders in Congress from joining a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, Mr. Biden was unequivocal about what happened that day.
“I don’t care if you think I’m Satan reincarnated, the fact is you can’t look at that television and say nothing happened on the sixth,” he said. “You can’t listen to people who say this was a peaceful march.”
But speaking in a red state that Mr. Trump won in the 2020 election, as he tries to build support for his infrastructure plans, Mr. Biden kept his criticism to some of the lawmakers elected to office, rather than Republican voters who got them there.
“I have faith in the American people, I do, to ultimately get to the right place,” he said. “Many times Republicans are in the right place.”
Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.
YouTube removed videos from President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil on Wednesday for spreading misinformation about Covid-19, becoming the latest internet platform to act against a leader whose country has one of the world’s highest death counts, but who has disparaged vaccines and the use of masks and called governors “tyrants” for ordering lockdowns.
YouTube, which played an important role in Mr. Bolsonaro’s rise to power and says it is more widely watched in Brazil than all but one television channel, said in a statement that the president had violated the company’s policies about vaccine misinformation, including the promotion of unproven cures.
“Our policies don’t allow content that claims hydroxychloroquine and/or Ivermectin are effective to treat or prevent Covid-19, claims that there is a guaranteed cure for Covid-19, and claims that masks don’t work to prevent the spread of the virus,” YouTube said in a statement. “This is in line with the guidance of local and global health authorities, and we update our policies as guidance changes.”
Like former President Donald J. Trump, Mr. Bolsonaro has tested the tendency of social media platforms to allow major political figures to make claims that would be likely to get other users censured.
Last year, Facebook removed statements by Mr. Bolsonaro after he promoted hydroxychloroquine as a cure for the virus. Around the same time, Twitter deleted posts from the far-right Brazilian president for pushing false remedies and calling for an end to social distancing.
YouTube said it applies policies consistently across the platform, regardless of the person or political view.
The video-sharing service has faced pressure throughout the pandemic to do more to limit the spread of Covid-related misinformation. In November, it issued a one-week suspension of One America News Network, a right-wing news channel, after removing a video it said violated its Covid misinformation policies.
Criticized at home and abroad for his response to the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil has suffered some of the worst effects of the pandemic. While more than 545,000 people have died from the disease, Mr. Bolsonaro has continued to play down its significance, ridiculing people for wearing masks and declaring he did not plan to get a vaccine.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s YouTube channel is a popular outlet for the president to share his views about the pandemic. In a weekly program in which the president takes questions from viewers, the president has blasted lockdown orders and praised unproven cures.
As of Thursday, the channel had 3.44 million subscribers.
TOKYO — For many, seeing an Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games, some residents couldn’t get out of town fast enough.
Roads out of the city were jammed on Thursday morning, and people packed onto flights to popular vacation destinations. Many Tokyoites seemed eager to leave before the start of a Games that have been essentially closed to the public because of tight restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
The opening ceremony on Friday will have an audience of only 950 people in a stadium that was built for the Olympics and able to hold 68,000. Spectators are barred from nearly all competitions, a vast majority of which will be held in Tokyo.
There are not many other reasons to stay in Tokyo at the moment: The weather is scorching, with temperatures in the 90s and humidity at over 50 percent. The city has been under a state of emergency for weeks in an effort to curb a surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the contagious Delta variant. Most restaurants and bars close at 8 p.m. And road closures for the Games have backed up traffic on some streets in the city center.
Highways outside Tokyo were gridlocked for miles on Thursday. Flights to the cooler climes of the northern island of Hokkaido, a popular summer getaway, were nearly sold out despite government requests to curb travel from the capital to stop the virus’s spread.
For those inclined to get away, the timing couldn’t be better. Before the originally scheduled start of the Games last summer, in an effort to alleviate congestion, the government changed the dates of two national holidays so that they would coincide with the opening ceremony. When the pandemic forced the postponement of the Games, the four-day holiday rolled over to 2021 — and many in Japan have been more than happy to take advantage.
Singapore is one of several countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas that have been encouraging people to mostly return to their daily rhythms and transition to a kind of new pandemic normal. Now it faces hard choices about how to handle the rising caseloads that reopenings tend to bring.
After recent outbreaks at karaoke lounges and a fishery port, Singapore reimposed restrictions on Thursday that it had lifted just a few weeks ago. Dining in restaurants and gatherings of more than two people were banned until Aug. 18, and one of the city-state’s best-known businesses, the Marina Bay Sands casino, was closed for two weeks for deep cleaning and to stop a Covid cluster there from spreading.
Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s finance minister and co-chairman of the government’s Covid task force, told reporters this week that the restrictions were a “pre-emptive tightening” to stop the pace of community transmission from accelerating.
Singapore is averaging about 117 new cases a day, according to a New York Times database, or about two for every 100,000 people. That rate is far lower than those of many other advanced economies and a fraction of neighboring Malaysia’s. But it still represents a steep rise over the past two weeks.
In late June, officials in Singapore announced plans to gradually ease restrictions and chart a path to the other side of the pandemic in which officials would focus less on the number of Covid infections and more on how many people were falling very ill from the virus.
The Singaporean authorities deliberated extensively over whether to reimpose restrictions this week, Mr. Wong said. They ultimately did so in order to protect vulnerable groups, including seniors, that are still not vaccinated at levels that would protect them from Covid, he added.
As of Thursday, nearly three-quarters of Singapore’s 5.7 million people had received at least one dose of a vaccine and nearly half of them were fully vaccinated. The city-state ranks 13th in the world in doses administered per person, according to a New York Times tracker. That puts it just behind Israel and ahead of Belgium.
Trust in the U.S. federal health agencies responding to the coronavirus pandemic remains strong among a significant sector of the American public, according to a survey from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, but Americans place their deepest faith closer to home.
In a telephone poll of 1,719 adults, 76 percent reported being somewhat or very confident in the trustworthiness of information about Covid-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 77 percent expressed the same confidence about the Food and Drug Administration. Both results, from a survey conducted from June 2 to 22, were largely unchanged from an April poll.
Respondents’ highest confidence, at 83 percent, was reserved for their primary health care provider. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
The agencies have been the targets of frequent criticism over their responses to the pandemic on an evolving variety of frequently politicized topics including testing guidelines, testing accessibility, vaccines, masks, school safety and more.
The survey also found that 68 percent of participants believed that Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease specialist, provided trustworthy advice on the pandemic. Dr. Fauci has come under repeated attack from conservative media figures like Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson of Fox News.
In the survey, respondents who relied on conservative media were found to have a lower level of confidence in the health agencies and Dr. Fauci. Only 38 percent of consumers of what the survey called “very conservative media,” for instance, said they had confidence in Dr. Fauci, compared with 84 percent of consumers of “broadcast-newspaper mainstream” media.
The data comes as the U.S. vaccination rate stagnates and the country struggles with a rising number of cases, particularly in states with fewer vaccinated residents, while at the same time the highly infectious Delta variant is spreading.
The survey also found that confidence remained high in the safety and efficacy of vaccines, with 78 percent of respondents believing “definitely or probably” that they were effective in preventing Covid-19.
An estimated 1.5 million children worldwide lost a mother, father or other caregiving relative in the first 14 months of the pandemic, according to a new study. More than a million lost primary caregivers.
“These unnamed children are the tragic overlooked consequence of the millions of pandemic dead,” the researchers wrote in the study, which was published in the medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday.
Many more children will experience such losses as the virus rages in many countries, the researchers predict, and the bereaved are likely to be at risk for an array of further traumas that may include mental health problems, abuse, chronic diseases and poverty.
The estimates were developed using death statistics and other data for 21 countries that accounted for more than 76 percent of global Covid deaths up to April 30, 2021. The international research team was led by a member of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and included experts from international agencies, including the World Health Organization and Imperial College London.
The deaths of grandparents represent a powerful blow to many children. “In the U.S.A., 40 percent of grandparents living with grandchildren serve as their primary caregivers; in the U.K., 40 percent of grandparents provide regular care for grandchildren,” the researchers wrote.
In a separate online report linked to the study, the researchers warned that with the pandemic far from over and vaccinations yet to reach much of the global population, the deaths of caregivers were likely to keep mounting, with “severe consequences lasting at least through the age of 18 years for children affected.”
“The impact of these parental and caregiver deaths differs across families, communities and nations,” the researchers wrote. “Yet, there is one commonality: A child’s life often falls apart when he or she loses a parent or grandparent caregiver.”