The Biden administration on Wednesday came out in support of waiving intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, a breakthrough for international efforts to suspend patent rules as the pandemic rages in India and South America.
The United States had been a leading opponent of a proposal at the World Trade Organization to suspend intellectual property protections in an effort to ramp up vaccine production. But President Biden had come under increasing pressure to throw his support behind the proposal, including from many congressional Democrats.
Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, announced the administration’s position in a statement on Wednesday afternoon.
“This is a global health crisis, and the extraordinary circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic call for extraordinary measures,” she said. “The administration believes strongly in intellectual property protections, but in service of ending this pandemic, supports the waiver of those protections for Covid-19 vaccines.”
Ms. Tai added that the United States would participate in negotiations at the World Trade Organization over the matter, adding, “Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved.”
Earlier Wednesday, members of the World Trade Organization held another round of discussions about waiving intellectual property protections. Further discussions are expected in the coming weeks, as India and South Africa, which proposed the waiver, are preparing a revised plan for nations to consider.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director general of the World Trade Organization, urged members to proceed with negotiations over the text of the plan.
“I am firmly convinced that once we can sit down with an actual text in front of us, we shall find a pragmatic way forward,” she said at a meeting of the organization’s General Council.
A federal judge on Wednesday struck down the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention moratorium on evictions enacted by Congress last spring and extended by President Biden until June 30.
In a 20-page decision, Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, who was appointed by former President Donald J. Trump, ruled that the Department of Health and Human Services had exceeded its authority when it imposed the freeze. The moratorium had been enacted under the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which gives the federal government the power to impose quarantines and other measures to deal with health emergencies.
“The question for the court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the C.D.C. the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium?” wrote Friedrich, a one-time staff member to former Senator Orrin Hatch and was appointed to the court in 2017. “It does not.”
A White House spokesman did not immediately comment on the ruling.
The CARES Act, passed in March 2020, included a 120-day moratorium on evictions from rental properties participating in federal assistance programs or underwritten by federal loans.
On August 8, 2020, Mr. Trump extended the moratorium through an executive order, citing the possibility that evictions could spread the virus by forcing a large number of families to relocate to new shelter — or double up in overcrowded situations.
Shortly after taking office, President Biden extended the moratorium. He did so over the objections of landlords, real estate agents and residential apartment trade associations who argued that the freeze was an unfair interference in the free market, despite the inclusion of billions in emergency housing assistance in recent congressional relief packages.
In November, the Alabama Association of Realtors and a similar group of real estate agents in Georgia filed a lawsuit, claiming that the moratorium, and similar ones passed by states, shift the burden for rent payments “from the tenants to landlords, and that landlords across the nation stand to lose billions collectively if the ban is extended into 2021.”
Groups representing tenants have argued that the moratorium, while not universally effective, has prevented thousands of evictions of low-income tenants, especially among women-led households that are often the most likely to fall behind in payments.
The Biden administration has been stepping up pressure on the nation’s biggest residential landlords following reports that apartment building owners were seeking to evict tens of thousands of renters despite the moratorium.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced on Wednesday that baseball fans who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will soon be able to enjoy seating arrangements without social distancing at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, and that spectators who get vaccinated at either stadium during a game will get a free ticket.
Beginning on May 19, the same day the state is ending most capacity restrictions for businesses, fully vaccinated people will be allowed to sit in sections of the stadiums where every seat can be occupied, though they will have to wear masks. They can also be accompanied by children who are under 16 and unvaccinated, who must also wear masks.
People who have not been vaccinated will sit in sections where only one-third of the seats can be occupied, and will have to observe six-foot social distancing rules. Both Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, the home of the Mets, are mass vaccination sites, and both stadiums will offer a voucher for a free ticket to people who are vaccinated there on game days, as an incentive to receive the vaccine.
“You take a vaccine shot, get a voucher, you can go to that game,” Randy Levine, the president of the New York Yankees, said at Mr. Cuomo’s news conference. “If that game’s sold out, you can go tomorrow night, go to a game of your choice.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which only requires one shot, will be offered to game attendees, the governor said, so they will not have to schedule a follow-up appointment.
Social distancing, capacity rules and other safety measures vary significantly from one Major League stadium to another, because of differing local regulations and individual team decisions.
Mr. Cuomo also announced that Broadway shows would start selling tickets on Thursday for full-capacity shows with performances starting Sept. 14.
Broadway, home to 41 theaters with between 600 and 1,900 seats, drew 14.6 million people who spent $1.758 billion on tickets in 2019. The pandemic had forced them all to close since March 12, 2020, and reopening is clearly going to be far more complicated than shutting down.
With as many as eight shows a week to fill, and the tourists who make up an important part of their customer base yet to return, producers need time to advertise and market. They need to reassemble and rehearse casts who have been out of work for more than a year. And they need to sort out and negotiate safety protocols.
But the biggest reason for the delay is more gut-based: Individually and collectively, they are trying to imagine when large numbers of people will be likely to feel comfortable traveling to Times Square, funneling through cramped lobbies and walking down narrow aisles to sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers. (Most Broadway shows lose money even in the best of times, so producers say there is no way they can afford to reopen with social distancing, given the industry’s high labor and real estate costs.)
The governor said that the state’s coronavirus indicators were all trending downward, so reopening made sense, though the state would continue monitoring the situation carefully.
According to a New York Times database, the average number of new cases a day in the state had declined by 46 percent in the past 14 days, as of Tuesday. More than 36 percent of the state’s population was fully vaccinated as of Tuesday.
The virus does appear to be ebbing in New York City. But the city still faces challenges from uneven vaccine coverage, the slowing pace of vaccinations and the growing prevalence of variants in the city.
The pandemic has contributed to soaring hunger and acute declines in maternal health care that threaten tens of millions of people, the United Nations said Wednesday, underscoring the disproportionate spillover effects on the world’s poor.
The number of people worldwide requiring urgent food aid hit a five-year high in 2020 — reaching at least 155 million — while the risk of maternal and newborn deaths surged because of a shortage of at least 900,000 midwives, or one-third of the required global midwifery work force, the United Nations said in a pair of reports produced with other groups.
The World Food Program, the anti-hunger agency of the United Nations, said in a statement that the key findings from the food report showed that its warnings of severe hardships during the pandemic had been validated, and that “we are watching the worst-case scenario unfold before our very eyes.”
The food report covered 55 countries and territories, including three — Burkina Faso, South Sudan and Yemen — where it said that at least 133,000 people were suffering famine, the most severe phase of a hunger crisis.
In 38 countries, at least 28 million people were one step away from famine, the report said.
While the report said violent conflict was the main driver of the hunger crisis, it said that economic shocks — often from the pandemic — had replaced weather disasters as another main cause of food insecurity.
In the second report, the United Nations Population Fund, the world’s leading provider of family planning services, said the pandemic had made a worldwide midwife shortage worse, “with the health needs of women and newborns being overshadowed, midwifery services being disrupted and midwives being deployed to other health services.”
It cited a study published in The Lancet medical journal in December, showing that alleviating the midwife shortage could avert roughly two-thirds of maternal and newborn deaths and stillbirths, saving 4.3 million lives a year.
Nepal’s coronavirus outbreak, which is growing faster than almost anywhere else in the world, has spread to the remote Himalayas, with an increasing number of climbers testing positive after being evacuated from the base camps of Mount Everest and surrounding peaks.
In recent weeks, several climbers have been flown out of Mount Everest Base Camp after reporting symptoms of Covid-19, and then tested positive after reaching Kathmandu, the capital. On Wednesday, Nepali news outlets reported that 14 climbers, including foreigners and Sherpa guides, were being airlifted from Mount Dhaulagiri, another major peak, to Kathmandu for treatment after some were found to be infected.
The cases have raised fears for the safety of climbers and their Nepali guides who are pushing ahead with expeditions in the forbidding, high-altitude terrain, where doctors say they are already vulnerable to illness, lower blood oxygen levels and weaker immunity. Hundreds of climbers and Sherpas are isolating in their tents in gusty conditions at Everest base camp, trying to guard against infection while preparing to begin their ascent to the 29,000-foot summit.
Nepal’s government — determined to revive its lucrative mountaineering industry after a total shutdown last year — continues to deny that there is any outbreak at Everest base camp and has released no information about the number of climbers who have been evacuated. The government has granted 408 permits to scale the world’s tallest peak, the most in any year since the first recorded summit in 1953, earning millions of dollars in royalties.
“I have heard only a few cases of pneumonia,” said Mira Acharya, an official at Nepal’s Department of Tourism. “No corona case.”
Infections are exploding in Nepal, from fewer than 100 per day in early March to more than 7,500 on Tuesday, the most the country has recorded since the pandemic began. The surge has come at the same time as the devastating outbreak in neighboring India, and as Nepal’s already limited vaccine drive has slowed almost to a halt.
Even while it lasted, the vaccine drive left out Sherpas to prioritize frontline health workers, the elderly and government employees. Still, Sherpas depend on the opening up of the Himalayas for their livelihood.
“If expeditions are not organized this year, that will be a big blow to the mountaineering sector’s Sherpa guides,” said Geljie Sherpa, a mountain guide. He said he was planning to take an expedition to Everest but had changed his mind after hearing about coronavirus cases.
Erlend Ness, a Norwegian climber, said he fell ill at Everest base camp last month and was evacuated by helicopter and ambulance to a hospital in Kathmandu.
“I tested positive at the hospital on the same day I arrived in Kathmandu from the mountains,” Mr. Ness said by telephone from Oslo, where doctors told him he couldn’t return to Nepal this year.
Another climber, Steve Davis, chronicled his airlift from base camp last month and subsequent positive test on his blog. Mr. Davis remains in Nepal, where the government has banned domestic and international flights as part of its latest lockdown.
Last week, Pawel Michalski, a climber from Poland, wrote on Facebook that more than 30 people who had difficulty breathing had been airlifted by helicopter to Kathmandu — and “later found to be positive for coronavirus.”
Residents in Kathmandu say they have been deprived of basic health facilities even after they tested positive for the virus. Hospitals are filled with patients. Strict lockdown rules have kept the general public confined indoors. As the vaccine campaign slows, many residents wonder when, or even if, they will be inoculated.
The Nepalese Health Ministry warned last week that “hospitals have run out of beds,” but the authorities have said they would not cancel expeditions.
Rudra Singh Tamang, the tourism department’s director general, said that elite Sherpas this week would finish installing a rope to help climbers reach the Everest summit.
“Expeditions won’t be canceled,” said Mr. Tamang, who has tested positive for the virus and is self-isolating. “Everest is an isolated area, so there’s no risk of coronavirus.”
India’s delegation to a meeting of Group of 7 foreign ministers in London was self-isolating on Wednesday after possible exposure to confirmed coronavirus cases, the country’s foreign minister said.
The event, intended to lay the groundwork for a gathering of Group of 7 leaders in June in England, had been heralded as the first major in-person diplomatic meeting since the pandemic began. It comes as India is experiencing a devastating surge in coronavirus cases.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, India’s foreign minister, who is in Britain for the event, said in a post on Twitter on Wednesday morning that he had learned of a possible exposure to a coronavirus case and decided to take part virtually.
Was made aware yesterday evening of exposure to possible Covid positive cases. As a measure of abundant caution and also out of consideration for others, I decided to conduct my engagements in the virtual mode. That will be the case with the G7 Meeting today as well.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) May 5, 2021
Foreign ministers from the Group of 7 countries — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada — also known as G7, met in London this week alongside representatives from Australia, India, South Africa, South Korea and Brunei. It is the first face-to-face G7 meeting in two years; a 2020 summit was canceled amid the pandemic.
Stringent masking, social distancing and daily testing protocols have been in place throughout the event, which began on Monday and continued on Wednesday despite the newly identified cases. Footage showed officials in a wide circle, separated by clear plastic barriers, on Tuesday.
The Indian delegation had yet to attend central events at Lancaster House but did participate in other meetings, including with Priti Patel, Britain’s home secretary. However, public health officials have determined that the risk to those in the meetings is low because of the mask and distance measures, and other delegates have not been advised to self-isolate.
Members of the global Indian diaspora, nearly 17 million, have mobilized from afar to help back home, where the Indian health system is buckling under the weight of a devastating coronavirus wave. Here is one U.S. resident’s story.
One evening in late April, as the coronavirus was surging in India, Prarthana Sannamani, a Microsoft software engineer in Seattle, was growing increasingly worried about her parents, who live near the southern Indian city of Bangalore.
“Gosh, I’m so far away. What if my family gets sick and needs help?” she recalled thinking.
Ms. Sannamani, who is in her 20s and has lived in the United States for four years, began scouring the internet and compiling a document with phone numbers for ambulances and hospitals for her parents, in case they fell ill.
“But the list kept growing because I just started finding so much information, and then I thought, hey, I really want this to reach more people,” she said.
Ms. Sannamani planned to share the list on Twitter, until she realized that only a small fraction of India’s 1.3 billion people used the social network, she said. One night, she came up with the idea of building a website. By the time she went to bed six hours later, at 4 a.m., Ms. Sannamani had created covidresourcesindia.com, with contact information for hospitals and emergency services in Bangalore.
The next morning, she shared the website with her co-workers and asked her social media followers to contribute information. But, feeling that she needed to do more, Ms. Sannamani took the day off from work and spent the next 14 hours tracking down additional resources. She has since expanded the site to include emergency help lines and databases of available hospital beds, oxygen, medical treatments and other Covid-19 assistance in 12 cities and nine regions across India.
“The purpose is when something happens, you’re not in that mental state to go to Google and do that research,” Ms. Sannamani said. “What you really need is one place to go and at least have something to start with. India is just such a huge country, so those specific resources help save a lot of time if you know where to look.”
In much of the developed world, vaccine orders are soaring into the billions of doses, coronavirus cases are easing and economies are poised to roar back to life. In many less developed nations, though, the virus is raging on, while vaccinations are far too slow to protect even the most vulnerable.
The problems go well beyond the availability of vaccines to deep-seated logistical problems and vaccine hesitancy.
The stuttering global rollout is having calamitous consequences. Unvaccinated nations are being walloped by the virus. New variants could emerge in reservoirs of untamed infections, prolonging the pandemic for rich and poor nations alike. The global economy stands to suffer trillions of dollars in losses.
Western nations have promised vaccines to the developing world. But these “donations” are a drop in the bucket, and have in some cases been haphazardly planned.
And even as richer nations inoculate their own citizens, they might start saving vaccine-making capacity for booster shots to deploy against new variants, another blow to countries bereft of manufacturing bases.
The pandemic’s latest horror is that people around the world are dying for lack of access to medical oxygen, especially in India. Each day, tens of thousands of people are admitted to hospitals with Covid-19, driving the demand for the oxygen far beyond the supply.
The World Health Organization said in February that $1.6 billion would be needed to remedy the oxygen shortage for a year; now that estimate is up to $6.5 billion.
The crisis should not have come as a surprise. But in a year when policymakers lurched from one challenge to another — shortages of protective equipment, lockdowns, the threat of economic collapse, remote schooling, therapeutics, vaccines — oxygen supply never rose to the top of the list.
In the last two months, the unmet global need for medical oxygen has more than tripled, from less than 9 million cubic meters a day to more than 28 million, according to a coalition of aid groups that are tracking the crisis.
About half of that unmet need is in India. And health advocates warn that the calamity there could be repeated in other countries.
In early 2020, dozens of scientific teams scrambled to make a vaccine for Covid-19. Some chose tried-and-true techniques, such as making vaccines from killed viruses. But a handful of companies bet on a riskier method, one that had never produced a licensed vaccine: deploying a genetic molecule called RNA.
The bet paid off. The first two vaccines to emerge successfully out of clinical trials, made by Pfizer-BioNTech and by Moderna, were both made of RNA. They both turned out to have efficacy rates about as good as a vaccine could get.
In the months that followed, those two RNA vaccines have provided protection to tens of millions of people in some 90 countries. But many parts of the world, including those with climbing death tolls, have had little access to them, in part because they require being kept in a deep freeze.
Now, a third RNA vaccine may help meet that global need. A small German company called CureVac is on the cusp of announcing the results of its late-stage clinical trial. As early as next week, the world may learn whether its vaccine is safe and effective.
CureVac’s product belongs to what many scientists refer to as the second wave of Covid-19 vaccines that could collectively ease the world’s demand. Novavax, a company based in Maryland whose vaccine uses coronavirus proteins, is expected to apply for U.S. authorization in the next few weeks. In India, the pharmaceutical company Biological E is testing another protein-based vaccine that was developed by researchers in Texas. In Brazil, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam, researchers are starting trials for a Covid-19 shot that can be mass-produced in chicken eggs.
Vaccines experts are particularly curious to see CureVac’s results, because its shot has an important advantage over the other RNA vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. While those two vaccines have to be kept in a deep freezer, CureVac’s vaccine stays stable in a refrigerator — meaning it could more easily deliver the newly discovered power of RNA vaccines to hard-hit parts of the world.
“It’s gone largely under the radar,” said Jacob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, D.C. But now, he added, “they look pretty well positioned to clean up the global market.”
What’s the best way to persuade the millions of Americans to get their shots?
Reassuring public service announcements about the coronavirus vaccine’s safety and effectiveness have proliferated. But increasingly, people are realizing that it will take more than just information to sway the hesitant.
In recent randomized survey experiments by the U.C.L.A. Covid-19 Health and Politics Project, two seemingly strong incentives have emerged.
Roughly a third of the unvaccinated population said a cash payment would make them more likely to get a shot. This suggests that some governors may be on the right track; West Virginia’s governor, Jim Justice, for example, recently announced the state would give young people $100 bonds if they got an inoculation.
Similar increases in vaccine willingness emerged for those who were asked how they would feel if a shot meant they wouldn’t need to wear a mask or maintain social distance, compared with a group that was told they would still have to.
Canada’s regulatory agency gave authorization on Wednesday for the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to be used in people as young as 12. The agency said it lowered the minimum age from 16 following a review of data from clinical trials in the United States involving 2,000 adolescents.
Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at the agency, Health Canada, said that the step should make it possible for students aged 12 to 15 to return to classrooms safely and to restart extracurricular activities.
“It will also support the return to a more normal life for our children, who have had such a hard time over the past year,” Dr. Sharma told reporters at a news conference.
The United States Food and Drug Administration is expected to make a similar announcement in the next few days.
Dr. Sharma said that about 20 percent of Covid-19 cases reported in Canada are in people under the age of 19. A small number of adolescents as young as 13 have died of the disease in Canada.
It remains unclear whether most adolescents in Canada will actually start receiving shots soon. On Wednesday, Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta, said that 12- to 29-year-olds will be allowed to book vaccination appointments starting on Monday. No details were offered about when those inoculations would take place.
Canada relies entirely on imported vaccine supplies, which have been slow to arrive, though shipments have increased recently and the process is expected to accelerate over the next few weeks. Most provinces are still concentrating on giving the most vulnerable segment of the population, older adults, their first shots of the two-dose vaccine, with the second to be administered in the summer. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has set the end of September as a target for fully vaccinating all Canadians.
In other news around the world:
Hong Kong said that regular flights from Britain would resume beginning on Friday, allowing hundreds of residents stranded there since December to return home. Hong Kong had imposed the flight ban as coronavirus cases surged in Britain late last year but said it was lifting the restrictions “having considered the stabilizing local epidemic situation and the relatively satisfactory vaccination rate.” A restriction on travel from Ireland, which was imposed in January, will also be lifted Friday. Only Hong Kong residents are allowed to travel to the territory, with arrivals from Britain and Ireland required to undergo coronavirus testing and 21 days of quarantine.
In Britain, more than one in five adults experienced some form of depression in the first months of this year during a strict lockdown, according to a national agency. The Office of National Statistics said on Wednesday that the figures were more than double the number of adults who experienced depression before the pandemic, which was 10 percent. Young adults, women, those in deprived areas, people with disabilities and the clinically vulnerable experienced higher rates of depression. “The picture is one of a rising toll on mental health, with many people not necessarily accessing medical help,” Theodore Joloza, a research officer at the agency, said in a statement.
A total of 186,200 restaurants, bars and other eligible businesses applied for help from a new $28.6 billion federal aid program in the first two days it was accepting applications, President Biden said Wednesday, indicating huge demand from a struggling industry for limited relief funds.
The Restaurant Revitalization Fund was created by Congress as part of the $1.9 trillion relief bill passed in March. Business owners who were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic can apply for grants of up to $10 million.
The return of the dining industry will be a major test of Mr. Biden’s goal of getting back to normal, both for 2.3 million people whose restaurant jobs disappeared during the pandemic and for vaccinated Americans eager to go out and socialize again.
Promoting the new fund, Mr. Biden said on Wednesday that restaurants were “woven into the fabric of our communities” and described the industry as one of the best paths for many people to achieve the American dream.
“One in three Americans, a restaurant provided their first job,” Mr. Biden said. “More than half of all Americans have worked in a restaurant at some point in their lives.”
For the first 21 days, the Small Business Administration will only approve claims from businesses that are majority-owned by women, veterans or individuals who qualify as both socially and economically disadvantaged.
The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said Wednesday that 97,600 of the applications received in the program’s first two days had come from businesses owned by people who fell into those categories.
“We look forward to implementing that program,” Ms. Psaki said, emphasizing the high demand for the relief funds. But it’s not clear that high demand is necessarily a good thing for a program that has limited funding and will have to turn many needy businesses away.
“We know that the $28.6 billion is not enough to meet the demand,” Isabella Casillas Guzman, the small business administrator, said last week. “However, we need to demonstrate that demand, and we need to encourage everyone to apply and access this fund as much as possible and demonstrate what remaining need is out there.”
Ms. Psaki said the administration would be open to seeking more funding from Congress in the future. Mr. Biden said the high demand should prove to skeptics that the program was badly needed.
Before his own remarks at the White House, Mr. Biden purchased tacos and enchiladas from Taqueria Las Gemelas, a Mexican restaurant in Washington that Ms. Psaki said was a beneficiary of the relief fund’s pilot program. The restaurant went from 55 employees before the pandemic to just seven, Mr. Biden said.
The program has yet to distribute any funds outside of the limited pilot.