2021-03-13 by W.M.
Spring breakers flock to Florida in a return to life-as-it-used-to-be, something more states are approaching.
TAIPEI, Taiwan — As the coronavirus has upended lives and economies around the world, Taiwan has been an oasis.
Every day, droplets fly with abandon in packed restaurants. Office buildings hum, and schools resound with the laughter of maskless children.
This island of 24 million, which has seen just 10 Covid-19 deaths and fewer than 1,000 cases, has used its success to sell something scarce: living without fear of the virus. The relatively few who are allowed to enter have been coming in droves, and they’ve helped to fuel an economic boom.
These Covid migrants, who are largely overseas Taiwanese and dual nationals, have included businesspeople, students, retirees and well-known figures. About 270,000 more Taiwanese entered the island than left it in 2020, according to the immigration authorities.
Taiwan’s borders have been mostly closed to foreign visitors since last spring. But highly skilled non-Taiwanese workers have been allowed in under a “gold card” employment program, which the government has aggressively promoted during the pandemic.
The influx helped make Taiwan one of last year’s fastest-growing economies — indeed, one of the few to expand at all. And the infusion of talent — including Steve Chen, the Taiwanese-American entrepreneur and co-founder of YouTube, who traded San Francisco for Taipei — has energized Taiwan’s tech industry.
While some aspects of pandemic life have permeated Taiwan’s borders — temperature checks and hand sanitizing are common, and masks are required in many public places (though not schools) — for the most part, the virus has been out of sight and out of mind, thanks to rigorous contact tracing and strict quarantines for incoming travelers.
But many wonder how long Taiwan’s status as a Covid-19 outlier can last, especially amid vaccine campaigns elsewhere. Officials have been slow to procure and distribute vaccines, in part because there has been so little need for them.
MIAMI — Other than New York, no big city in the United States has been struggling with more coronavirus cases in recent weeks than Miami. But you would hardly know that if you lived here.
Spring breakers flock to the beaches. Cars cram the highways, and thousands of motorcyclists have packed into Daytona Beach for an annual rally. Weekend restaurant reservations have almost become necessary again. Banners on Miami Beach read “Vacation responsibly,” the subtext being, Of course you’re going to vacation.
Much of life seems normal, and not just because of the return of Florida’s winter tourism season, which was cut short last year a few weeks into the pandemic. The state reopened months before much of the rest of the nation, and for better or worse, it offers a glimpse of what many states are likely to face as they move into the next phase of the pandemic.
Now, much of the state has a boomtown feel, a sense of making up for months of lost time, though its tourism-dependent economy remains hobbled. A $2.7 billion budget deficit will need an injection of federal stimulus money. Orange County, where Orlando is, saw the lowest tourist development tax collections for any January since 2002.
“You can live like a human being,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican. “You aren’t locked down. People aren’t miserable.” President Biden’s new hope of getting Americans together to celebrate with their families on the Fourth of July? “We’ve been doing that for over a year in Florida,” the governor boasted.
More than 345 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered worldwide in the three months since mass inoculation began in December, but there is still a huge disparity in the vaccination rates between countries.
Israel continues to stand out in the global vaccination race, with 58 percent of its population having received at least one dose of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, and 46 percent having received both required doses. Despite a slow start, Chile is now making swift progress, with at least a quarter of its population having received at least one dose.
Despite some initial criticism of Britain’s decision to delay second doses until 12 weeks after the first, the strategy seems to be paying off, as more than a third of its population has received at least one dose, far ahead of any of its European counterparts. Studies appear to have vindicated Britain’s decision after finding a single dose could avert most coronavirus-related hospitalizations.
Some of the starkest differences can be found when comparing continents. In North America, 18 doses have been administered for every 100 people, while in South America, there have been just 4.9 vaccinations per 100 people amid growing outbreaks across much of the continent. Many African nations have yet to start vaccinations, with less than one dose administered across the continent per 100 people.
Until the bulk of the world’s population has been immunized, the virus will continue to evolve into variants that are more contagious, more deadly or that dodge the immune response at least in part, experts have warned. A global program led by the World Health Organization and other groups has made a few million doses of Covid-19 vaccines available to some African countries, but it is unlikely to have enough doses for the rest of the world before 2024.
Twelve years ago, the U.S. government introduced a powerful new tool to help people make a wrenching decision: which nursing home to choose for loved ones at their most vulnerable. Using a simple star rating — one being the worst, five the best — the system promised to distill reams of information and transform an emotional process into one based on objective, government-blessed metrics.
The star system quickly became ubiquitous, a popular way for consumers to educate themselves and for nursing homes to attract new customers. During the coronavirus pandemic, with many locked-down homes unavailable for prospective residents or their families to see firsthand, the ratings seemed indispensable.
But a New York Times investigation, based on the most comprehensive analysis of the data that powers the ratings program, found that it is broken.
The ratings program, which is run by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or C.M.S., relies on a mix of self-reported data from more than 15,000 nursing homes and on-site examinations by state health inspectors.
Despite years of warnings, the system provided a badly distorted picture of the quality of care at the nation’s nursing homes. Many relied on sleight-of-hand maneuvers to improve their ratings and hide shortcomings that contributed to the damage when the pandemic struck.
More than 130,000 nursing-home residents have died of Covid-19, and The Times’s analysis found that people at five-star facilities were roughly as likely to die of the disease as those at one-star homes.
When coronavirus vaccines first became available, state health officials in Virginia turned to software recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to schedule appointments. But people complained that the software, called VAMS, was too confusing for older adults to use.
So the state switched to another system, PrepMod — but that had problems, too. Links sent to seniors for their appointments were reusable and found their way to Facebook, leading to one vaccination event in Richmond with dozens of overbookings. Some of those people threatened health care workers when they were turned away.
“It was a nightmare scenario,” said Ruth Morrison, the policy director for the Richmond and Henrico County health district. “People showing up confused, irate, thinking they had an appointment.”
State and local health departments around the country continue to face delays dispensing shots, in part because flaws remain in the appointment software tools like those used in Richmond. The problems threaten to slow the vaccine rollout even as supplies and distribution are picking up quickly across the country.
Large software systems have often been problematic for companies and governments. HealthCare.gov, a site released after the Affordable Care Act, crashed early on. But the issues with the vaccine sites have an added sense of urgency because health officials are trying to vaccinate as many people as possible, as fast as possible.
President Biden said that his administration would send out technical teams to help states improve their websites. He also said the federal government would open a website by May 1 that would allow Americans to find out where the vaccine is available.
LONDON — The organizers of a vigil for Sarah Everard, 33-year-old woman whose body was identified on Friday after she went missing in London last week, had bought 1,000 tea lights to use in the park near where she was last seen.
They had set up a QR code on Britain’s contact-tracing app to make sure the attendees would respect coronavirus safety rules.
And with parks filling up in recent weeks despite lockdown measures, the organizers believed that the vigil could go ahead on Saturday, offering a chance to focus the national outcry to demand action on violence against women.
Adding to the anger over the case, a 48-year-old police officer, Wayne Couzens, has been charged with kidnapping and murdering Ms. Everard.
But a court ruled late Friday that the gathering could be deemed unlawful because of Covid-19 restrictions, and the police urged prospective attendees to stay at home.
The organizers, a group of nine women from the umbrella group Reclaim These Streets, said the police had told them that they would face a fine of 10,000 pounds ($14,000) if they went ahead with the vigil. So the organizers adapted, instead calling for participants to observe the vigil from their own doorsteps.
“This evening at 9:30 p.m. we will be joining people around the country in a doorstep vigil, standing on our doorsteps and shining a light — a candle, a torch, a phone — to remember Sarah Everard and all women affected by and lost to violence,” Reclaim These Streets wrote on Twitter.
As Britain is gradually coming out of a monthslong lockdown, the fight over the vigil posed critical questions over balancing freedom of assembly and safety measures in the months to come, and recalled debates over marches against police brutality last year.
More than 30 gatherings had been planned across Britain on Saturday, in what organizers hoped would convey the outpouring of solidarity and anger over Ms. Everard’s killing.
In London, dozens of passers-by laid out flowers in Clapham Common, and Jamie Klingler, a member of Reclaim These Streets, said the tea lights would be used to draw the path that Ms. Everard took in the city on March 3.
In a statement, the organizers of Reclaim These Streets said, “We are clear that women’s voices will not be silenced, now or ever.”
Coronavirus cases are trending downward across the United States as the country’s vaccine rollout picks up speed. But despite the large drop in new infections since early this year, the U.S. death rate remains at nearly 1,500 people every day. That number still exceeds the summer peak, when patients filled Sun Belt hospitals and outbreaks in states that reopened early drove record numbers of cases, though daily deaths nationwide remained lower than the first surge last spring. The number of new reported cases per day remains nearly as high as the summer record.
BEIJING — China raised the stakes in the international vaccine competition on Saturday, saying that foreigners wishing to enter the Chinese mainland from Hong Kong will face fewer paperwork requirements if they are inoculated with Chinese-made coronavirus vaccines.
The policy announcement, which covers foreigners applying for visas in the Chinese territory, comes a day after the United States, India, Japan and Australia announced plans to provide vaccines more widely to other countries. The four so-called Quad powers promised to help finance the production in India of at least a billion doses of coronavirus vaccine by the end of next year.
China is trying to increase the international appeal of its shots, even as scientists and foreign governments urge Chinese vaccine makers to be more transparent with their clinical trial data. Guo Weimin, a Chinese government spokesman, said that China had sent vaccines to 69 countries by the end of February and begun commercial exports to 28 countries.
Chinese state media organizations have also begun a misinformation campaign that questions the safety of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shots and promotes Chinese vaccines as better alternatives.
Chinese-made vaccines have not yet been approved by most regulators in the West, though Hungary has agreed to buy five million doses. China has not yet approved the manufacture or distribution of foreign vaccines within its borders either.
This week, China introduced an international electronic passport for its citizens that shows whether a traveler has been vaccinated against the coronavirus. But it was not immediately clear how much of a difference Saturday’s policy announcement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry would make for foreigners living in Hong Kong, given that China has been issuing almost no visas lately.
In addition, Hong Kong’s borders have been closed to nonresidents for nearly a year. So the new policy will not help many foreigners in other countries who want to return to mainland China for work or family reasons.
The Hong Kong government allows residents to choose between the Sinovac vaccine from mainland China and a version of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that it imported from Germany. The announcement on Saturday did not specify whether people in Hong Kong who have already received the Pfizer-BioNTech shot would need to be vaccinated again with the Sinovac product.
Alan Beebe, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, said that border restrictions had become the biggest concern for multinationals doing business in the country, and he questioned the need for restricting entry based on which vaccine was chosen by travelers.
“It’s not clear to us,” he said, “what is the difference between having an imported vaccine and one that is produced in China.”
Liu Yicontributed research.