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The coronavirus is now spreading faster in Manitoba than in any other province or state in Canada, the United States or Mexico, with Indigenous people and people of color hit disproportionately hard.
Figures released on Wednesday show that over the last two weeks, the prairie province in the middle of Canada reported an average of 35 new cases a day per 100,000 population. Canada as a whole is averaging about 10 a day per 100,000; the United States, 7 per 100,000; and Mexico, 2 per 100,000. The next highest states or provinces are Alberta at 16 and Colorado at 15.
Dr. Marcia Anderson, the public health lead of the Manitoba First Nation Pandemic Response Coordination Team, told reporters on Wednesday that from the beginning of the month until May 19, Indigenous people and other nonwhite people accounted for 61 percent of cases in Manitoba, even though they make up 37 percent of the province’s population.
People of Southeast Asian descent are the most disproportionately affected, with a rate of 146 per 1,000 people, 13 times the rate among white people.
The surge in Covid-19 cases has overwhelmed intensive care units in Manitoba’s hospitals, forcing some patients to be evacuated by air to other provinces. Eighteen patients have been flown to neighboring Ontario, including some to Ottawa, about 1,000 miles away. Saskatchewan, the province to the west, was expected to receive an evacuated patient from Manitoba on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, a group of doctors called on the province to follow the lead of Ontario and others by introducing a stay-at-home order and closing nonessential businesses. Those steps have allowed other provinces to rein in their most recent waves of infections.
Stores in Manitoba have been limited to 10 percent of capacity, and gyms and hair salons have been closed for several weeks. On Tuesday, the province’s premier, Brian Pallister, extended limits on outdoor gatherings that were put in place for last weekend; they now last until the end of this week.
Mr. Pallister suggested on Tuesday that the worsening situation in the province was being caused not by too few restrictions but rather by people failing to comply with restrictions already in place.
“I don’t have a lot of sympathy left for people who disobey public health orders knowingly and willingly,” he said.
After the state of Ohio announced with great fanfare that residents who got at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine would be eligible to win a hefty $1 million, Jack Pepper saw something remarkable happen at his sleepy rural vaccination clinic.
For the first time in a while, there was a line at the door. Officials, who had been strategizing about how they might give away extra doses, were suddenly operating at full capacity.
“I think we did close to 400 people in four hours,” said Mr. Pepper, the administrator for the health department in Athens County, home to about 65,000 people in southeastern Ohio. “Anywhere I go, people are joking with me, ‘Hey, when am I going to win my million dollars?’”
Anticipation approached a peak as the Ohio lottery campaign — deemed “Vax-a-Million” (including a cheeky bandage on the X) — announced its first winner on television on Wednesday night. Abbigail Bugenske of Silverton, Ohio, near Cincinnati, won the initial $1 million prize.
It was among the first of several chances for Americans to win big money — if they have been vaccinated.
Colorado announced its own $1 million vaccine lottery this week, and Oregon is offering a $1 million jackpot, in addition to $10,000 prizes. Elsewhere, state and local officials are getting creative with simple approaches (free beer in Erie County, N.Y.) and fancy ones (dinner with the governor of New Jersey, anyone?).
In today’s edition of the Morning newsletter, David Leonhardt offers a guide to the newly revived debate over the idea that the coronavirus accidentally leaked from a Chinese laboratory. He writes:
What are the basics?
The origin of the virus remains unclear. Many scientists have long believed that the most likely explanation is that it jumped from an animal to a person, possibly at a food market in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Animal-to human transmission — known as zoonotic spillover — is a common origin story for viruses, including Ebola and some bird flus.
But some scientists have pointed to another possibility: that it escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. As in other laboratories, researchers there sometimes modify viruses to understand and treat them.
The subject is gaining attention because some scientists who were once skeptical of the laboratory theory have expressed new openness to it.
Two weeks ago, 18 scientists wrote a letter to the journal Science calling for a new investigation and describing both the animal-to-human theory and the lab-leak theory as “viable.” And three scientists who last year dismissed the lab-leak explanation as a conspiracy theory have told The Wall Street Journal that they now consider it plausible.
Among the reasons: Chinese officials have refused to allow an independent investigation into the lab and have failed to explain some inconsistencies in the animal-to-human hypothesis. Most of the first confirmed cases had no evident link to the food market.
In some ways, not much has changed. From the beginning, the virus’s origin has been unclear. All along, some scientists, politicians and journalists have argued that the lab-leak theory deserves consideration.
But these voices were in the minority. The World Health Organization initially dismissed the lab-leak theory as implausible.
Why all the dismissals?
It appears to be a classic example of groupthink, exacerbated by partisan polarization.
Global health officials seemed unwilling to confront Chinese officials, who insist the virus jumped from an animal to a person.
In the U.S., one of the theory’s earliest advocates was Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas who often criticizes China — and who has a history of promoting falsehoods (like election fraud that didn’t happen). In this case, though, Cotton was making an argument with plausible supporting evidence.
The news media’s coverage of his argument was flawed, Matthew Yglesias of Substack has written. Some coverage exaggerated Mr. Cotton’s comments to suggest that he was claiming that China had deliberately released the virus as a biological weapon. (Mr. Cotton called that “very unlikely.”) And some scientists and others also seem to have decided that if Mr. Cotton believed something — and Fox News and Donald Trump echoed it — the idea had to be wrong.
The result, as Mr. Yglesias called it, was a bubble of fake consensus. Scientists who thought a lab leak was plausible received little attention. Scientists who thought the theory was wacky received widespread attention. It’s a good reminder: The world is a complicated place, where almost nobody is always right or always wrong.
Why does it matter?
The virus’s origin does not affect many parts of the fight against Covid. The best mitigation strategies — travel restrictions, testing, contact tracing, social distancing, ventilation and masking — are still the best mitigation strategies.
But there are at least three concrete ways, in addition to the inherent value of truth, in which the origin matters.
First, if the virus really did come from a lab, an immediate airing of the details might have led to even faster vaccine development and more effective treatments. Second, a leak that caused millions of deaths could lead to widespread change in laboratories’ safety precautions. Third, confirmation of a leak would affect the world’s view of China — and would put pressure on the country to bear the burden of vaccinating the world as quickly as possible.
So what’s the truth?
We don’t know. Both animal-to-human transmission and the lab leak appear plausible. And the obfuscation by Chinese officials means we may never know.
The state of Victoria, Australia, announced a seven-day lockdown beginning Thursday night to stem a coronavirus outbreak in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, the country’s second-most populous city, after Sydney.
After nearly three months without a new infection, state health officials have detected 26 cases in the Melbourne-area cluster. The outbreak is believed to have begun when a man became infected while serving a 14-day hotel quarantine in the city of Adelaide, then traveled to Melbourne, where he tested positive for the virus.
The authorities said that more than 10,000 primary and secondary contacts had been identified, as they rushed to trace contacts at dozens of sites where people may have been exposed. Officials said that the virus circulating in the Melbourne area was the variant first detected in India.
“In the last day, we’ve seen more evidence that we’re dealing with a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern which is running faster than we have ever recorded,” James Merlino, the acting premier of Victoria, told reporters on Thursday morning.
Australia has all but eliminated community transmission of the virus, but several smaller outbreaks this year have led cities and states to impose temporary lockdowns. Mr. Merlino said that this outbreak, one of the largest in recent months, was partly the result of a sluggish vaccination campaign that has left a large proportion of Australians exposed to new strains of the virus. Less than 2 percent of Australia’s 25 million people have been fully inoculated.
“If more people were vaccinated we might be facing a very different set of circumstances,” he said. “That is a fact.”
Others criticized the Australian government for failing to implement an effective quarantine system and relying on hotels to house incoming travelers.
In a report released this week, the authorities said that the man first diagnosed in Melbourne most likely contracted the virus after he and another infected guest opened their hotel room doors within minutes of each other, allowing the virus to spread by aerosol transmission between their rooms.
“This is the 17th outbreak from hotel quarantine in just the last six months,” Mark Butler, the opposition health minister, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday. “We’re dealing with these outbreaks almost every week or two at the moment.”
Mr. Butler said that Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, had failed to heed the advice of experts who called for the government to set up dedicated quarantine facilities “to take the pressure off hotels that were built for tourism.”
Last year, after an infection in a quarantine hotel led to an outbreak in the state, Melbourne’s five million residents endured one of the longest lockdowns in the world, lasting 111 days.
Under the new lockdown, Victorians are restricted from leaving their homes except to shop, work, exercise, care for others or get vaccinated.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr. Morrison warned that the lockdown was a grave reminder of how rapidly the virus could resurge.
“There are no certainties, there are no guarantees, in a global pandemic, and against a virus, an insidious virus such as this,” he said.
When Apple and Google collaborated last year on a smartphone-based system to track the spread of the coronavirus, the news was seen as a game changer. The software uses Bluetooth signals to detect app users who come into close contact. If a user later tests positive, the person can anonymously notify other app users whom the person may have crossed paths with in restaurants, on trains or elsewhere.
Soon countries around the world and some two dozen American states introduced virus apps based on the Apple-Google software. To date, the apps have been downloaded more than 90 million times, according to an analysis by Sensor Tower, an app research firm. Public health officials say the apps have provided modest but important benefits.
But Natasha Singer of The New York Times reports that some researchers say the two companies’ product and policy choices have limited the system’s usefulness, raising questions about the power of Big Tech to set global standards for public health tools.
Computer scientists have reported accuracy problems with the Bluetooth technology. Some of the app users have complained of failed notifications, and there has been little rigorous research on whether the apps’ potential to accurately alert people of virus exposures outweighs potential drawbacks — like falsely warning unexposed people or failing to detect users exposed to the virus.
“It is still an open question whether or not these apps are assisting in real contact tracing, are simply a distraction, or whether they might even cause problems,” Stephen Farrell and Doug Leith, computer science researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, wrote in a report in April on Ireland’s virus alert app.
The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized a monoclonal antibody drug developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir as the third treatment of its kind cleared to help keep high-risk Covid patients out of the hospital.
In laboratory tests the newly authorized drug, known as sotrovimab, has been able to neutralize the virus variants first identified in Britain, South Africa, Brazil, California, New York and India. The U.S. federal government, which has so far purchased the other antibody treatments given to Covid patients in the country, has not announced any plans to purchase the new drug.
GSK has been in conversations with the U.S. government and is “working through existing commercial channels to make sotrovimab available to patients and health systems in need,” Kathleen Quinn, a company spokeswoman, said.
The company said in a news release that it expected the drug to become available in the U.S. “in the coming weeks.”
The new treatment may offer an advantage as concerns rise about new virus variants that may evade some antibody drugs.
The federal government has paused shipments of one antibody treatment on the market, a cocktail of two drugs from Eli Lilly, to eight states because of the high prevalence there of the variants first seen in South Africa and Brazil. Lab experiments suggest that those variants can resist Lilly’s treatment. (The other available antibody treatment, a cocktail of two drugs from Regeneron, appears to neutralize the array of variants, based on lab tests.)
GSK and Vir’s treatment is a single drug, designed to mimic the antibodies generated naturally when the immune system fights off the coronavirus, like those detectable after someone infected with it recovers. Its authorization was based on a study of 583 volunteers who had started experiencing symptoms within the previous five days. The study found that those who got the GSK-Vir treatment showed an 85 percent reduction in their risk of hospitalization or death, compared with those who got a placebo.
Even as vaccination numbers rise and infection rates fall in the United States, the antibody treatments are likely to remain an important tool for preventing bad outcomes in high-risk patients, doctors say. Thousands of people in the United States are still testing positive, and hundreds dying, each day.
Last week the F.D.A. broadened the criteria that doctors can use to determine eligibility for the treatment, opening the door for more young people with certain medical conditions like hypertension and members of racial or ethnic groups considered to be at higher risk than others for bad medical outcomes.
“Ultimately, it gives prescribers a lot of latitude in what they can give this for,” said Dr. Walid F. Gellad, who directs the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at the University of Pittsburgh.
But the drugs from Lilly and Regeneron have not been used as widely as expected for a range of reasons, according to public health experts.
The antibody drugs are all cumbersome to administer. Patients often don’t know to ask for them or where to find them. And many doctors were skeptical of the evidence supporting the treatments when they first became available last November, though that has changed as more clinical trials have reported impressive results.
“There’s still a role for these,” Dr. Gellad said. “The problem is just people aren’t getting them who could benefit from them, and having another one on the market doesn’t necessarily solve that.”
GSK and Vir’s treatment, like the other antibody drugs, must be administered via intravenous infusion by a health care provider, which will make it harder to access. The drug makers are testing a formulation injected intramuscularly, like a vaccine, but that is not expected to be available soon.
The fiery Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab, who returned to Indonesia last year from self-imposed exile pledging to lead a “moral revolution,” was sentenced to eight months in prison on Thursday for inciting people to attend mass gatherings in violation of coronavirus protocols.
A three-judge panel in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, found Mr. Rizieq guilty of attracting thousands of followers to two large events after he returned in November from Saudi Arabia, where he had fled in 2017 to avoid a pornography charge. That charge was later dropped but could be reinstated.
On his arrival in Indonesia, Mr. Rizieq, 55, was welcomed as a returning hero by his followers. Many thousands of people thronged Jakarta’s international airport to receive him. Soon after, he attracted thousands more to his daughter’s wedding and an event straight after where he preached about his vision of Islamic law for Indonesia.
Mr. Rizieq, the leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, a prominent Islamic group known for its extremism, has been branded “a thug” by his critics. But his ability to attract crowds and his radical message could pose a political threat to Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo.
Mr. Rizieq, who claims to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, could be freed from prison relatively soon, since he has already served nearly six months while awaiting trial and may be eligible for a reduced sentence for good behavior.
Things turned sour for Mr. Rizieq within weeks of his return from Saudi Arabia. The police accused him of violating limits on public gatherings by inviting people to attend the wedding and preaching event in Jakarta and by attracting followers to the breaking of ground for a mosque in the nearby city of Bogor.
Soon after, six of his followers were shot and killed by undercover officers who had been trailing them. The police said that the men had attacked the officers, who fired in self-defense. The Islamic Defenders Front said that the men were bodyguards for Mr. Rizieq.
On Dec. 12, 32 days after he returned to Indonesia, Mr. Rizieq surrendered to the police on the coronavirus protocol charges. By the end of the month, the government had outlawed the Islamic Defenders Front, which he co-founded in 1998.
On Thursday, 2,300 police officers and soldiers were deployed around the courthouse to provide security.
In their ruling, the judges concluded that Mr. Rizieq had incited about 3,000 people to attend the Bogor mosque event and about 5,000 people to attend the Jakarta gathering, which included his daughter’s wedding and a religious celebration where he preached.
The judges sentenced him to eight months in prison for the wedding-day gathering, which they found was linked to a surge in coronavirus cases, and ordered him to pay a $1,400 fine for the mosque groundbreaking.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth-most populous country, with about 275 million people, has reported almost 1.8 million coronavirus cases and nearly 50,000 deaths, more than any other Southeast Asian country.
The Hong Kong police, citing the continuing threat of the coronavirus, rejected a request to hold a march and candlelight vigil to remember those killed in the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen protest, event organizers said on Thursday.
Pro-democracy activists said that they believe the authorities used the pandemic as a pretext to block the politically sensitive events, scheduled for May 30 and June 4, which are the only large-scale Tiananmen memorial observances held on Chinese soil. The organizers said that they would appeal the decision.
The police also blocked the march and vigil last year because of the pandemic. Thousands of people gathered anyway at Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island. Four activists, including Joshua Wong, were given prison sentences ranging from four months to 10 months for participating in the unauthorized assembly. Another 20 people are scheduled to appear in court on related charges next month.
Hong Kong has kept coronavirus cases relatively low, with just 24 infections reported over the past two weeks in the city of 7.5 million people. Public events including Art Basel and professional soccer matches have recently been held with some restrictions, such as reduced capacities, contact registration and required use of face masks.
Belgium said on Wednesday that it would pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson shots for people under 41 over clotting concerns after the death of a woman who received the vaccine.
The woman was under 40 and was admitted to the hospital with “severe” clotting and blood platelet deficiency, a statement from a group of regional health authorities said. She died on Friday and had been vaccinated by her employer outside of the country, the statement said.
Supplies of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been limited in Belgium, the group noted, adding that 80 percent of the doses administered there had been to people over 45 years old.
The group said that the short-term impact of the pause would be “very limited” because it plans to use an uptick in the supply of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines next month to vaccinate 18- to 40-year-olds.
The Johnson & Johnson shot’s single dose gives it a “significant advantage” for vaccinating older people at home and for vulnerable groups like the homeless, the group said, adding that it was awaiting a “more detailed benefit-risk analysis” by the European Medicines Agency.
The United States briefly halted the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April, citing the risk of blood clots. After ending the pause, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration added a notice on the vaccine’s label saying that most of those who developed the rare clots were women between the ages of 18 and 49, and that the “chance of having this occur is remote.”
In other news from around the world:
In more than seven hours of testimony before Parliament, Dominic Cummings, the former top aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, described a government paralyzed by chaos, confusion and incompetence, which he said crippled Britain’s handling of the pandemic and contributed to tens of thousands of needless deaths. Mr. Johnson flatly rejected several of the assertions.
Lawyers representing the European Union said that they would seek penalties from AstraZeneca that could run into billions of euros if the pharmaceutical company fails to deliver tens of millions of vaccine doses that it is contractually required to supply.
South Korea will no longer require masks outdoors come July for people who have had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, Reuters reported.
Amid a spike in infections, the Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives enacted a curfew from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., allowing people to leave their homes during the day only for essential supplies.
From the magazine
In this week’s Ethicist column in The New York Times Magazine, Kwame Anthony Appiah answered readers’ questions about dealing with people who have differing views on vaccination against Covid-19.
Here is one example of the queries, with the response, edited and condensed for clarity, below:
Recently, I asked my chiropractor if he had received his Covid vaccine. He said no. He and his assistant do wear masks, but they see patients in a small room with a closed door. When I asked him again several weeks later, he said: “Well, we have to talk. I am not going to get the vaccination. I don’t believe in vaccinations. My family and I are all healthy and see no need for it.”
The chiropractor later called and asked me if I would please respect his privacy and not tell anyone else about his decision not to be vaccinated. I was appalled. Isn’t this an unethical request? — Name Withheld
A number of questions have recently have recently arisen about how to negotiate a social and professional world in which vaccination against Covid-19 is both common and contested.
Many people think that getting vaccinated is simply about protecting yourself. Yet there’s also a public-spirited, altruistic reason for getting vaccinated: There’s now bountiful evidence that vaccinated people are much less likely to transmit the virus to others.
Moving from the chiropractor’s ethics to yours, I’d point out that he didn’t tell you about his decision in confidence, which means you don’t have a duty to respect a later request to stay mum. Why does your chiropractor want you to keep this to yourself?
Malaysia on Wednesday recorded nearly 7,500 coronavirus cases and 63 deaths, its highest tolls since the pandemic began, and has joined several other Southeast Asian nations in introducing new restrictions to curb a resurgence of infections.
With a population of nearly 33 million, Malaysia is now seeing more infections per capita than almost any country in Asia, with 21 cases per 100,000 people, according to a New York Times database.
Part of Malaysia’s surge appears to be the result of prayer gatherings this month around Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, despite restrictions. The health minister, Noor Hisham Abdullah, said on Wednesday that a dozen clusters with a total of 470 cases had emerged from prayer gatherings that were held 14 days earlier.
The Malaysian government imposed new restrictions that took effect on Tuesday, including shortening operating hours for businesses and requiring more people to work from home. Residents were encouraged to limit their social contacts and to stay at home as much as possible.
But the prime minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, stopped short of imposing as strict a lockdown as he did last year for fear of damaging the economy.
“We have learned over the last year, we cannot close the economy,” he said in a televised interview on Sunday. “We have to balance life and livelihoods.”
Malaysia is one of several countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand and Vietnam, that handled the pandemic well last year but now face their biggest outbreaks. In all of 2020, Malaysia reported 113,000 cases and 471 deaths. So far in 2021, the country has recorded more than four times as many cases and five times as many deaths.
As intensive care units at some hospitals were reported to be nearing capacity, Mr. Muhyiddin’s government has come under criticism for mishandling the surge in cases and for bungling its vaccine rollout after an online registration system crashed. About 5 percent of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to a New York Times database.
Mr. Muhyiddin acknowledged such criticism in the interview.
“They can call me ‘stupid prime minister,’ it’s OK,” he said. “I know how difficult it is to manage, but this is our joint responsibility.”
He encouraged people to take responsibility for their behavior and to protect themselves from the virus.
“People ask me, ‘Why not impose a lockdown?’” he said. “I say, you do your own lockdown, a self-lockdown. Just stay at home to be safe and tell others to do the same.”
When the leader of the United Nations more than a year ago implored armed combatants to pause their fighting so the world could focus on battling the coronavirus, he warned that “the worst has yet to come” in the disease’s rampage, especially through conflict zones.
That forecast in April of 2020 by Secretary General António Guterres proved not only correct — it may also have been an understatement.
“In many countries, conflict has made it more difficult to control the spread of the virus and care for infected people,” Mark Lowcock, the top U.N. relief official, told the Security Council on Tuesday as it met to discuss the protection of civilians in armed conflicts.
Not only did the antagonists in the chronic conflicts of Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, eastern Ukraine and Yemen ignore the plea to put down their weapons, but new or renewed fights erupted — between Azerbaijan and Armenia last September, within Ethiopia in November, within Myanmar in February, and most recently between the Israeli military and Hamas in Gaza.
Many of these conflicts were a major contributor to the surge last year in the number of forcibly displaced people, which reached a total of at least 80 million, Mr. Lowcock said, while “insecurity, sanctions, counterterrorism measures and administrative hurdles hindered humanitarian operations.”
The 11-day war that was halted last week between the Israeli military and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, provided a textbook example of how the coronavirus could prosper in a conflict zone.
Gaza, a densely crowded coastal strip that is home to two million people, had already been suffering a severe outbreak of Covid-19 infections before the conflict erupted.
Then Israeli bombings destroyed Gaza’s only coronavirus testing facility and forced thousands of unvaccinated Gazans into U.N. schools that became bomb shelters, with no social distancing.
Matthias Schmale, the top U.N. Palestinian relief official in Gaza, said he feared those schools had become “mass spreaders,” which could deepen the disease’s grip on Gaza — weeks after the hostilities ceased.