Tuesday, June 29, 2021
“Bangladesh and Malaysia are among the countries scrambling to contain outbreaks as slow vaccination campaigns leave people vulnerable. The W.H.O. is recommending that fully vaccinated people wear masks, in a split with the C.D.C.
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
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. “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.
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.
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 a city whose cultural soul had been closed for more than a year, with boarded-up windows and empty streets, Bruce Springsteen called it back to life on Saturday night. His gruff and guttural rasp was the first to echo across a Broadway stage to a paying audience in 471 days.
Of course, “Springsteen on Broadway” is no traditional Broadway production. The show consists of a man alone onstage. His ensemble: a microphone, a harmonica, a piano and six steel strings stretched across a select slab of spruce wood.
“I am here tonight to provide proof of life,” Springsteen called out early on. It was a line from the monologue of his original show — which ran for 236 performances, in 2017 and 2018 — and now it carried extra weight. That proof, he continued, was “to that ever elusive, never completely believable, particularly these days, us.”
For the “us” that packed inside the St. James Theater — 1,721 filled seats, very few masked people, all vaccinated — that first chord from “Growin’ Up” was indeed proof that the rhythms that moved New York City were emerging from behind a heavy, dark and weighty curtain.
The 15 months that Broadway had been closed were its longest silence in history. In years past, strikes, hurricanes, blizzards and blackouts had managed to tamp down the lights on Broadway only for a few days, weeks or a month.
But the pandemic forced the Theater District into an extensive darkness on March 12 of last year, as New York became the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States.
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.“
Monday, June 28, 2021
The judge, James E. Boasberg, said that the Federal Trade Commission’s complaint lacked facts, and that the agency needed to refile it within 30 days.
WASHINGTON — In a stunning setback to regulators’ efforts to break up Facebook, a federal judge on Monday threw out antitrust lawsuits brought against the company by the Federal Trade Commission and more than 40 states.
The judge, James E. Boasberg for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, said the case from the states needed to be dismissed because too much time had elapsed since the alleged offenses took place. The states, led by Letitia James, the New York attorney general, accused Facebook in December of buying up nascent competitors like Instagram and WhatsApp — deals made in 2012 and 2014 — to cement its monopoly over social networking.
In a separate, 53-page opinion, he said the complaint by the Federal Trade Commission, also filed in December, failed to provide enough facts to back its claims that Facebook had a monopoly over personal social networking.
The judge said that the F.T.C. had 30 days to refile its complaint.
“This really stings,” said William E. Kovacich, a former chairman of the agency. “This is a reminder to those who have wanted a dramatic, sweeping litigation campaign to take on Big Tech that there’s nothing easy about it, because the courts have a different view of the antitrust system.”
Representatives for the F.T.C. and the New York attorney general did not immediately have comments.
Christopher Sgro, a spokesman for Facebook, said: “We are pleased that today’s decisions recognize the defects in the government complaints filed against Facebook. We compete fairly every day to earn people’s time and attention and will continue to deliver great products for the people and businesses that use our services.”
The news pushed Facebook’s stock up 4.2 percent, and the company passed $1 trillion in market capitalization, a first for the social network and one of only half a dozen companies to reach such a valuation.
The decision was a major blow to bipartisan attempts in Washington to rein in Big Tech. President Biden has installed critics of the technology giants in key regulatory roles, including Lina Khan as chair of the F.T.C., and he is expected to issue broad mandates this week for federal agencies to address corporate concentration across the economy. Ms. Khan’s first major task as chair will be to rewrite the lawsuit to address the judge’s criticisms.
In Congress, legislators pointed to the decisions as proof that century-old antitrust laws needed updating for the internet sector. Courts have narrowed interpretations of antitrust laws over the years, making government cases difficult to win. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee advanced six bills that would overhaul antitrust laws, with the goal of loosening the grips that Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google have over wide swaths of the economy.
“Today’s development in the F.T.C.’s case against Facebook shows that antitrust reform is urgently needed,” said Representative Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado and a co-sponsor of the antitrust bills. “Congress needs to provide additional tools and resources to our antitrust enforcers to go after Big Tech companies engaging in anticompetitive conduct.”
Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, a critic of Big Tech, said on Twitterthat the court had acknowledged Facebook’s “massive market power but essentially shrugged its shoulders.”
The decision was also a disappointment for the growing cohort of activists who have pushed regulators to move to break up the biggest tech companies. Sarah Miller, the executive director of the antitrust think tank the American Economic Liberties Project, said she hoped the states would appeal the dismissal and the F.T.C. would file its case again. But she said the judge’s ruling underscored the need for Congress to update the laws that police market concentration.
“The courts are going to need, ideally, some congressional guidance here, given that they have some outsized role in determining the outcomes of antitrust cases,” she said. “Sometimes losses can be good because it can just reinforce that necessity, and we’re hoping that this will serve to do that.”