Countries across the Asia-Pacific region are scrambling to slow the spread of the more infectious Delta variant, reimposing restrictions and stay-at-home orders in a jarring reminder — for societies that had just begun to reopen — that the pandemic is far from over.
In Australia, outbreaks of the variant have forced four major cities — Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Darwin — into strict lockdowns. On Monday, the Malaysian government said nationwide stay-at-home orders would be extended indefinitely. And Hong Kong officials banned flights from Britain, where cases of the Delta variant, which was first identified in India, are rising fast.
In Bangladesh, soldiers are preparing to patrol the streets to enforce stay-at-home orders, with new cases rapidly approaching their early April peak. “The Delta variant of Covid-19 is dominating,” said Robed Amin, a health ministry spokesman, adding that testing suggested the strain was responsible for more than 60 percent of new cases.
The lockdowns and restrictions have deflated hopes across the region, where many countries avoided the worst of the pandemic’s initial spread last year. Now, weary residents are frustrated by what some describe as their countries’ pandemic regression, as other parts of the world edge toward normalcy.
Outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s largest city, a restaurant owner, Marcus Low, bemoaned the fourth lockdown of the pandemic. Daily infections in Malaysia peaked in early June, but even after weeks of lockdown, new cases have dipped by only 5 percent over the past two weeks, according to New York Times data. Only 6 percent of the country’s 33 million people are fully vaccinated.
“My restaurant is known for its hospitality and shared dishes, the antithesis of social distancing,” Mr. Low said. For his and other small businesses struggling to survive, this lockdown “might be the last straw,” he said.
Others blamed slow vaccination drives for a return to restrictions.
“If we were able to get a really high vaccination rate, that changes the game completely,” said Hassan Vally, an associate professor in epidemiology at La Trobe University in Melbourne. With less than 5 percent of Australia’s population fully vaccinated, he said, “in some ways, where we’re at now is no surprise.”
The Delta strain is one of several “variants of concern” identified by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Though estimates of its infectiousness differ, the variant could be 50 percent more contagious than the already faster-spreading Alpha variant, which emerged in Britain last year, health officials say.
Studies have shown that Covid-19 vaccines are still largely effective against the Delta variant, though protection is significantly lower for those who are partially vaccinated. But the experiences of several countries show that the Delta variant can spread rapidly through the unvaccinated, including children.
“Anywhere you carry out vaccination, the disease will be pushed into the unvaccinated population,” said Raina MacIntyre, a professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Countries that have vaccinated relatively high percentages of their populations are moving ahead with reopening plans. In Britain, where the Delta variant now accounts for almost all new cases, officials say they still plan to lift most remaining pandemic restrictions on July 19. New cases there have more than doubled in the past two weeks, but officials believe that the country remains well protected, with nearly half the population fully vaccinated.
“While cases are now ticking up, the number of deaths remains mercifully low,” the country’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, said on Monday.
In Ireland, Prime Minister Michael Martin announced on Tuesday that the planned return of indoor drinking and dining by July 5 would be delayed because of concerns about the spread of the Delta variant.
Once the restrictions are lifted, only patrons who are fully vaccinated or have already recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed to dine inside. Forty-eight percent of Ireland’s residents have received at least one vaccine dose so far, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.
Experts say that as long as the virus continues to circulate, it can acquire mutations that may present new challenges. In India, where a devastating second wave this spring caused thousands of deaths daily, Maharashtra state has reimposed partial stay-at-home orders in response to the emergence of what has become known locally as “Delta Plus,” described by scientists as a sub-lineage of the Delta variant.
Indian health officials have expressed concern that Delta Plus could spread even more easily in a massive population of 1.4 billion, with less than 5 percent fully vaccinated. In an effort to increase vaccine supplies, the country on Tuesday authorized the use of a fourth vaccine, Moderna. “There is the possibility of the third wave,” said Maharashtra’s chief minister, Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray.
World Health Organization officials, concerned about the Delta variant, have urged even fully vaccinated people to continue wearing masks and taking other precautions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the other hand, told fully vaccinated Americans in May that they no longer needed to wear masks indoors or to stay six feet from other people. The agency also eased advice about testing and quarantine after suspected exposure.
Asked on Monday about the W.H.O.’s cautions, a C.D.C. spokesman pointed to the existing guidance and gave no indication it would change.
The Delta variant, a highly infectious form of the virus that has spread to at least 85 countries since it was first identified in India, is now responsible for one in every five Covid-19 cases across the United States. Its prevalence here has doubled in the past two weeks, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, has called it “the greatest threat” to eliminating the virus in the United States. Public health experts generally agree that getting vaccinated offers the best protection against any type of the virus.
Los Angeles County said on Monday that it strongly recommended that everyone wear masks indoors as a precaution against the Delta variant, adding that it accounted for nearly half of all cases sequenced in the county.
“Until we better understand how and to who the Delta variant is spreading, everyone should focus on maximum protection with minimum interruption to routine as all businesses operate without other restrictions,” county officials said in a statement.
The rise of new variants “makes it even more urgent that we use all the tools at our disposal,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the W.H.O., said at a news briefing on Friday.
The comments were made in the context of broader statements criticizing inequitable distribution of vaccines and the lack of access to vaccination in many parts of the world.
Though fully vaccinated people are largely protected, studies suggest the Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy against the Delta variant is slightly lower than against other variants, and significantly lower for individuals who have received only one dose.
Britain — where some two-thirds of the population have received at least one dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine and just under half have received two — has seen a sharp rise in cases driven by the variant. And Israel, with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, has partially reimposed mask mandates in response to an uptick in cases.
Given how fast-moving the variant is, “the vaccine approach is not enough,” said Eric Feigl-Ding, senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. “We’re not at the level of vaccinations where we can release the brakes on everything else.”
Other scientists disagreed, saying guidance has to be tailored to local conditions.
“The W.H.O. is looking at a world that is largely unvaccinated, so this makes sense,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, adding that parts of the United States might also need different advice.
“If I were living in Missouri or Wyoming or Mississippi, places with low vaccination rates,” he said, “I would not be excited about going indoors without wearing a mask — even though I’m vaccinated.”
In other news from around the world:
The African Union and the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have voiced concerns that a planned European Union digital travel pass does not cover people vaccinated with Covishield, the shot made at the Serum Institute of India on which many low-income countries have relied. The vaccine is the same as the one manufactured by AstraZeneca, which has E.U. approval and is included in the E.U. travel pass, but the Serum Institute has not received its own separate E.U. authorization to market the shot under the name Covishield. In a joint statement, the A.U. and the Africa C.D.C. said the exclusion was “concerning” and urged Brussels to expand its list of acceptable vaccines.
Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, will bar unvaccinated residents over the age of 15 from accessing most public places from Aug. 20, including schools and universities as well as malls, gyms, restaurants, cafes and cultural venues. The new rules were announced on Twitter by the government’s media office on Monday, and come as an Emirati federal authority reported a rise in cases and deaths linked to the more infectious Delta variant, according to Reuters.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that the United States would start sending two million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Peru and 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Pakistan, part of President Biden’s pledge to dispatch doses overseas. She also noted that a shipment of 1.5 million Moderna doses to Honduras was announced over the weekend.
The global economy is entering a new stage of the recovery from the pandemic, in which policymakers must prepare for “different but no less formidable challenges,” the Bank of International Settlements said on Tuesday.
In its annual economic report, the organization, whose 63 members include the world’s largest central banks, warned that the recovery had so far been “incomplete and uneven” as emerging market economies (aside from China) have lagged behind, the euro area is trailing its peers, and the services sector is recovering more slowly.
“While the recovery has been faster and stronger than anyone would have imagined a year ago, we are not out of the woods yet,” Agustín Carstens, the group’s general manager, said.
Monetary policy by central banks and fiscal policy by governments needs to remain supportive but also be flexible, the report said. One of the biggest challenges facing policymakers is how they might respond to a persistent rise in inflation. Though many, including officials at the Federal Reserve, say they strongly believe that the current increase in prices is only temporary, traders and investors are wary of being caught out by a sudden change in this stance that leads to higher interest rates or the end of bond-buying programs.
The bank’s report contemplates three scenarios for the recovery, including one in which inflation exceeds expectations because of fiscal stimulus, particularly in the United States, and consumers spending more of their savings than anticipated. Higher-than-expected inflation would “severely” test central banks, which would find it difficult to avoid market volatility, the report said.
But even if the rise in inflation is temporary, “financial market participants could overreact,” the report said. This could lead to disruption in markets because there has been a long period of “aggressive risk taking.”
The collapse of the New York hedge fund Archegos Capital Management, which was forced to sell off billions of dollars in equities in March after it could not meet the demands of several banks, costing the banks several billions in losses, “could turn out to be the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” the report said. The fund’s failure raises a question about resilience of nonbank financial firms and how much hidden exposure they have.
When the pandemic ends, it will leave “issues that may well be more daunting and enduring,” the report said. One of those will be the need to normalize policy so that central banks and governments have “safety margins” to fight the next crises.
“An economy that operates with thin safety margins is vulnerable to both unexpected events and future recessions, which will inevitably come,” the report said.
To help people in the Pacific Northwest escape record-breaking temperatures, local officials have opened cooling centers — and relaxed some Covid-19 restrictions.
In Oregon, where temperatures are forecast to reach 113 degrees on Monday, roads have buckled from the extreme heat, and relatively few homes have air-conditioners, state health officials suspended capacity limits at swimming pools, movie theaters and shopping malls on Friday, and said that no one would be turned away from cooling centers because of crowding.
The decision follows a sustained decline in new reported coronavirus cases and deaths in the state, and Gov. Kate Brown’s announcement that Oregon would fully open no later than June 30. Nearly 70 percent of adult residents in the state have received at least one vaccine dose, Governor Brown’s benchmark for lifting the state’s remaining restrictions.
Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington has suspended capacity restrictions at publicly owned or operated cooling centers and those run by nonprofit organizations in his state, though not for “private, for-profit businesses that offer air-conditioned spaces to the general public,” according to a memo released on Friday.
More than 70 percent of adults in Washington have received at least one vaccine dose, according to a vaccine tracker maintained by The New York Times. Governor Inslee has said that all restrictions in his state will be lifted no later than June 30 as well.
Local officials in the Northwest have tried to balance pandemic safety with the need to provide places for the public to cool off indoors. In Multnomah County, Ore., which includes Portland, people have been asked to wear face masks and maintain social distance at official cooling centers, including several public libraries with extended hours, movie theaters and the Oregon Convention Center, according to Dr. Jennifer Vines, the county health officer.
People who come in are not being asked about vaccination status, she said, but officials are offering vaccine shots at the convention center for anyone who needs them.
Dr. Vines said that though the coronavirus precautions were important, they were secondary to ensuring that residents can get relief from the record-breaking temperatures.
“Cooling people down is the more immediate life safety issue,” she said.
This is not the first time officials in Oregon have had to weigh competing health crises during the pandemic. Last September, Portland had the worst air quality of any major city in the world because of wildfire smoke, prompting a rapid shift in public health protocols to address that more immediate threat.
“We had been in full-on Covid response, and we suddenly had to do a complete 180 and say, ‘If you have to evacuate, find friends and family — just get inside and close your windows,’” Dr. Vines said on Monday.
“It’s a form of triage,” she added. “Working in our favor right now is that we do have a number of people vaccinated. So that makes me feel a little bit better about putting Covid in the back seat, at least for these few days.”
The cure for high prices is high prices.
That’s an old line used in commodity markets, and it helps explain why the great inflation scare of 2021 has eased some in recent weeks. When the price of something soars because demand outstrips supply, it has a way of self-correcting. Buyers, scared off by high prices, find other options, and sellers crank up production to take advantage of a profit opportunity.
It is an idea simple enough to be taught in the first few weeks of any introductory economics class, but one with powerful implications for the American economy as it aims for a postpandemic reboot.
Several of the key products whose prices soared in the spring have grown less expensive, as producers have increased output and buyers have held tight. This is particularly evident with lumber; as of Friday, its price was down 47 percent from its early-May peak (though still well above historical norms). Sawmills responded to soaring prices by pushing the limits of their capacity.
The prices of corn, copper and a variety of other economically important commodities are also down by double-digit percentages since early May. This supports the notion that the inflation the world has been experiencing is transitory — set to ease in the months ahead as the laws of supply and demand take hold.
Markets have plenty of flaws and imperfections, but when it comes to allocating scarce goods and sending signals to sellers to make more and buyers to buy less, they work quite well.
But just because markets work doesn’t mean they will work instantly. The complexity of the way many of the goods still in short supply are produced, transported and sold means that people in those markets are reluctant to predict the kind of snapback evident in lumber prices.
Got the sniffles? Worried about that night out in a crowded club? Or maybe you just want to visit grandma but are concerned about her risk, even though you’re vaccinated against the coronavirus.
At-home rapid virus tests, which give results in minutes, can be useful and reassuring for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Given the availability of vaccines for all people 12 and older in the United States, it may be hard to imagine why anyone would still need a home test. But the coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon, and a rise in infections this fall among the unvaccinated appears inevitable.
In most cases, regular home testing isn’t necessary for someone who is fully vaccinated. The vaccines available in the United States have been shown to be effective against the variants, including Delta. But breakthrough infections, although rare, continue to occur.
A home test can offer reassurance to a vaccinated person who has traveled recently or spent time in a crowded bar. It can be used more frequently for families with young children who aren’t yet eligible for vaccination.
Here are some scenarios in which a rapid home test may be useful:
For unvaccinated children, who could be tested periodically before going to camp or school or right before a birthday party.
To regularly check and protect the health of a babysitter who spends time with your unvaccinated children, or a home-health aide who is caring for a high-risk individual.
As an added precaution for a vaccinated person who wants to spend time with a grandparent or someone who is immune compromised. (An unvaccinated person shouldn’t spend time indoors with a person at high risk.)
To be sure a cough or sniffle is just allergies or a common cold rather than Covid-19.
To test houseguests before a dinner party or overnight stay, if someone in the group is unvaccinated or at high risk.
For guests at weddings or other large gatherings if they can’t provide proof of vaccination.
Even as life returns to many New York City neighborhoods, its big commercial districts are awash with empty office space. Most workers haven’t yet returned — and it’s unclear if they all will.
That uncertainty is terrifying the city’s biggest office landlords, and many of them are going to great lengths to retain and attract tenants.
Lower rents or free months in multiyear leases are now de rigueur. But landlords are also trying to entice new and returning tenants with sweeping redesigns and new technology that can quickly refashion office space based on needs.
They are dangling upscale new clubs and food halls available largely for tenants. In one building on West 26th Street near the Hudson River, the owners are showing off a 600-square-foot speakeasy tucked away in a corner of the ground floor.
Almost one-fifth of the total market for office space in Manhattan is available for rent — a record high, according to CBRE, a real estate services firm. The amount includes roughly 79 million square feet of both unrented space and offices that tenants are trying to sublet.
Office landlords largely weathered the pandemic because tenants could not break their leases and had to keep paying rent. But one-third of leases at large Manhattan buildings are set to expire over the next three years, according to CBRE.
And as those deals come up for renegotiation, some large companies — which grew comfortable with letting employees work from home during the pandemic — are indicating that they will need significantly less space.
Marc Jacobs returned to Fifth Avenue Monday with the city’s first full-fledged fashion show in front of an air-kissing, non-socially distanced audience since the pandemic began — and his first show since February 2020. It was held in the echoing marble entranceway of the Public Library just atop Bryant Park, erstwhile home of New York Fashion Week, the stairs outside speckled once more with street-style photographers.
Unlike other designers, Mr. Jacobs has eschewed the digital sphere as a way to show his work during the last two seasons and 16 months of relative isolation; he hasn’t played around with ersatz music videos or lonely livestreams, but rather bided his time with his personal Instagram, reconsidered his business, regrouped.
This time around there wasn’t any special set. No flashing lights or pyrotechnics. Just clothes, animated by real people, moving through the world for about nine minutes and 32 seconds.
Which is not to say they were just any old clothes. They were transition clothes: not between seasons (nominally, this was fall/winter), but between states of mind, and being. Between the cocoons and retreats of the last 16 months — all those comfort clothes for self-soothing we kept nattering on about — and the growing liberation of the present. Metaphor clothes! A story of re-emergence, told in crazy, couture-scaled skiwear.