African countries are left with scarce vaccine supplies as the virus spreads.
Athletes in isolation. A host city under a state of emergency with coronavirus cases surging. Empty venues where winners will place medals around their own necks.
One week before the Summer Olympics are scheduled to begin in Tokyo, organizers, participants and officials in Japan face ever-growing challenges as they try to pull off the world’s biggest sporting event in the middle of a pandemic.
Organizers have instituted strict Covid rules, barring spectators from most events, mass-testing Olympics personnel, and creating bubbles aimed at separating the public from the thousands of athletes, coaches and guests flying in from around the world. On Thursday, the president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, insisted that there was no risk that the Games would spread infections, saying that organizers would do everything they could to ensure “that we do not bring any risk to the Japanese people.”
But concerns have grown after several coronavirus cases emerged in recent days among competitors and others involved with the Games.
On Friday, the organizing committee reported four new infections among Olympics-related personnel, bringing to 30 the total confirmed cases this month. One of the cases is of a Nigerian official who tested positive upon arrival and was hospitalized, according to Japanese news outlets, the fifth case detected among delegations from overseas.
This week, 21 South African rugby players went into isolation after being identified as close contacts of an infected person on their flight. Several staff members at a hotel where Brazilian athletes are staying also tested positive for the virus, sending the competitors into isolation.
Cases are climbing in Tokyo, which recorded 1,271 new infections on Friday, continuing its biggest surge in six months. Across Japan, despite social distancing restrictions in much of the country, the daily average of cases has risen 63 percent in the past two weeks, according to New York Times data. About 20 percent of Japan’s 126 million people are fully vaccinated, far lower than in many Western countries.
The developments prompted one of Japan’s leading newspapers, The Asahi Shimbun, to declare that the Olympics’ Covid bubble “has already burst.” In an article published on Thursday, the newspaper described confusion at airports, where some arriving athletes took selfies and exchanged fist-bumps with other passengers, and at hotels, where staff members said they sometimes could not determine which guests were part of Olympics delegations and subject to stricter rules.
“It has become clear that organizers’ plans to separate Olympic-related people and the general public are failing miserably,” the newspaper wrote.
Organizers say that their protocols are working and that infections have occurred among only a handful of the tens of thousands of people involved in the Games. Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, said on Friday that the Games would “draw attention from the world, where they can be a light of hope under the predicament of Covid.”
During a meeting with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday, Mr. Bach said that 85 percent of residents of the Olympic Village would be vaccinated against Covid-19, and that nearly all I.O.C. members and staff would arrive in Japan fully immunized.
Last week, officials said that they would bar spectators from most events, after Tokyo’s decision to extend a state of emergency for the duration of the Games. On Thursday, the I.O.C. announced changes to the medal ceremonies, saying that medals would be laid out on trays for the athletes to pick up themselves and that podiums would be larger than usual to ensure social distancing.
Still, public opposition to the Games, which were postponed from last year, has remained intense. Protesters have picketed outside Mr. Bach’s hotel and circulated petitions demanding that the event be called off. Kenji Utsunomiya, a former chairman of Japan’s bar association, submitted a petition with more than 450,000 signatures to the Tokyo metropolitan government on Thursday, arguing that the Games should not be held under a state of emergency.
“We won’t be able to save lives if the infection spreads further and the medical system collapses,” he told reporters. “Now is the time to cancel the Games with courage.”
From protests and Covid-related bans on fans, join Times journalists for an exclusive virtual event as we discuss what this moment means for Tokyo 2020. Plus learn about the sports new to the Olympics through interviews with U.S. surfer Carissa Moore and Czech climber Adam Ondra. Click the button above to R.S.V.P.
Canada is preparing to open its borders to travelers in the coming months as coronavirus infections continue to decline across the country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.
According to a statement released by his office, Mr. Trudeau said during a meeting with Canadian regional leaders that if current trends continued, “Canada would be in a position to welcome fully vaccinated travelers from all countries by early September.” Immunized Americans and permanent residents could be allowed in as early as mid-August, he added.
But the country has quickly caught up. About 47 percent of Canadians have been fully vaccinated, and about 70 percent have received one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to a New York Times tracker. (In the United States, about 48 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, and about 56 percent has received at least one dose.)
Canada’s regional authorities have recently lifted restrictions, as hospitalizations and deaths have been steadily declining.
Canadian provincial ministers are expected to share details of their reopening plans early next week.
In other news from around the world:
In France, the Eiffel Tower reopened to the public on Friday, nearly nine months after it shut down because of the pandemic. It was its longest closure since the end of World World II. The tower is set to operate at only half-capacity, and starting Wednesday, visitors will have to present proof of vaccination or a negative test. As of Friday, 70,000 tickets had been booked for visits through the end of August.
The relaxation of pandemic restrictions and the growing ranks of people vaccinated against the coronavirus have propelled Europe’s economy forward in the past few months. And the European Commission even upgraded its forecasts for the region.
But the rapid spread of the more contagious Delta variant has made the path of the recovery much more unpredictable and uneven.
In Britain, the final lifting of restrictions on Monday is expected to add fresh momentum to the economic recovery. But the surge in infections presents a new hurdle to businesses trying to operate at full capacity. Sectors like hospitality, theater and trucking are having to temporarily shut as workers go into self-isolation because they have either caught the virus or have been told they have come into contact with someone who has.
In Spain, which once again has one of the highest infection rates in Europe, some regional governments have reintroduced restrictions. Portugal has reintroduced a curfew in Lisbon, Porto and other popular tourism spots, dampening a second summer travel season. The Netherlands also announced new measures this week.
The German economy has been bouncing back quickly, and the country’s unemployment rate, at 5.9 percent, is almost back to the pre-crisis level.
But Germany’s recovery has also been bumpy. The number of new cases has doubled in the last week, and three-quarters of those were attributed to the variant. Although there is no talk of renewed lockdowns in Germany so far, quarantine rules for returning travelers may discourage tourism.
That is bad news for the rest of Europe: Germans are among the continent’s most avid travelers.
Africa is in its deadliest stage of the pandemic so far, and there is little relief in sight.
The more contagious Delta variant is sweeping across the continent. Namibia and Tunisia are reporting more deaths per capita than any other country. Hospitals across the continent are filling up, oxygen supplies and medical workers are stretched thin, and recorded deaths jumped 40 percent last week alone.
But only about 1 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated. And even the African Union’s modest goal of inoculating 20 percent of the population by the end of this year seems out of reach.
Rich nations have bought up most doses long into the future, often far more than they could conceivably need. Hundreds of millions of shots from a global vaccine-sharing effort have failed to materialize.
Supplies to African countries are unlikely to increase much in the next few months, rendering vaccines, the most effective tool against Covid, of little use in the current wave. Instead, many countries are resorting to lockdowns and curfews.
Even a year from now, supplies may not be enough to meet demand from Africa’s 1.3 billion people unless richer countries share their stockpiles and rethink how the distribution system should work.
“The blame squarely lies with the rich countries,” said Dr. Githinji Gitahi, a commissioner with Africa Covid-19 Response, a continental task force. “A vaccine delayed is a vaccine denied.”
The proclamation — along with a warning from the University of California that most unvaccinated faculty, staff and students would be barred from its campuses this fall — underscored the gathering concern that the coronavirus may be poised for a resurgence, although not one nearly as concerning as previous spikes.
Every U.S. state has reported an increase in new virus cases in recent days. California’s figures have nearly tripled over the past month, largely because of cases in San Bernardino and Los Angeles. Still, the current rate of 3,000 new cases a day is a blip compared with the winter peak, when there were more than 44,000.
Scientists say that the about 160 million people across the country who are fully vaccinated are largely protected from the virus, including against the highly contagious Delta variant. Fifty-one percent of Californians are fully vaccinated, well below the levels in some Northeastern states but above the national rate.
“If we want to extinguish this pandemic, this disease, we’ve got to get vaccinated. Period. Full stop,” Mr. Newsom said this week.
Los Angeles County, where public health officials had been recommending masks indoors but not requiring them, has reported more than 1,000 daily cases, a tripling in the past two weeks. The reinstated masking mandate is set to take effect on Saturday.
At the 10-campus University of California system, which serves more than 285,000 students, the university president, Michael V. Drake, said in a letter to chancellors that the current research, both from medical studies and the university’s own infectious-disease experts, pointed to the need for a vaccine mandate for anyone who was going to be on campus.
The requirement will apply to students and employees alike, and to participants in athletic and study-abroad programs, Dr. Drake said.
Under the policy, students without approved vaccine exemptions will be barred from campus housing, events, facilities and classrooms. While there will be “limited exceptions, accommodations and deferrals,” not all classes will be offered remotely.
A Ugandan weight lifter who traveled to Japan in the hopes of competing in the Tokyo Olympics has gone missing after failing to show up for a coronavirus test, officials said on Friday.
The weight lifter, Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, is one of nine Ugandans who had been staying in Izumisano, a city in Osaka Prefecture in western Japan, since mid-June.
Olympic organizers have tried to keep all Games participants in a “bubble” and under strict rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus while they are in the country. Athletes training outside Japan have been restricted to hotels and training venues.
Last month, two people traveling with the Ugandan Olympic delegation tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Japan. It is not clear whether Mr. Ssekitoleko was one of them.
The police are conducting a search, said Katsunobu Kato, the chief cabinet secretary to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Mr. Kato said the police and city officials were making an “all-out effort” to find the weight lifter.
Yuji Fukuoka, a spokesman for the city of Izumisano, said that an official who had traveled with the Ugandan delegation checked Mr. Ssekitoleko’s hotel room on Friday, only to find that he was not there.
“All we want is that he’s found as soon as possible,” Mr. Fukuoka said. “He might be having a tough time.”
About 68 percent of members of the U.S. military have had at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, but given that only full vaccination affords significant protection against the more infectious Delta variant surging in parts of the United States, American commanders are seeking new ways to pressure, entice and cajole service members to get their shots.
Now, Fort Rucker in Alabama has become the first military base in the United States to require that unmasked uniformed service members provide proof of vaccinations.
As in other states that have low overall vaccination rates, coronavirus cases are rising sharply in Alabama. Only 33 percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest proportions in the country, and cases have shot up 133 percent over the last two weeks, according to a New York Times database, reaching a daily average of more than 500. Hospitalizations have risen 39 percent over two weeks.
“The big difference is going to be that if you are not wearing a mask, the leadership will be able to ask you, ask soldiers, to prove that they’ve been vaccinated by showing their vaccination card,” said Major Gen. David Francis, the commanding general of Fort Rucker, in a video posted on Fort Rucker’s Facebook page on Monday.
And some military leaders insist that the absence of full F.D.A. approval prevents them from requiring that Covid shots join myriad other compulsory vaccines for service members.
There are about 5,000 uniformed personnel assigned to Fort Rucker. Many larger bases, like Fort Hood in Texas, require all service members to wear masks indoors but have areas, like specified gyms, where people who have been vaccinated may congregate without masks.
More than 80 percent of active-duty service members are under 35, a group that has led resistance among civilians, too. The vaccination rates vary by service branch: Seventy-seven percent of active-duty members in the Navy have had at least one shot, Pentagon officials said recently, while in the Marine Corps that number is 58 percent.
It was an ambitious idea: Since Canadian officials wouldn’t allow U.S. vaccines into the country, American pharmacists would come to the edge of the U.S. border inside the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, which connects the two cities, and jab the vaccine into the arms of Canadians on the other side.
The plan, which was reported by The Detroit Free Press, was the brainchild of Drew Dilkens, the mayor of Windsor. He said in an interview on Thursday that medical professionals in Detroit had told him they were tossing extra vaccines as the demand for the shots in the United States slowed.
Michigan has scrapped nearly 150,000 unused vaccine doses since December, said Lynn Sutfin, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to looming expiration dates, she said, doses were also discarded because of broken syringes or vials.
The Canadian government has not allowed those surplus vaccines to enter the country, so Mr. Dilkens figured that his tunnel plan would keep the doses in Michigan and his residents in Canada. He even arranged for a white line to be painted along the border in the tunnel.
“When the Canadians go down, their feet would stay on the right side of the line,” he said, “and the United States folks, their feet stand on the left.”
But the Canada Border Services Agency denied the request, saying in a letter last month that closing the tunnel for the proposed vaccination effort could disrupt trade and would have “significant security implications.”
Canada had lagged behind the United States in distributing vaccines but has recently caught up. According to the government’s health database, nearly 68 percent of Canadians have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and nearly 36 percent have been fully vaccinated. In the United States, where demand for vaccines has cooled in recent weeks, nearly 56 percent of Americans have received at least one dose and just over 43 percent are fully vaccinated, according to a Times database.
Two and a half hours before the scheduled start time, just after the Yankees had hurriedly pulled the team off the field and canceled batting practice, M.L.B. postponed a game with the Boston Red Sox because three Yankees pitchers had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The three — Nestor Cortes Jr., Jonathan Loaisiga and Wandy Peralta — are all vaccinated.
General Manager Brian Cashman said that three other players had tested positive through multiple rapid tests and that the team expected those players’ laboratory tests to also come back positive.
The Yankees have reached the 85 percent vaccination rate that M.L.B. requires to operate under relaxed Covid protocols, but Cashman said the team had again experienced breakthrough cases, two months after an outbreak of nine cases, mostly within the coaching staff.
The Yankees put Loaisiga on the Covid-19 injured list on Saturday in Houston, and he did not travel with the team after that series, which led into the All-Star break. Cortes and Peralta were placed on the list on Thursday.
Cashman did not know the status of the Yankees’ remaining weekend games with the Red Sox, who are scheduled to be in New York through Sunday. Given the two outbreaks the team has experienced, he said the Yankees would consider a change in protocols.