Covid-19 News: Live Updates on the Virus, Vaccines and Tokyo Olympics | #coronavirus | #kids. | #children | #schools

Credit…Pool photo by Yoshikazu Tsuno

TOKYO — Spectators from overseas will not be allowed to attend the Summer Olympics in Japan, organizers said on Saturday, making a major concession to the realities of Covid-19 even as they forged ahead with plans to hold the world’s largest sporting event.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo organizing committee, promised at a news conference on Saturday that the lack of international spectators would not spoil the Games.

“The Tokyo 2020 Games will be completely different from the past, but the essence remains the same,” Ms. Hashimoto said. “Athletes will put everything on the line and inspire people with their outstanding performances.”

The Tokyo Games, which begin in July, were originally scheduled for 2020 but were delayed by a year because of the pandemic. The Tokyo organizing committee has been scrambling to develop safety protocols to protect both participants and local residents from the virus.

Concern has been running high in Japan, with big majorities saying in polls that the Games should not be held this summer. Saturday’s decision had been foreshadowed in the Japanese media for weeks. The Paralympics, starting in August, will also bar foreign spectators.

Barring foreign spectators is unlikely to allay the public’s concerns about the Games, given that thousands of athletes, coaches, officials and journalists will still come for the event. Nearly 80 percent of the public wants the Olympics postponed or canceled altogether, according to some polls.

Thomas Bach, the president of the I.O.C., has encouraged national organizing committees to secure vaccines for athletes, and he announced this month that China had offered to provide vaccinations for participants who required one ahead of the Games.

But not all local spectators will have the chance to be inoculated before the Olympics open on July 23. In Japan, where the vaccine rollout has been relatively slow, the population will not be close to fully vaccinated by the time the Games start.

Japan has had about 455,000 Covid-19 cases and 8,797 deaths during the pandemic, far fewer than in the United States and Western Europe, according to a New York Times database. The country declared a widespread state of emergency in early January after a rise in infections. Since then, most areas have lifted the declaration. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced this week that it would end in Tokyo on Sunday.

As part of its efforts to stop the spread of new, more infectious variants of Covid-19, Japan has also barred all new entries into the country from abroad since late December, excepting Olympic athletes and some of their entourages. The exception has been contentious: Foreign students and workers are still unable to enter the country, and the foreign ministry has not given any clear indications as to when that might change.

Regardless of the opposition, officials plan to officially kick off the countdown to the Games on Thursday with the torch relay, starting in Fukushima. As with the events this summer, the number of spectators will be limited.

United States › United StatesOn March 19 14-day change
New cases 60,279 –11%
New deaths 1,510 –32%

World › WorldOn March 19 14-day change
New cases 551,511 +25%
New deaths 10,754 +2%

U.S. vaccinations ›

Where states are reporting vaccines given

A student, HiKing Joseph, returned to class at Lusher Charter High School in New Orleans this month.
Credit…Annie Flanagan for The New York Times

Proponents of fully reopening schools got a major boost when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that elementary school students and some middle and high school students could be spaced three feet apart in classrooms.

The previous guidance of keeping most students six feet apart had in many school districts become a big obstacle to welcoming students back for full-time instruction because it severely limited capacity. Many experts now say a growing body of research shows that six feet is not much more protective than three, as long as other safety measures are in place, like mask wearing.

Public health experts, parents and school officials cheered the new recommendation. Teachers’ unions, which have used the six-foot guidance to oppose bringing children back for normal schedules, did not.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest educators’ union, said in a statement that she would “reserve judgment” on the new guidelines pending further review of research on how the virus behaves in schools, especially those in cities or that are under-resourced. Becky Pringle, president of the largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association, raised similar concerns.

Nevertheless, the new guidance seemed to be having an immediate impact in some places. New York City, the nation’s largest school district, announced on Friday that it would give families another chance to select in-person instruction for their children. The city said that elementary schools, prekindergarten programs and programs for children with complex disabilities would move to three-foot distancing in April, while it would review distancing rules for middle and high school students.

In Texas, Pedro Martinez, the superintendent of the San Antonio Independent School District, called the new guidance “a game changer.” In weighing when and how to bring more students back to classrooms in his district, he added, “My biggest hesitation has been the social distancing requirements.”

In Anne Arundel County, Md., where schools are just now reopening for students to attend two days a week, the president of the Board of Education said the new guidance would make it easier for the district to achieve the superintendent’s goal of getting students on a four-day-a-week schedule before the end of the year.

“It was a real challenge to be able to bring students back four days with a six-foot distance requirement,” the board president, Melissa Ellis, said.

Still, there was ample evidence that the new guidance would not be enough to push some districts, particularly on the West Coast, to return to anything like a normal school week soon. The concerns of teachers’ unions seem likely to pressure some districts to delay returning classrooms to greater density.

In Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest system, district and union leaders agreed this month to allow students to return to classrooms for a mixture of in-person and remote learning starting in April.

The superintendent, Austin Beutner, said the district would not alter its reopening plans in response to the new guidance. Many of the district’s families, who are largely low-income, Black and Latino, have said they will probably continue with all-remote learning.

Even with the new guidance, many issues relating to how schools will handle their reopenings remain contentious and unresolved.

Although the C.D.C. is continuing to recommend six feet of distance when children are eating, the fact that students need to remove their masks at lunch time has raised concerns for educators and their unions. Seattle, for example, is planning to reopen elementary schools in the coming weeks on a half-day schedule that would avoid meal times, giving students less than three hours per day of in-person schooling, only four days per week.

Meanwhile, some districts have kept schools closed one day a week for what is sometimes described as a day of “deep cleaning,” a practice that experts have said has no benefit. In Anne Arundel County, the cleaning day is why the district is aiming to bring students back four days a week this spring, rather than five.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and a former ophthalmologist, said he was refusing a vaccine.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Even as Americans across the country hunt for a lifesaving coronavirus vaccine in a bid to get back to a semblance of normalcy, more than a quarter of members of Congress, just a phone call away from receiving a shot, have turned it down.

Lawmakers who have continued to meet in person during the pandemic, often in violation of public health advice, have had access to the Pfizer vaccine since late December. But in the House, about 25 percent of lawmakers have not received a vaccination, the top Republican wrote this week to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing data from the Office of the Attending Physician. It is unclear how many senators have been vaccinated, though a handful of Republicans have said they do not intend to get one.

The hesitance in Congress mirrors a broader trend across the United States, where polling suggests that Republicans are far more skeptical of being vaccinated. Because vaccinations are confidential health information, there is no breakdown of which lawmakers have received one. But in recent weeks, several Republicans have publicly rejected the idea.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and a former ophthalmologist, said he was “going with the science on this one” in refusing a vaccine because he had already had the virus.

“I have not chosen to be vaccinated because I got it naturally,” Mr. Paul recently told reporters. (The science says the opposite; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people get vaccinated even if they have already had the coronavirus.)

Republicans’ reluctance is just the latest barrier that Congress is confronting as leaders consider how to begin reinstating a sense of normalcy. At the same time, many aides on Capitol Hill — some of whom work for lawmakers who expect them to show up in person — are themselves struggling to find a vaccine dose.

Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, told reporters on Friday that the House should aim for “100 percent” of members to be vaccinated, but lamented that she could not force anyone to accept a shot. If Republicans refused, she said, it would take longer to get the House back to normal, as members of that party have been pushing to do.

Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan last year. He is isolating after testing positive for the virus.
Credit…Mohammad Ismail/Reuters

ISLAMABAD — Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan has tested positive for the coronavirus, officials said.

Mr. Khan is isolating at home and is expected to remain in isolation for at least 10 days, officials said. “The prime minister has a mild cough and fever,” said Dr. Faisal Sultan, the country’s de facto health minister. “A team of doctors is treating him.”

The prime minister received his first vaccine dose of a Covid vaccine on Thursday, and officials said it appeared that he had been infected before the inoculation. Government ministers and other officials who had contact with Mr. Khan in the past three days are now also getting tested for the virus. Protection from a vaccine typically takes some time to kick in, and two doses of most vaccines are needed for maximum protection.

Mr. Khan, 68, a former cricket player, is generally considered to be in very good health. But critics say he has been rather casual about wearing a mask. During an inauguration of government projects on Friday, Mr. Khan could be seen in pictures without a mask while meeting officials.

Pakistan is facing a third wave of the pandemic, with a spike in its positivity rate in recent weeks. “It is very alarming” said Dr. Sultan, who noted that the rate had risen to 9.5 percent.

“The pressure is mounting in the federal capital, Peshawar, Karachi. and major urban centers of Punjab,” he said at a news conference.

The pandemic has sickened more than 623,000 people in Pakistan, and more than 14,000 have died, according to a New York Times database.

Officials have urged the public to observe safety protocols, warning that a failure to do so could result in stricter restrictions. The rising number of cases has forced the authorities to impose restrictions on food outlets and social gatherings.

Pakistan began its vaccinating citizens over 60 this month with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.

Judy Dodd of New York, who had experienced Covid symptoms since last spring, said that several days after her second vaccine dose, she “woke up and it was like, ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning.’”
Credit…Nancy Borowick for The New York Times

Judy Dodd began struggling with long Covid symptoms last spring — shortness of breath, headaches, exhaustion. Then she got vaccinated.

After her first Pfizer-BioNTech shot in late January, she felt so physically miserable that she had to be persuaded to get the second. For three days after that one, she also felt awful.

But on the fourth day, everything changed.

“I woke up and it was like, ‘Oh, what a beautiful morning,’” said Ms. Dodd, a middle school teacher who is also an actor and director. “It was like I’d been directing ‘Sweeney Todd’ for months, and now I’m directing ‘Oklahoma!’”

Ms. Dodd, who continues to feel good, is among a number of people who are reporting that the post-Covid symptoms they’ve experienced for months have begun improving, sometimes significantly, after being vaccinated. It’s a phenomenon that doctors and scientists are watching closely, although as with much about the pandemic, there are many uncertainties.

Scientists are only beginning to study any potential effect of vaccines on long Covid symptoms. Anecdotes run the gamut: Besides those who report feeling better after the shots, many people say they have experienced no change and a small number say they feel worse.

Reports from doctors vary too. Dr. Daniel Griffin, an infectious disease physician at Columbia University, said that about 40 percent of the long Covid patients he’s been treating cited symptom improvement after being vaccinated. Other doctors say it is too early to know.

This month, a small study by British researchers that has not yet been peer reviewed found that eight months after people were hospitalized for Covid-19, those who were vaccinated experienced improvement in more long Covid symptoms than those who weren’t yet vaccinated. The 44 vaccinated patients in the study were older and had more underlying medical conditions, since people with those characteristics qualified for vaccines earlier.

Ms. Dodd said she wasn’t taking her improvement for granted. “I’m still sort of wary of what’s around the corner — this disease is so unpredictable,” she said.

But, she added, “even if, God forbid, I have a relapse, to have this time now when I feel better, it’s really amazing.”

Najib Razak, a former prime minister of Malaysia, arriving in court in Kuala Lumpur on Feb. 18. 
Credit…Fazry Ismail/EPA, via Shutterstock

Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak is appealing last year’s conviction on charges of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars. And he is fighting similar charges in four more trials. But there is one violation he freely admits: breaking a coronavirus rule in a restaurant.

“I confess,” he wrote on his Facebook page on Friday. “I accept both criticism and insight.”

Mr. Najib’s infraction occurred when he went to eat at the Chee Meng Chicken Rice Shop in Kuala Lumpur but did not register with a phone app, as required, on arrival. He called it an “accidental mistake.”

A video widely shared on social media showed him and his entourage casually strolling into the restaurant.

He encouraged the authorities to issue the appropriate fine of about $365, and said he would take advantage of an “early-bird” special offered by the government. If he pays the fine within seven days, he noted, he would get a 50 percent discount.

“The police will call me,” he said in another post on Saturday. “I’m going to cooperate.”

“At least the police can identify me because of the HD video,” he added, taking a swipe at another politician who was accused of appearing in a low-resolution sex video but who was never positively identified.

Because of the scandal over missing money from the government investment fund, 1Malyasia Development Berhad or 1MDB, Mr. Najib ruling coalition lost its grip on power in the 2018 elections for the first time since independence in 1957. He was ousted as prime minister but re-elected to Parliament by his district.

He has been accused of siphoning off at least $4.5 billion from the fund, which he created and oversaw. Much of the money is said to have ended up in his personal back account and in the possession of family members.

In July, he was found guilty on seven corruption counts and sentenced to up to 12 years in prison. He was also fined nearly $50 million.

In October, one of his trials recessed for two weeks because Mr. Najib was required to go into quarantine after traveling to the state of Sabah, a coronavirus hot spot at the time. He faces more than two dozen corruption charges in that trial.

Mr. Najib, who is attempting to restore his reputation, appeared to be using the incident at the chicken rice shop as a way of highlighting the special treatment received by other high-ranking officials who have violated coronavirus regulations without penalties.

“No double standard in my case,” he said. “Other people, other parties, ministers I don’t know.”

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