Optimism is spreading in the U.S. as COVID-19 deaths plummet and states ease restrictions and open vaccinations to younger adults. But across Europe, dread is setting in with another wave of infections that is closing schools and cafes and bringing new lockdowns.


At Orly Airport near Paris on Sunday, a patient infected with COVID-19 is loaded into a plane heading to a hospital in western France. Jaques Witt/Pool photo via AP

The pandemic’s diverging paths on the two continents can be linked in part to the much more successful vaccine rollout in the U.S. and the spread of more contagious variants in Europe.

Health experts in the U.S., though, say what’s happening in Europe should serve as a warning against ignoring social distancing or dropping other safeguards too early.

“Each of these countries has had nadirs like we are having now, and each took an upward trend after they disregarded known mitigation strategies,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “They simply took their eye off the ball.”

The result has been a sharp spike in new infections and hospitalizations in several European countries over the past few weeks.

Read the full story here.


Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, a COVID skeptic, has died at 61

NAKURU, Kenya — President John Magufuli of Tanzania, a prominent COVID-19 skeptic in Africa whose populist rule often cast his East African country in a harsh international spotlight, has died. He was 61 years old.

John Magufuli

Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, shown in 2015, has died at age 61. Khalfan Said/Associated Press

Magufuli’s death was announced on Wednesday by Vice President Samia Suluhu, who said the president died of heart failure.

“Our beloved president passed on at 6 p.m. this evening,” said Suluhu on national television. “All flags will be flown at half-mast for 14 days. It is sad news. The president has had this illness for the past 10 years.”

The vice president said that Magufuli died at a hospital in Dar es Salaam, the Indian Ocean port that is Tanzania’s largest city.

Magufuli had not been seen in public since the end of February and top government officials had denied that he was in ill health even as rumors swirled online that he was sick and possibly incapacitated from illness.


Magufuli was one of Africa’s most prominent deniers of COVID-19. He had said last year that Tanzania had eradicated the disease through three days of national prayer. Tanzania has not reported its COVID-19 tallies of confirmed cases and deaths to African health authorities since April 2020.

But the number of deaths of people experiencing breathing problems reportedly grew and this month the U.S. embassy warned of a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Tanzania since January. Days later the presidency announced the death of John Kijazi, Magufuli’s chief secretary. Soon after the death was announced of the vice president of the semi-autonomous island region of Zanzibar, whose political party had earlier reported that he had COVID-19.

Critics charged that Magufuli’s dismissal of the threat from COVID-19, as well as his refusal to lock down the country as others in the region had done, may have contributed to many unknown deaths.

U.S. House members can be vaccinated. But a quarter of them haven’t.

WASHINGTON — Three months after vaccinations were made available to all members of Congress, about 1 in 4 members of the House have not received the shots to inoculate themselves against the deadly coronavirus, disregarding the advice of their own physician and missing an opportunity to promote public acceptance of the drugs.


Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., receives a vaccine shot on Dec. 18 at the Capitol. Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via pool

Democrats have rejected the notion from Republicans that a 75% vaccination rate is a sufficient level to reopen the House of Representatives, which has operated since last March under more restrictive rules, and urged GOP leaders to better encourage their rank-and-file to get the shots.


“The more people that are vaccinated, the quicker we can return to normal,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote Monday in a letter to lawmakers, citing a plea from the Office of Attending Physician that more members get vaccinated.

In a letter to Pelosi last week, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said that about 75% of House members had received a vaccine, which would mean more than 100 members have not been vaccinated. Aides to McCarthy said the percentage was relayed to him by the physician’s office. No figure for the Senate has been revealed.

Lists of House and Senate members who have not received a vaccine are not publicly available. The Washington Post contacted 44 congressional offices, and 23 said whether the member had been vaccinated. Nine Republicans said they had not received a vaccine. None of the 15 Democrats contacted acknowledged not being vaccinated.

Read the full story here.

CDC releases enhanced guidelines for coronavirus testing on the job and elsewhere

As part of a federal push to increase coronavirus testing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued additional recommendations for where and how those tests can be used. Although vaccinations have increased apace, testing numbers have dropped from a peak in January. But testing “remains a critical component of our comprehensive approach to ending this epidemic,” said Rochelle Walensky, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, at a White House briefing Wednesday.



New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman and CEO Patrick Foye gets a COVID test after announcing plans for the testing of its workers in October 2020. Associated Press/Frank Franklin II

For much of the pandemic, tests have primarily functioned as diagnostic tools to determine whether people with symptoms, or at increased risk of exposure, may have been infected. Walensky said more frequent testing should be used to screen — to help prevent clusters and asymptomatic transmission — and to surveil, observing the burden of the pandemic at the community scale. The new CDC guidance is more comprehensive than previous recommendations, Walensky said. The recommendations focused on four environments:

At workplaces, outside of hospitals or other health-care settings. The CDC recommends weekly screening tests and “periodic testing of workers at regular intervals.” Even workers who are fully vaccinated should, in general, follow screening testing guidance, the agency said.

At colleges and universities, where students and staff should be screened before the start of each term. There should be a “universal screening strategy” where transmission risk is moderate or higher.

At correctional and detention facilities.

At homeless shelters and encampments.

Also Wednesday, the Health and Human Services Department announced that it will distribute $10 billion dollars to fund coronavirus testing in U.S. schools across our country.


“Every state in America will have access to millions of dollars to set up screening testing programs to add a layer of protection for schools, teachers and students,” said Carole Johnson, the White House’s testing coordinator.

Many U.S. prison guards refusing vaccine despite COVID-19 outbreaks

A Florida correctional officer polled his colleagues earlier this year in a private Facebook group: “Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine if offered?”

The answer from more than half: “Hell no.” Only 40 of the 475 respondents said yes.


Kareen Troitino stands outside the Federal Corrections Institution on March 12 in Miami. Troitino, a local corrections’ officer union president, said that fewer than half of the facility’s 240 employees have been fully vaccinated as of March 11. Many of the workers who refused had expressed concerns about the vaccine’s efficacy and side effects, Troitino said. Marta Lavandier/Associated Press

In Massachusetts, more than half the people employed by the Department of Correction declined to be immunized. A statewide survey in California showed that half of all correction employees will wait to be vaccinated. In Rhode Island, 30 percent of prison staff have refused the vaccine, a higher rate than the incarcerated, according to the state’s Department of Corrections. And in Iowa, early polling among employees showed a little more than half the staff said they’d get vaccinated.

As states have begun COVID-19 inoculations at prisons across the country, corrections employees are refusing vaccines at alarming rates, causing some public health experts to worry about the prospect of controlling the pandemic both inside and outside. Infection rates in prisons are more than three times as high as in the general public. Prison staff helped accelerate outbreaks by refusing to wear masks, downplaying people’s symptoms, and haphazardly enforcing social distancing and hygiene protocols in confined, poorly ventilated spaces ripe for viral spread.


The Marshall Project and the Associated Press spoke with correctional officers and union leaders nationwide, as well as with public health experts and doctors working inside prisons, to understand why officers are declining to be vaccinated, despite being at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Many employees spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared they would lose their jobs if they spoke out.

In December and January, at least 37 prison systems began to offer vaccines to their employees, particularly front-line correctional officers and those who work in health care. More than 106,000 prison employees in 29 systems, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to data compiled by The Marshall Project and the Associated Press since December. And some states are not tracking employees who get vaccinated in a community setting such as a clinic or pharmacy.

Still, some correctional officers are refusing the vaccine because they fear both short- and long-term side effects of the immunizations. Others have embraced conspiracy theories about the vaccine. Distrust of the prison administration and its handling of the virus has also discouraged officers from being immunized. In some instances, correctional officers said they would rather be fired than be vaccinated.

The resistance to the vaccine is not unique to correctional officers. Health care workers, caretakers in nursing homes and police officers — who have witnessed the worst effects of the pandemic — have declined to be vaccinated at unexpectedly high rates.

Read the full story here.

EU proposes a ‘virus pass’ to allow free travel by summer


BRUSSELS  — The European Union’s executive body proposed Wednesday issuing certificates that would allow EU residents to travel freely across the 27-nation bloc by the summer as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19 or recovered from the disease.

With summer looming and tourism-reliant countries anxiously waiting for the return of visitors amid the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission foresees the creation of certificates aimed at facilitating travel between EU member nations. The plan is set to be discussed during a summit of EU leaders next week.


Passengers push their luggage in the departure hall of Zaventem international airport in Brussels in July 2020. Francisco Seco/Associated Press

“We all want the tourist season to start. We can’t afford to lose another season,” European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova told Czech public radio. “Tourism, and also culture and other sectors that are dependent on tourism, terribly suffer. We’re talking about tens of millions of jobs.”

The topic of vaccine certificates has been under discussion for weeks in the EU, where it proved to be divisive. The travel industry and southern European countries with tourism-dependent economies like Greece and Spain have pushed for the quick introduction of a program that would help eliminate quarantines and testing requirements for tourists.

But several other EU members, including France, argued that it would be premature and discriminatory to introduce such passes since a large majority of EU citizens haven’t had access to vaccines so far.

To secure the participation of all member countries, the commission proposed delivering free “Digital Green Certificates” to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, but also to those who have tested negative for the virus or can prove they recovered from it.


“Being vaccinated will not be a precondition to travel,” the European Commission said. “All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU, and this applies regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not. The Digital Green Certificate will make it easier to exercise that right, also through testing and recovery certificates.”

According to data compiled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, less than 5% of European citizens have been fully vaccinated amid delays in the delivery and production of vaccines. The European Commission says it remains confident that it can achieve its goal of having 70% of the EU’s adult population vaccinated by the end of the summer.

FAA to extend ‘zero-tolerance’ policy for bad behavior while federal mask mandate is in place

The Federal Aviation Administration said it is reviewing some 450 cases of passengers behaving badly on airline flights and has opened 20 formal enforcement cases as flight attendants continue to grapple with people refusing to comply with orders to wear masks aboard airplanes.

In light of those figures, the agency said Monday that it would extend a “zero-tolerance” policy for bad behavior as long as a federal mask mandate for transportation remains in force. The FAA has the power to levy fines and make criminal referrals against passengers who violate safety rules.

Passengers wait to board a flight to San Diego from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle on March 1. Associated Press/Ted S. Warren

“The policy directs our safety inspectors and attorneys to take strong enforcement action against any passenger who disrupts or threatens the safety of a flight, with penalties ranging from fines to jail time,” FAA administrator Steve Dickson said in a statement. “The number of cases we’re seeing is still far too high, and it tells us urgent action continues to be required.”


The initial order went into force Jan. 13, a week after airlines reported a wave of disruptive behavior linked to the storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump. It was due to expire at the end of March.

Sneezed on, cussed at, ignored: Airline workers battle mask resistance with scant government backup

The FAA said airlines had reported more than 500 incidents to the agency since late December, mostly involving passengers refusing to wear masks.

On Friday, the agency announced that it was seeking a $14,500 fine against a man accused of refusing to wear a mask on a JetBlue flight from New York to the Dominican Republican on Dec. 23. The man ignored warnings from flight attendants that he had to follow the rules and the captain ultimately declared an emergency and returned to New York, the FAA said.

When will cruises sail again? Here’s where the industry stands one year later.

In the year since the cruise industry and public-health officials shut down sailings, operators have extended their cancellations again and again. And again. And again.


Cruises outside the United States have restarted, paused and started anew. And still the question remains: When will cruising resume in the United States?

“Cruise lines are eagerly awaiting an update from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to outline next steps for a return to service,” Colleen McDaniel, editor in chief of the cruise news site Cruise Critic, said in an email. “The latest positive news around vaccine distribution in the United States could be a step in the right direction, though the true return to significant cruising from the United States is dependent on when the CDC deems it appropriate.”


The Canadian government has extended a ban on cruise ships through February 2022 which is expected to block trips from visiting Alaska this year. Associated Press file photo

Big ships are already sailing outside the United States in Singapore and parts of Europe, and more than 360,000 passengers have sailed since last summer, according to Bari Golin-Blaugrund, spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Association.

Royal Caribbean announced cruises from Israel starting in May for local residents; all crew and passengers 16 and older must be fully vaccinated. And luxury line Crystal Cruises plans to sail one of its ships around the Bahamas starting in July with vaccinated passengers.

But after several high-profile outbreaks on ships, no one is expecting a return to pre-pandemic-style cruising anytime soon. Where they have started again, cruise lines are requiring negative coronavirus tests, masks and social distancing on board, and less-than-full ships.

All Duke undergraduates ordered to quarantine


DURHAM, N.C. — Duke University issued a quarantine order for all of its undergraduates effective Saturday night due to a coronavirus outbreak caused by students who attended recruitment parties, the school said.

The university said in a statement that all undergraduate students will be forced to stay-in-place until at least March 21. Suspension or dismissal from the school are potential punishments for “flagrant or repeat violators.”

Over the past week, the school has reported more than 180 positive coronavirus cases among students. There are an additional 200 students who may have been exposed and have been ordered to quarantine.

The school said in the statement that the outbreak was “principally driven by students attending recruitment parties for selective living groups.”

Duke said it would provide a policy update on Thursday.

Global coronavirus cases rise 10 percent over past week, in continuing reversal of downward trend


The number of global new coronavirus cases jumped for the third week in a row, according to the World Health Organization, increasing by 10 percent with more than 3 million new reported infections.

A woman reacts to seeing a syringe of the Sinovac vaccine for COVID-19 as health workers vaccinate residents on the outskirts of Cavalcante, Goias state, Brazil on Tuesday. Associated Press/Eraldo Peres

The rise in new cases occurred across all regions apart from Africa, the U.N. agency said, with the Americas and Europe accounting for 80 percent of new infections and deaths.

Brazil, which has been hit hard by a more transmissible variant, reported nearly 495,000 new cases — a 20 percent increase from the week before. The WHO also tracked a 6 percent spike in new cases in Europe, with more than 1.2 million new infections on the continent over the seven days ending Sunday.

The upward trend in new cases reversed a weeks-long decline that had raised hopes the pandemic would subside after a brutal surge over the winter and as vaccinations were also on the rise. Coronavirus fatigue, however, has prompted officials in some regions to lift restrictions, leading again to the pathogen’s spread.

But even as infections surged, the number of global deaths fell to its lowest point since early November, the agency said. Over the seven-day period, fewer than 60,000 new deaths of covid-19 were reported, a decline of 3 percent.

The only regions that reported a rise in new deaths were the Eastern Mediterranean and Western Pacific. Both Jordan and the Philippines reported 71 percent increases in new fatalities from the week before.


WHO official calls blood clots ‘very rare’

GENEVA — A top World Health Organization expert on vaccines says people should feel reassured that even if health authorities turn up a link between blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine, such cases are “very rare.”

Dr. Kate O’Brien, who heads WHO’s department of immunizations and vaccines, said the U.N. health agency and the European Medicines Agency are trying to investigate the possibility of a link between blood clots and the AstraZeneca shots. The potential side effect has prompted some countries — mostly in Europe — to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A WHO committee on vaccines is looking into the issue.

“I think the reassurance to the public is that regardless of whether or not the committee ultimately assesses that there may be an association between these events and the vaccine, that in any event, these are very rare events,” O’Brien said during a Wednesday news conference.

The current “benefit-risk assessment” from the European Medicines Agency and WHO is for countries to continue giving people AstraZeneca shots, she said. Both WHO and EMA are expected to present updated recommendations on Wednesday or Thursday.


O’Brien said in general “vaccine recommendations are dynamic,” and are reviewed over days, months, and years. She noted that blood clots occur regularly in the population.

“What we don’t know is whether or not that experience would be related to having been vaccinated,” she said. “The important point is that if anybody is having symptoms, any serious medical symptoms, regardless of whether you’ve been vaccinated or not vaccinated, it’s important to seek medical care for the presence of those symptoms.”

The comments came at a news conference detailing how a WHO expert panel on vaccines recommended use of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine, which has already been granted an emergency use authorization from the U.N. agency.

Dr. Annelies Wilder-Smith, a technical adviser to the expert panel, noted that studies on the J&J vaccine involving some 42,000 people turned up 10 cases of blood clotting in the placebo group — slightly more than half of all participants — and 14 cases among those who were administered the vaccine. She called that difference “not statistically significant.”

Australia sending vaccines to Papua New Guinea

CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian government is ramping up its COVID-19 vaccination support for Papua New Guinea in a bid to contain a concerning wave of infections in a near-neighbor.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday that 8,000 doses of Australia’s vaccine would be sent to Papua New Guinea next week for use by front-in health workers. Morrison and his Papua New Guinea counterpart James Marape would ask AstraZentica to send Australia’s nearest neighbor another 1 million doses as soon as possible.

The European Union this month blocked a shipment destined for Australia of more than 250,000 AstraZenica doses from leaving Italy because the Australian need was not considered great enough.

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