latest news on when they could reopen



All primary and secondary schools have closed, after England moved into a third national lockdown.

The Prime Minister stated on Jan 4 that schools will need to offer remote learning until at least mid-February and GCSE and A-level exams face cancellation for a second year.

Gavin Williamson, however, has indicated that exams may go ahead in a reduced capacity. The Education Secretary has said he would “like to explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers”, in a letter to the chief exam regulator on Jan 13. 

Only vulnerable children and children of key workers are currently allowed to attend schools for face-to-face learning, and early years settings such as nurseries will remain accessible.

Boris Johnson said the new measures were necessary: “because we have to do everything we possibly can to stop the spread of the disease”.

However, Mr Johnson remains “very cautious” about the timetable, with restrictions being lifted as a “gradual unravelling”. 

Those entitled to free school meals will continue to receive them during closures, and more devices will be distributed to help remote learning, according to Mr Johnson.

The Government had insisted schools would remain open only a day before the new measures were announced, reassuring parents it was “safe” to send their children back for the start of term on January 4.

But the move prompted backlash from four national teaching unions, who called for the delay seen across London to apply to all schools in England amid concerns the new strain of Covid-19 poses a threat to teachers.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England has called for teachers to be vaccinated “as a priority”.

The Telegraph reported on January 9 that education experts warned that Britain needed to massively expand its army of tutors to stave off the long-term economic damage of Covid-19 from lost learning.

Read more: Tracking UK Covid vaccinations: Are we on target to end lockdown?

What are the rules for children of key workers and vulnerable children?

The Department for Education (DfE) said children with at least one parent or carer who was a critical worker could attend class – even if parents were working from home.

It came after concerns were raised about the risks of transmission of Covid-19 amid reports that more than half of pupils were onsite in some primary schools.

Matt Hancock said on Jan 11 that Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, will be sending out 500,000 laptops to vulnerable children to ensure they can access remote lessons.

The Prime Minister told MP’s that 560,000 laptops were distributed in 2020, but this still falls short of the 1.5m pupils that Ofcom estimates are without digital devices in their homes, on which they can learn.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Schools are open for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers. We expect schools to work with families to ensure all critical worker children are given access to a place if this is required.

“If critical workers can work from home and look after their children at the same time then they should do so, but otherwise this provision is in place to enable them to provide vital services.

The DfE also said that schools were expected to “strongly encourage” vulnerable children to attend class.

Vulnerable children could include “pupils who may have difficulty engaging with remote education at home” due to a lack of devices or a quiet space to study, according to the advice.

But Government guidance says parents who choose to keep children out of class will not be penalised.

What do Tiers mean for schools?

The new lockdown measures mean the entire country will be subject to the same tougher measures, including the closure of all schools. This means the tier system is not currently in place.

Every school had been instructed to draw up plans to ensure children continue to receive an education even if they have to stay at home.

Mr Johnson said on the announcement of closing schools: “I want to stress that the problem is not that schools are unsafe to children.

“The problem is that schools may nonetheless act as vectors for transmission, causing the virus to spread between households.”

Read more on the previous tier system: 

When will secondary schools reopen?

All schools will remain closed until mid-February, with the possibility that these measures could be extended further.

This means most secondary school pupils will stay at home until at least the February half-term. 

Are there any changes to exams?

Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, has indicated that GCSE, A-Level and AS exams may take place after all. 

Mr Williamson addressed this possibility in a letter to the chief exam regulator on Jan 13. This contradicts his announcement on on January 6 that exams would not take place this summer. 

Mr Williamson explained that the replacement would be a “form of teacher-assessed grades, with training and support provided to ensure these are awarded fairly and consistently across the country”.

However, the Education Secretary stated on Jan 13 that he would “like to explore the possibility of providing externally set tasks or papers”.

While teachers’ predicted grades will still be used, the exams may be necessary so that teachers can “draw on this resource to support their assessments of students”, he said.

Previously, Mr Williamson had told the Commons that, while exams are the fairest way of testing a student’s knowledge, the Covid pandemic means it is “not possible to have exams this year” and ministers will “put our trust in teachers rather than algorithms”. 

The Department for Education and Ofqual will launch a joint consultation on the plans later this week, and this will run for a fortnight.

How will testing in schools work?

The Government had previously set out a plan for every secondary school to test as many pupils and staff as possible when they reopened.

It is not yet clear if schools will still be required to mass test pupils after the latest school closures have ended.

The plans stated that 40,000 volunteers will have to be recruited by secondary schools to mass test their pupils, according to Government documents.



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Today’s coronavirus news: Northern Ontario schools reopen to in-class learning; WHO experts arriving in China to begin probe of virus origins; South Korea to vaccine its 52M people for free


KEY FACTS

  • 5:10 a.m. South Korea to vaccine its 52M people for free

  • 5:02 a.m. WHO experts arriving in China Thursday for virus origins probe

  • 4 a.m. Northern Ontario schools reopen to in-class learning as southern students stay home

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Monday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

5:16 a.m. The Japanese Health Ministry has found a coronavirus variant in people arriving from Brazil that’s different from the ones in Britain and South Africa.

The variant was found in four people tested at the airport, the ministry said Sunday. Japan was working with other nations, the World Health Organization and other medical experts to analyze the variant.

The previously identified variants from Britain and South Africa are more contagious, but the behaviour of this variant and the illness it causes are not yet known.

5:12 a.m. Authorities in northern France launched a weeklong mass testing program on Monday to assess the rate of coronavirus infections and the spread of a more contagious variant that first appeared in southern England in November.

In the city of Roubaix, health officials said they hope to test 10% of the population by Saturday. That represents 10,000 people.

Sequencing will be carried out on the positive samples to detect whether the variant is present.

France has been criticized for its slow vaccination program, having vaccinated only a fraction of some of its neighbours.

5:10 a.m. South Korea’s president says it’ll offer COVID-19 vaccinations to all its people free of charge in phases.

President Moon Jae-in made the comments in his New Year’s address on Monday. He has maintained an earlier government announcement that the inoculation will start from February.

South Korean officials have said they’ll have vaccines for 56 million people, an amount seemingly enough for the country’s 52 million people.

Who will get vaccinated first has not yet been decided but is likely to be people at long-term care centres and nurses and doctors.

After weeks of a resurgence, South Korea’s virus caseload has gradually slowed amid tough distancing rules that include a ban on social gatherings of five or more people. Earlier Monday, South Korea reported 451 new virus cases, the first time for its daily tally to come below 500 in 41 days. The country’s total stands at 69,114 with 1,140 deaths.

5:05 a.m. More than 80% of people in Japan who were surveyed in two polls in the last few days say the Tokyo Olympics should be cancelled or postponed, or say they believe the Olympics will not take place.

The polls were conducted by the Japanese news agency Kyodo and TBS — the Tokyo Broadcasting System.

The results are bad news for Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee as they continue to say the postponed Olympics will open on July 23.

Tokyo is battling a surge of COVID-19 cases that prompted the national government last week to call a state of emergency. In declaring the emergency, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he was confident the Olympics would be held.

5:02 a.m. Experts from the World Health Organization are due to arrive in China this week for a long-anticipated investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, the government said Monday.

The experts will arrive on Thursday and meet with Chinese counterparts, the National Health Commission said in a one-sentence statement that gave no other details.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the experts would be travelling to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first detected in late 2019.

Negotiations for the visit have long been underway. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed disappointment last week over delays, saying that members of the international scientific team departing from their home countries had already started on their trip as part of an arrangement between the WHO and the Chinese government.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China had approved the visit following consultations between the sides and called it an opportunity to “exchange views with Chinese scientists and medical experts on scientific co-operation on the tracing of the origin of the new coronavirus.”

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4:54 a.m. Alberta kids return to full-time in-person classes this week, but the back-to-school story is a bit more complicated in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced last week that lockdown restrictions imposed last month would continue until Jan. 21, but schools were an exception and would reopen Monday.

A full return to classes in Manitoba, however, won’t happen until Jan. 18, although in-person learning has been available as an option for children in kindergarten through Grade 6 as well as for older kids with special needs.

Students’ return to the classroom in Saskatchewan depends on the schedule of each school division.

Regina Public Schools kept elementary and high school students learning at home last week with the plan to resume in-person learning today.

Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools, meanwhile, already welcomed students back last week.

Monday 4 a.m. Elementary school students across northern Ontario can return to in-class learning this morning.

The northern portion of the province is allowed to return to school buildings as positivity rates for COVID-19 are relatively low.

The provincial government announced on Thursday that schools across southern Ontario, meanwhile, would not be returning to in-person classes today as planned.

Instead, students in southern Ontario will continue attending classes remotely until at least Jan. 25.

To account for the change, Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Saturday that the list of essential workers eligible for emergency child care would be expanded.

It now includes RCMP officers, custodial and clerical education workers and postal staff.

Sunday 9:30 p.m.: Now that COVID-19 vaccines have started arriving in Canada, where’s the national public awareness campaign around their safety and effectiveness?

It’s a question public health experts have been asking as vaccinations have begun for high-risk populations, with access for the general public likely to start in the spring.

“You always want to start this stuff sooner rather than later,” said Dr. Nitin Mohan, a physician epidemiologist and partner at ETIO Public Health Consultants, on the need for a public awareness campaign.

Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada told the Star that a “mass campaign” is planned for the spring, although a budget estimate hasn’t been finalized.

In the meantime, a campaign for winter 2021 budgeted at $4.5 million “will include regular updates on vaccine distribution and administration, as well as advertising, outreach and social media marketing to provide Canadians with vaccine information, including facts and expert answers, and to address misinformation,” the agencies said in a written statement.

Read the full story here.

Click here to read more COVID-19 coverage from Sunday.



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Victorians stuck in Queensland hopeful border will reopen if no more coronavirus cases are reported


Five-months pregnant Silvia Serra is one of many anxious Victorians stuck in Queensland who are crossing their fingers that no more coronavirus cases are reported from the Greater Brisbane area today.

Ms Serra, from South Melbourne, is in Port Douglas and isn’t allowed to fly home because she and her partner were in Brisbane on January 2 and 3.

The Victorian Government shut the border on Friday to anyone who had been in the hot spot since January 2.

The decision was made after a Brisbane quarantine hotel nurse tested positive to the more infectious UK strain of the virus and the Queensland Government imposed a three-day lockdown.

Since then, no more cases of community transmission have been reported and the Victorian health authorities said they would review the situation when the lockdown ends at 6:00pm today.

Needing to get back for medical appointments, including her important 22-week scan, Ms Serra said she was hopeful that another day of zero cases would be enough for the Victorian Government to let them back in.

“They’re kind of stuck in no man’s land, because they were like us just returning from family holidays or summer holidays. And now they don’t know where to stay and they have to wait.”

Victorian Government playing wait and see

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley yesterday said it was “reassuring” to see Queensland had not recorded any locally acquired coronavirus infections on Saturday or Sunday.

However, he said the state would “await further advice from our Queensland colleagues” before making any decision on the border.

COVID-19 testing commander Jeroen Weimar said they would also have “more to say in the coming days” about the thousands of people stuck in NSW who want to return to Victoria.

“I’m very grateful for the patience of people who are still waiting to come back to the state,” he said.

“We will look to bring you back as safely and as quickly as we possibly can.”

No more cases should see border closures lifted, says epidemiologist

Professor Catherine Bennett, chair in epidemiology at Deakin University, said the closure of Victoria’s border with NSW was a precaution in case the coronavirus had spread to regional areas of the state.

“I think the hotspot will still stay at hotspot for a while longer in terms of travel restrictions — so Greater Sydney and surrounding areas where the cases are,” she said.

“But with very few exposures in regional NSW, and no cases resulting locally from those exposures, I think they will be able to look favourably at opening up the borders up with NSW and maintaining some restrictions around hotspot travel.”

A woman with brown curly hair and glasses smiles at the camera.
Professor Catherine Bennett says the Victorian Government may ease border restrictions this week.(Supplied)

Professor Bennett said the Greater Brisbane area lockdown was intended to prevent any spread of the virus and buy time to identify and quarantine close contacts of the infected case.

If no more cases were found then she expected that the Commonwealth would decide the Greater Brisbane area no longer fit the definition of a hotspot.

“If that changes, then that should change the travel restrictions and so on,” she said.

However, she said that even if the Queensland Government decided to lift the lockdown some precautions — such as masks — may remain in place.

It also might take a little while for the travel restrictions to ease, she added.

“Tuesday would be good. Let’s hope.

“I think if people’s expectations are that they will stop the lockdown on Monday, and then everything will be back to normal … it just might work a little slower than that.”

‘You’ve just got to keep adjusting’

A CityCat crosses the Brisbane River underneath the Story Bridge
An unknown number of Victorians who visited the Brisbane area are stuck in Queensland until the border restrictions ease.(ABC News: Stephen Cavenagh)

Karen Walters, from the Glen Eira area in Melbourne, drove up by car to Brisbane with her husband and two children so has to wait for both the Queensland and NSW borders to reopen before they can go home.

Ms Walters said the family was also concerned that the Victorian Government might decide they needed to self-isolate for two weeks once they got back, which would impact on the children going back to school.

From Brisbane originally, the Walters family moved down to Melbourne just before Easter last year, in time for the lockdown there.

Ironically, they extended their Queensland holiday because they were concerned Melbourne’s Black Rock cluster might prompt another lockdown in Victoria.

“If they open the borders this week, we’ll probably come back on the weekend but if they say you have to quarantine, then I don’t know,” Ms Walters said.

“We’ve changed plans multiple times with this trip. You’ve just go to keep adjusting.”

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Popular Namadgi National Park sites to reopen sooner than expected after Orroral Valley bushfire


Bushfire recovery efforts in closed parts of Namadgi National Park are well underway, and rangers are optimistic Canberrans will be able to return to some of their favourite sites sooner than originally anticipated.

It’s been 12 months since the Orroral Valley bushfire — which spanned 80,000 hectares and saw the ACT enter a state of emergency — destroyed 80 per cent of Namadgi National Park.

While areas of the park like Gibraltar Falls and Square Rock opened to visitors six months ago, it was estimated to be years before some other areas would reopen.

But James Overall, who is managing the park’s infrastructure recovery, now expects most of the park will be accessible by the middle of the year.

“We’re really optimistic; the environment is recovering really quickly, we’re doing great work on our trails and fire trail network,” he said.

“We’re now working on certain visitor areas that were affected massively by the fires and hoping to get people out to the park in the coming months.”

Booroomba Rocks offers a spectacular view of Namadgi and Canberra.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

The Booroomba Rocks trail and summit, one of the most popular attractions at Namadgi, was one of those areas particularly devastated in the fires.

“A lot of the timber steps in this trail were completely burnt out,” Mr Overall said.

“There was a huge number of trees that were killed through the drought and then by the fire so there has been some very present risks of trees falling.”

Rebuilding for resilience

Workers are currently in the process of clearing impacted trees and making it safe for contractors to replace the timber steps with stone ones.

“We have had experts in, building it back better, making it last for decades to come,” he said.

“Rock does not burn so we are unlikely to experience the same impacts again in the future.”

A path through bushland.
Stairs along the Booroomba Rocks walking trail are being rebuilt with stone.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

The step repairs are part of several upgrades to walking tracks, fire trails and signage to ensure some areas of the park are not impacted as badly next time there is another devastating environmental event.

“We’re looking to upgrade most of the trails where we can with combustible materials — things like rock, potentially steel — so that the park comes out of this event more resilient,” Mr Overall said.

Consistent rainfall a blessing and curse

The rainfall following the fires and the current El Nino weather event have sped up the recovery of much of the park.

“That moisture in the environment has allowed a lot of the seedbank and a lot of the trees to recover more quickly than we anticipated and that is giving the environment a lot of resilience in the face of the next few years,” Mr Overall said.

But while it has aided the park’s regrowth, it has also at times hindered recovery efforts.

Flooding further damaged walking and fire trails, and caused structural damage to a bridge near the popular Orroral Campground.

Work is underway to repair the bridge, which is currently unsafe for heavy machinery to cross, in order to repair the campground.

A gate blocks a road through bushland with a sign 'Road closed'.
The road to the Orroral Campground remains closed.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

Catie Pidgeon, who coordinates the environmental recovery response, said heavy rainfall had also resulted in large amounts of sediment erosion.

“A lot of the sediment will end up down into our waterways which causes issues for aquatic species,” Ms Pidgeon said.

A woman in rangers uniform sits on a boulder in bushland.
ACT Parks and Conservation ranger Catie Pidgeon is monitoring the impacts of sediment in nearby waterways.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

Rangers are monitoring some of those species and the impacts of sediment loads into waterways.

“One particular area we’ve been focused on is our alpine bog and fen communities, which are very fragile in nature,” Ms Pidgeon said.

“Most of our bogs were subjected to burns so we’ve done a lot of work trying to protect and remediate those areas.”

New growth on a gum tree
Good rainfall has hastened the recovery of many trees in the park.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

Signs of life returning to Namadgi

Ms Pidgeon said the number of animals returning to the park was a positive sign the recovery was going well.

“We have got some migratory bird species come through, we have also got mammals and small mammals seen across the park,” she said.

“It is a sign that life is coming back into the park — we have got wedge-tailed eagles flying around which means there must be food around.”

A violet-coloured flower.
Rangers are actively monitoring the regrowth of native species and invasive weeds.(ABC News: Isaac Nowroozi)

But not all growth and animals are good for the park and rangers are actively working to eradicate weeds and control pests.

“We focus on our invasive animals and our plants and we often see a lot of the invasive plants coming up after fires because they are post-fire invaders,” Ms Pidgeon said.

And while recovery efforts are going well, Mr Overall said there was still a long way to go.

“It’s going to take many decades for the park in some areas to recover to its former glory,” he said.

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COVID-19: Leaders of eight London boroughs call for reversal of decision to reopen primary schools | UK News


Leaders of eight London boroughs have written to the education secretary to ask him to reverse the decision to reopen primary schools in selected areas.

In the letter to Gavin Williamson, the leaders say they were “struggling to understand the rationale” behind a move that ignored the “interconnectedness of our city”.

They pointed out that COVID-19 infection rates are higher in some boroughs told to reopen schools than in others where they will remain closed.

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Schools delay about ‘rooting out coronavirus’

The leaders of the boroughs of Islington, Camden, Hackney, Lambeth, Lewisham, Greenwich, Haringey and Harrow signed the letter.

Schools in the City of London and Kingston will also reopen under current rules, but those in 22 other London boroughs will remain closed.

Danny Thorpe, leader of Labour-controlled Greenwich, which was threatened with legal action by the government after issuing advice to schools to move to online learning for the last few days before Christmas, said: “In a case-by-case comparison, there appears to be no logic to how this list was brought together.”

He highlighted that Kensington and Chelsea “has one of the lowest infection rates of the whole of the capital, yet their children and young people are being afforded the extra protection that apparently Royal Greenwich students don’t need”.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said that primary school students being told to return next week was “nonsensical” and said he had written to the prime minister expressing his anger that local leaders were not consulted.

“This is not the way to run schools in our city or our country and it’s another example of the chaotic and shambolic way that the government has dealt with this pandemic,” he said.

Staff in boroughs where schools were reopening have expressed concern about their own safety.

Kevin Courtney, joint leader of the National Education Union, said: “Gavin Williamson must listen to the leaders of the community, he must listen to school staff and he must listen to the general public who are all telling him that it is not safe to reopen schools on Monday.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, added: “There is obviously a huge amount of concern over how it can be safe for schools in some Tier 4 areas to open while schools in other Tier 4 areas are being told to move to remote learning. In some instances this means different approaches for schools only a few roads away from each other.”

According to COVID-19 rates compiled by PA news agency, Greenwich had 2,176 new cases recorded in the seven days to 26 December, Hackney and City of London had 2,217 and Islington had 1,499.

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London doctor: ‘Situation is critical’

In comparison, Kensington and Chelsea, which has been told to shut primary schools, had 768 new cases in the same period.

On Thursday, the UK recorded 55,892 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours – the highest figure on record.

The number of deaths in the last 24 hours within 28 days of a positive test was 964, bringing the total number of deaths in the UK to 73,512.

More than a million people have now received their first coronavirus vaccine.

In a joint statement from Professor Chris Whitty and the chief medical officers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, they said the public would “understand” and “thank” them for the plan to give first jabs as a priority, whilst delaying the follow up vaccination for others.

The deployment of the newly approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will begin on Monday, almost a month after the roll-out of the Pfizer/BioNtech jab.

But second doses will now take place within 12 weeks rather than 21 days as initially planned.

In response to criticism from GPs over the change, the joint statement said that while it was “difficult” to reschedule second inoculations, it was better to offer more people “substantial protection” with the first dose within two or three weeks, as the UK waits for more vaccine stocks.



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Covid-19 Live Updates: Salt Lake City Says It Will Reopen All Schools Once Teachers Are Vaccinated


Credit…Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

It remains unclear how much vaccinating teachers will lead to a broad return to normal for U.S. schools, but at least one district — Salt Lake City, Utah — is planning to reopen as soon as its teachers get their second dose in the coming weeks.

Salt Lake City, with 21,000 students, was the only district in Utah to stay completely remote this fall. (Many other districts were forced to close schools temporarily in response to outbreaks.) In November, Salt Lake approved a plan to begin offering in-person instruction to elementary school students starting on Jan. 25. But it had not made any plans to open for middle or high school students.

The arrivals of the vaccine, and some prodding from the state government, have apparently prompted the district to firm up its plans.

Earlier this month, Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, announced that teachers and other school staff would be eligible to receive vaccines right after frontline health care workers. Getting teachers vaccinated, he said, would not only keep them safe but would also reduce disruption for families by helping schools avoid the “Ping-Pong effect” of going between in-person or remote learning.

Soon after, Republicans in the Utah state legislature proposed giving every teacher in the state a $1,500 bonus — except those in Salt Lake City.

The proposal prompted a series of discussions between the district and the legislature, which resulted in the district’s interim superintendent’s announcing a plan to reopen for middle and high school students on Feb. 8, with the timing of the vaccine playing a key role.

A spokesman for the Utah State Health Department said the current estimate was that teachers and school staff would likely be vaccinated in mid-to-late January.

Brad Wilson, the House Speaker, said that, if the Salt Lake City Board of Education approved the reopening plan in its meeting on Jan. 5, Salt Lake City teachers would be eligible for the $1,500 bonuses along with teachers in the rest of the state. (Other nonadministrative school staff, like lunchroom employees, secretaries, janitors and bus drivers, will receive $1,000 bonuses.)

Other states, including Arizona and Kentucky, have said that they will prioritize teachers for vaccinations, but it is not clear when teachers in those states will actually get their first shots.

In Lexington, Ky., where schooling has been remote since March, the district recently asked teachers to indicate whether or not they wanted to be vaccinated. The administration said vaccines, which might be administered as soon as January, would provide a path to reopening, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.


United States ›United StatesOn Dec. 2214-day change
New cases201,674+4%
New deaths3,239+18%

World ›WorldOn Dec. 2214-day change
New cases642,206+3%
New deaths14,260+7%

Struggling to limit the spread of a potentially more infectious variant of the coronavirus, the British government ordered more sections of England to be placed under the most restrictive lockdown measures on Wednesday, as health officials said severely curtailing human contact was the only way to protect people.

“The new variant makes everything so much harder because it spreads so much faster,” Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, said at a news conference.

Two variants, the one detected in the U.K. and another in South Africa, are currently being studied by scientists, and while early indications suggest they are both more transmissible, more laboratory tests are needed to gain a fuller understanding of the dangers they pose.

New infections are soaring and the number of people in the hospital — nearly 19,000 — is about where it was at the peak of the outbreak in the spring. On Tuesday, 691 deaths were attributed to the virus, he said.

“That is 691 people who died just before Christmas,” Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, said at a news conference. “Against this backdrop of rising infection, rising hospitalization and rising numbers of people dying of coronavirus, it is vital that we act.”

Areas of England including Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire will move to the highest level of restrictions starting the day after Christmas, Mr. Hancock said.

Mr. Hancock also said that British officials were concerned about the spread of the virus variant identified in South Africa. He said it was even more easily transmitted than the variant already spreading widely in London and southeast England.

The British authorities have detected two cases of the South Africa variant, Mr. Hancock said. In both cases, the infected people had been in contact with people who had traveled to Britain from South Africa in recent weeks. Mr. Hancock said that those infected with the new variant and their close contacts would be quarantined, and that travel from South Africa would be restricted.

At least five other countries have put in place similar travel bans.

And more than 50 countries have banned travelers from the U.K. since Prime Minister Boris Johnson first raised the alarm over the variant spreading in England on Saturday, when he imposed a lockdown on London and most of England’s southeast.

The United States has not imposed such a ban. But in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday that sheriff’s deputies would conduct home and hotel visits to ensure that travelers from the United Kingdom were quarantining as required.

“We cannot take chances with anyone who travels, particularly folks traveling in from the U.K.,” Mr. de Blasio said.

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U.K. Travelers to N.Y.C. Will Face Quarantine Order, de Blasio Says

On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York cautioned that all travelers to the city from the United Kingdom would be receive an order to quarantine, and could face fines of $1,000 a day for failing to do so.

For folks coming in from the United kingdom, we will have a new approach given this new strain we’re seeing there. Effective immediately, all travelers, literally every single traveler coming in from the United Kingdom, will receive a Department of Health commissioner’s order directing them to quarantine. This will be a personal and direct order to every single one of them, telling them they must quarantine. And that will be given to all travelers beyond just those — I want to be clear — beyond anyone coming in just from the U.K., every traveler who comes into the city. But specifically for folks coming in from the U.K., given that particular concern, we are going to have sheriff’s deputies go to the home or the hotel of every single traveler coming in from the U.K. So when they arrive at the airport, they’re going to have to fill out the form notifying us that they are coming into New York City. We’re going to provide them with that commissioner’s order. But then there’s going to be a follow-up, direct home visit or hotel visit from the sheriff’s deputy to confirm that they are following the quarantine or if they are not, they will be penalized. We cannot take chances with anyone who travels, particularly folks traveling in from the U.K. So to everyone, look, if you don’t comply with the quarantine, that’s $1,000 fine to begin — Day 1 — if you continue not to comply with a quarantine, it is $1,000 for each additional day.

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On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York cautioned that all travelers to the city from the United Kingdom would be receive an order to quarantine, and could face fines of $1,000 a day for failing to do so.

Britain had developed a three-tiered system to limit the spread of the virus in the fall. But the discovery of the new variant forced the government to add yet another, more restrictive, fourth tier.

Under the fourth tier, all nonessential businesses must close and people cannot meet with others indoors unless they live with them or they are part of their support bubbles. People living alone or who are the only adults in their houses may form support networks with another household.

The Trump administration reached a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to bolster the supply of their coronavirus vaccine for the United States by 100 million doses by the end of July.

The new agreement means the companies will supply the United States with a total of 200 million doses, enough to vaccinate 100 million Americans. The additional shots will cost $1.95 billion, or $19.50 per dose, the companies said.

The agreement, announced on Wednesday, would help the United States at least partly offset a looming vaccine shortage that could leave millions of American adults uncovered in the first half of 2021. Under the new agreement, Pfizer will provide an additional 70 million doses by the end of June and another 30 million by the end of July, doubling the deliveries it promised in the initial contract. However, even with Pfizer’s new contract, the government is still short doses for about 60 million Americans eligible to be inoculated.

So far, only two coronavirus vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech’s and one made by Moderna — have won federal authorization for emergency distribution, and most of what the companies are capable of producing for the next six months has already been allocated through contracts with the United States and other governments.

The Pfizer contracts will now cost the government nearly $4 billion.

As part of the deal, the government agreed to invoke the Defense Production Act to give Pfizer better access to roughly nine specialized products it needs to make the vaccine. The government’s promise to free up supplies is not mentioned in statements issued by Pfizer or the government, but was critical to the deal, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

In September, Pfizer began asking for the government’s help in obtaining supplies, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, but the Trump administration had already granted priority status to orders from Moderna and other companies that had been working with it more closely to develop their vaccines.

Others familiar with the negotiations said the government expressed concern that prioritizing Pfizer could squeeze the supply chain, hindering the other vaccine makers that the government was backing through its vaccine development program, called Operation Warp Speed.

The new contract with Pfizer includes options for the government to purchase an additional 400 million doses.

In Britain, about 4,000 truck drivers were stuck along roads near the southeastern English port in Dover after a 48-hour shutdown to prevent the spread of a variant of the coronavirus. Truckers who want to travel to France must show proof of a negative virus test.CreditCredit…Justin Tallis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ferries and trains from Britain began arriving in Calais on Wednesday, as France reopened its ports to Britain after a 48-hour shutdown. But the logjam of thousands of Europe-bound trucks stuck in southeast England will take days to clear because drivers must show a negative coronavirus test before they can cross the channel.

The British army was mobilized to help the National Health Service, the country’s health care system, set up facilities to offer rapid coronavirus tests to drivers, who have been stuck in Britain since Sunday night, when France blocked passage to prevent the spread of a variation of the coronavirus that has swept through parts of England. Results from the test are usually available within 30 minutes, although the test is considered unreliable by some health professionals.

As testing sites were being set up Wednesday there was mounting frustration, confusion and skepticism about the plans in Dover. Trucks are parked around the ports, on closed sections of the motorway and at Manston Airport, a closed airfield nearby that has been turned into a giant parking lot for trucks.

Drivers were reportedly told they needed to go to the airport to take the tests, and it took until the afternoon before they were being administered. Drivers who weren’t at the airfield were reluctant to leave their spots in line closer to the border. Frustrations have been building and skirmishes have broken out among drivers, other waiting passengers and the police. One man was arrested after blocking a highway. For most of the day, access to the port was blocked by drivers and other travelers unwilling to move. Later in the day, another testing facility was set up at the port.

Hundreds of other freight drivers lined up along the motorway were told that tests would be administered to them where they were.

Authorities cautioned that it could take days to clear out the more than 5,000 Europe-bound trucks jammed into the area.

“I think it will take a few days to work our way through,” Robert Jenrick, (not Robert Jenkins, as was reported earlier here) a government minister, said on Sky News on Wednesday morning. Any drivers who received a positive test result, he said, would be offered a more accurate test, called a PCR test, which takes longer to process. If that was also positive they would be offered hotel accommodations to self-isolate for 10 days.

Rod McKenzie, the director of policy at Road Haulage Association, which represents the British road transport industry, said there were probably 8,000 to 10,000 trucks in Britain waiting to cross the border.

“It’s a mammoth task,” he told Sky News. “The border is still effectively shut, the testing is effectively not happening.” Some drivers have already spent three nights sleeping in their trucks with limited access to food and toilets.

Trucks in Europe carrying goods to Britain were still allowed to pass this week, but their numbers had declined amid fears that the drivers would be marooned once they crossed into Britain. The German airline Lufthansa flew 80 metric tons of fruit and vegetables from Frankfurt to the north of England on Wednesday for a supermarket supplier that chartered the flight. The airline said it was unusual to transport just a cargo of fresh goods on its own.

The crisis at the border has raised concerns about food supplies around the Christmas holidays, because Britain relies on importing fresh fruit and vegetables, especially in the winter.

“It is essential that lorries get moving across the border as quickly as possible,” Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium said. “Until the backlog is cleared and supply chains return to normal, we anticipate issues with the availability of some fresh goods.”

Lying in a hospital bed with an oxygen tube hugging her nostrils, the Black patient gazed into her smartphone and, with a strained voice, complained of an experience all too common among Black people in America.

Susan Moore, the patient, said the white doctor at the hospital in suburban Indianapolis where she was being treated for Covid-19 had downplayed her complaints of pain. He told her that he felt uncomfortable giving her more narcotics, she said, and suggested that she would be discharged.

“I was crushed,” she said in a video posted to Facebook. “He made me feel like I was a drug addict.”

In her post, which has since circulated widely on social media, she showed a command of complicated medical terminology and an intricate knowledge of treatment protocols as she detailed the ways in which she had been an advocate for herself with the medical staff. She knew what to ask for because she, too, was a medical doctor.

But that was not enough to get her the treatment and respect she said she deserved. “I put forth and I maintain if I was white,” she said in the video, “I wouldn’t have to go through that.”

After Dr. Moore, 52, complained about her treatment, she received care that she said “adequately treated” her pain. She was eventually sent home, and on Sunday, just over two weeks after posting the video, Dr. Moore died of complications from Covid-19, said her son, Henry Muhammed.

Dr. Moore’s case has generated outrage and renewed calls to grapple with biased medical treatment of Black patients. Voluminous research suggests that Black patients often receive treatment inferior to that of their white counterparts, particularly when it comes to relieving pain.

Tennessee is struggling with the nation’s worst surge of coronavirus cases per capita, with at least 4,330 new cases and 133 deaths reported on Tuesday, according to a New York Times database. Over the past week, the number of cases per day has averaged 8,432, an increase of 78 percent from the average two weeks earlier.

Yet the governor, Bill Lee, a Republican, has not issued any statewide safety mandates, arguing that local communities are best qualified to make their own public health decisions. At the same time, some Republican leaders in the statehouse in Nashville are supporting legislation that would strip authority from the six county-run health departments in Tennessee, giving their powers to implement and enforce public health initiatives to elected county mayors in the midst of a pandemic fraught with political divisions.

At the local level, on Tuesday, a majority of Knox County Commissioners voted to remove the authority of the board of health and reduce it to an advisory capacity, an action that will require a second vote in January. Commissioners who supported the measure, all of whom are Republicans, said it was necessary to address constitutional concerns regarding the power of unelected officials.

Opponents argued that the political move undermined efforts to combat the virus as it rages through the state.

“They’re fighting over who should hold the fire hose while the fire burns the house down,” said Larsen Jay, the Republican chairman of the Knox County Commission, who voted against the ordinance. “We are the No. 1 place for Covid spread in the world and they are fighting over a constitutional theory.

Before the pandemic, local health boards, which are tasked with preventing the spread of diseases and ensuring community safety, were relatively uncontroversial, but since the virus appeared, health board officials in many states have been thrust into the political spotlight as some communities protest mask mandates and business closures. They have also become targets. In Idaho on Tuesday, a district health board postponed a virtual meeting, citing safety concerns after demonstrators opposed to measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 gathered outside the department’s headquarters in Boise and the homes of two board members.

Lawmakers in at least 24 states have drafted legislation to weaken public health powers this year, according to a report by The Associated Press and Kaiser Health News.

In Knox County, home to Knoxville, while the ordinance would effectively gut the health board’s ability to implement and enforce policy, it will have to be approved again in January if it is to take effect..

Argentina’s Ministry of Health announced on Wednesday that it had approved the emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, making it the third country, after Russia and Belarus, to do so.

The Argentine government reached a deal with Russia’s National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, the maker of the vaccine, to provide enough doses for 10 million people by February, and another five million by March.

Argentine officials said that a plane sent to retrieve 300,000 doses had already arrived in Russia on Wednesday, and that the government would begin vaccinations before the end of the year.

News of Sputnik V has been met with hesitation in Russia and elsewhere. The vaccine has not yet completed human trials.

Russia is conducting a vaccination campaign using Sputnik V, and a number of other countries have also negotiated deals to receive the vaccine, including Brazil, India, Mexico and Venezuela, but none of these governments have approved it for use. On Tuesday, Belarus became the first country outside Russia to do so.

Two weeks ago, in an attempt to fight skepticism about the Russian vaccine among Argentines, President Alberto Fernández said he would be the first one to be inoculated once it arrives.

“I have no doubt in the quality of the vaccine,” he said at a news conference in Buenos Aires.

Argentina has been hard-hit by the virus, recording more than 1.5 million cases and 42,000 deaths. In a statement that stressed the scale of loss, the Argentine government said that it had seen data that verified Sputnik V’s safety and an efficacy exceeding 91 percent.

“The known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks to public health,” the statement said.

Argentina also granted the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine emergency approval on Wednesday, but it has not yet struck a deal with Pfizer to receive doses. Argentina was among the countries where that vaccine was tested.

Argentina does have a deal with AstraZeneca, which made a vaccine in partnership with Oxford University, to receive 22 million doses during the first months of 2021. But all of the planned purchases announced would cover less than half of the country’s population.

In other vaccination news:

  • Canada’s regulator approved Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday, a move that will make it easier to inoculate people in the remote and northern regions of the country. Health Canada, which conducted a full review on an accelerated schedule, said the vaccine can be used only on patients 18 and older until it can be tested further. The government had determined that the Pfizer-BioNTech product currently being dispensed would be impractical for use in the vast but sparsely populated Far North because it must be shipped and stored at extremely low temperatures. Officials said earlier that the initial doses of the Moderna vaccine would be reserved for that region. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that deliveries of the Moderna vaccine would begin within 48 hours of approval and that 168,000 doses would arrive before the end of the month.

  • More than a million Americans have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine since vaccinations began 10 days ago, according to Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said that while the virus continues to sweep the nation, the early milestone represents progress toward protecting the health care workers who are treating patients infected with the virus and the Americans who are considered most vulnerable: older people in group-living settings.

  • Dubai said it would start inoculating people at no cost on Wednesday, using the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech, Reuters reported. Saudi Arabia is the only other Arab country using the Pfizer vaccine, but the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have rolled out a vaccine to the general public developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group, or Sinopharm. A message on the Dubai Health Authority’s hotline said the first phase of the vaccine would be for citizens and Dubai residents ages 60 and over, as well as for individuals with chronic illness.

  • A 90-year-old woman living in a retirement home received the first coronavirus inoculation in Switzerland on Wednesday, kicking off the start to the mass vaccination campaign on the European mainland. Swiss regulators approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last weekend, and the first 107,000 doses from an order of three million arrived on Tuesday. The Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are still under review.

A gazebo outside a bar in the West End of London on Dec. 15. The city entered Tier 3 restrictions the next day.
Credit…Andrew Testa for The New York Times

A team of British scientists released a worrying study on Wednesday of the new coronavirus variant sweeping Britain. They warned that the variant was so contagious that new control measures, such as closing down schools and universities, might be necessary.

The study, released by the Center for Mathematical Modeling of Infectious Diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has not yet undergone review by a scientific journal. The study is a series of models based on data on infections, hospitalizations, and other variables. Other researchers are studying the variant in laboratory experiments to determine if it is biologically distinct.

The study found no evidence that the variant was more deadly than others. But they estimated that it was 56 percent more contagious. On Monday, the British government released an initial estimate of 70 percent.

Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who was not involved in the study, said that it presented a compelling explanation of the past and potential future of the variant.

The variant, which came to the attention of British researchers earlier this month, has been rapidly spreading in London and eastern England. It carries a set of 23 mutations, some of which may make it more contagious.

The authors of the study found more evidence that the variant does indeed spread more rapidly than others. For example, they ruled out the possibility that it was becoming more common because outbreaks started in places where people were more likely to come into contact with each other.

The researchers built different mathematical models to test different explanations for the variant’s spread. They tested the models against records of new cases, as well as hospitalization and deaths.

Closing schools until February could buy Britain some time, the researchers found, but lifting those extra restrictions would then cause a major rebound of cases.

The researchers warned that their model is based, like any model, on a set of assumptions, some of which may turn out to be wrong. For instance, the rate at which infected people die from Covid-19 may continue to drop as doctors improve at caring for hospitalized patients.

Still, they wrote, “there is an urgent need to consider what new approaches may be required to sufficiently reduce the ongoing transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”

Benjamin Mueller contributed reporting.

Early data collected from hospitals by the federal government suggest that they have given only about 20 percent of their antibody drug supplies to patients.
Credit…Regeneron, via Associated Press

When federal regulators approved two antibody treatments last month for emergency use in high-risk Covid-19 patients, doctors worried there would not be enough to go around.

President Trump had taken one of the treatments, made by Regeneron, in October and promoted it as a “cure.” Early trial data had shown the treatments could keep people at risk of severe disease out of the hospital if administered soon after infection with the coronavirus.

But in a surprising turn of events, the treatments are sitting unused in hospital refrigerators around the country, just when they might do the most to help patients and relieve the burden on overwhelmed hospitals as cases and deaths surge to record levels.

The federal government has on hand nearly 532,000 doses of the two drugs, and 55 percent of that has been shipped out, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. But early data collected from hospitals by the federal government suggest that they have given only about 20 percent of their supply to patients.

Hospitals and clinics, staggered by the needs of the sick and gearing up to help administer the new coronavirus vaccines, have not focused as much attention on these treatments, which have to be infused into patients in a narrow window of time, within 10 days of when they start showing symptoms, but before they’re sick enough to be hospitalized. Administrators have struggled to identify people who should get the antibody drugs because of delays in testing and a lack of coordination between testing sites and hospitals.

And demand from patients themselves has been weaker than expected. Some have been reluctant to venture out of their homes to get the therapies in hospitals — or perceive the treatments aren’t available to them but are going to well-connected people like Chris Christie, the former Republican governor of New Jersey, and Ben Carson, the housing secretary in the Trump administration.

“There were politicians getting it, and bragging about it, or whatever, and then people thought, well it’s not for me — it’s for those people,” said Dr. Daniel M. Skovronsky, chief scientific officer of Eli Lilly, which manufactures one of the antibody treatments.

Federal and state health officials have had to take the extraordinary step of urging patients to seek out treatments that were once expected to be snatched up.

Coronavirus: Then & Now

As 2020 comes to a close, we are revisiting subjects whose lives were affected by the pandemic. When Dan Levin first spoke with Kalee Kamer in April, she was participating in a virtual drug recovery meeting via Facebook Live.


Kalee Kamer can almost pinpoint the moment two epidemics — opioid addiction and Covid-19 — collided in her city of Portsmouth, Ohio: When the state’s backlog of unemployment payments began to arrive in the spring, unleashing a wave of deadly overdoses.

“You’d see them gripe on Facebook ‘when’s my money coming?’” she recalled of residents. “And then you’d see the R.I.P. posts.”

Temptation and grief are never far in Portsmouth, the largest city in Scioto County, which in 2019 had the highest overdose death rate reported by any Ohio county ever, according to Harm Reduction Ohio, a nonprofit group.

Lisa Roberts, a nurse who works for the Portsmouth Health Department, expects around 100 overdose deaths in the county this year, which would be nearly three times the number of residents who have died from Covid-19. She attributes the devastating toll to both the pervasiveness of synthetic opioids like fentanyl, which are far more deadly than heroin and frequently get laced into illegal drugs, and the shuttering of rehab facilities and recovery meetings.

“It’s kind of a perfect storm,” she said.

In the early days of the pandemic, Ms. Kamer attended drug recovery meetings online with her fiancé, who was also in recovery. Since then, Ms. Kamer, 33, says she has lost count of the people she knows who have fatally overdosed during the pandemic. For a while, she feared her fiancé, Chris Keeton, would not survive either. After more than five months sober, he relapsed in May.

Alone and desperate to avoid drugs, Ms. Kamer, who had lost her waitressing job in March, spent the next few weeks mostly hanging out with a friend at a fire tower west of town. Then in June, she got a job at an outpatient drug treatment center.

A few weeks later, her boyfriend came home and admitted his drug use. “My life was crumbing,” Mr. Keeton, 34, said. “I broke down and cried and said I need help.”

He has been sober since early July, and she will celebrate three years of sobriety on Christmas Eve, she said. The couple this month finally set a date for their wedding: May 1, 2021.

Earlier this month, a Scioto County commissioner succumbed to the coronavirus. But even as virus cases rise, Ms. Kamer is more afraid of the opioid crisis, for which there is no vaccine.

“I worry, who are they going to try to recover with Narcan,” she said of emergency medical workers. “Or whose dead body are they going to go try to identify. That’s the fear that I have now, because it’s constant.”

Global roundup

Shoppers in Milan’s city center this month.
Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

Across Europe, people who have lost loved ones face an empty chair or an agonizing void this holiday season. That is hard enough. But a surge in infections, a new fast-spreading variant of the virus and mounting deaths have led the authorities to shut down Christmas, too.

The upending of holiday rituals has had a particularly disruptive effect in Italy, which is home to the Vatican, panettone and pandoro Christmas cakes, Neapolitan Nativity scenes and multigenerational family reunions.

Since at least October, the country has focused on rules for the festive season with the obsession of a child counting down the days on a chocolate-filled Advent calendar. Government ministers and virologists, celebrity entrepreneurs and influencers held forth on striking the right balance between health and mirth.

But the months of Christmas mania coincided with a dizzying increase in contagions that put a renewed burden on hospitals and catapulted Italy back to the ignoble position of deadliest country in Europe.

About 600 people die of the virus on average every day in Italy, more than any country other than the much larger United States and Brazil. Italy has lost more than 69,000 people to the virus and experienced more deaths generally than in any year since 1944, during World War II.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte himself started the holiday countdown in October, asking Italians to respect restrictions to enjoy “Christmas holidays with more serenity.” But by last Friday, he had switched the talk from saving Christmas for Italians to saving Italians from Christmas. In an almost apologetic speech to the nation, Mr. Conte introduced restrictions that limited movement and closed bars and restaurants from Dec. 24 to Jan. 6.

Monica Mazzoleni, whose mother died of the virus, decided with her father to spend Christmas Day away from the family table, avoiding the empty chair where her mother would sit. Instead, they intend to go to a restaurant near the northern city of Calusco d’Adda.

“We wanted to get away,” she said. But even those plans had to be canceled when the government closed restaurants. “There will be no Christmas for us,” she said.

In other developments from around the world:

  • President Emmanuel Macron of France is “showing signs of improvement” after he tested positive for the virus last week, his office said on Wednesday. Previous updates on his health had said he was stable, with minor symptoms like coughing, fever and headaches.

  • The health authorities in Hong Kong said that two students who returned from London this month appeared to have been infected by the coronavirus variant circulating in Britain. Starting on Thursday, anyone coming from Britain will be required to quarantine for three weeks at designated hotels, up from two weeks. (When announcing the extension, the health authorities said that the third week could be spent at home.) The government closed its borders on Tuesday to anyone who was recently in Britain, including Hong Kong residents.

  • In Italy, a patient with no apparent connection to the United Kingdom was also found to be infected with the newly identified variant of the coronavirus in the central region of Marche on Wednesday, doctors from the Ospedali Riuniti Virology Laboratory in Ancona said. The case suggests that the new variant is already circulating in the country. On Sunday, the health ministry said that two other people who had arrived from Britain were infected with the variant.

President Trump on his way to the Army-Navy football game earlier this month. 
Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times

Like a coin flip that never lands, America’s double-headed presidency is queasily suspended in midair as President Trump threatens to veto a bipartisan, Biden-blessed bill intended to speed relief to families, businesses and governments in time for the holidays.

The 11th-hour disruption was one of those entirely predictable surprises that have defined the Trump era. Over the last four years — especially on big-ticket budget deals (like the 2019 defense bill) — Mr. Trump has absented himself from negotiations and piped up only at the last possible second, often to little or no effect on priorities like funding his border wall.

In a speech posted late Tuesday on his Twitter account, Mr. Trump positioned himself as a guardian of the working class who had been quietly watching the congressional negotiations in horror as they crammed billions in wasteful spending into the bill, which he called “a disgrace.”

He is now pushing for $2,000 payments for individuals, not the $600 stimulus checks included in the compromise, a position embraced by progressives and deplored by conservatives.

It is not clear how Mr. Trump’s proposal will be taken in Congress. Democrats planned to raise the amount of the direct payments on Thursday by unanimous consent, but whether it passes there or even comes up in the Senate is unclear. The stimulus bill passed both houses on Monday with a veto-proof majority.

Why is Mr. Trump doing this now? One reason: A no has always been more attractive than a yes for the disruptive Mr. Trump, whose 2016 presidential run was impelled by his dislike of President Barack Obama but turbocharged by his contempt for the Republican Party establishment.

The opposite holds for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who ran in 2020 as a reassuring figure intent on restoring kindness and sanity to government. Mr. Biden offered tempered approval of the unloved $900 billion compromise deal on Tuesday, calling it a “down payment” on another coronavirus relief package next year.

On the stimulus issue, Mr. Biden is actually far closer to Mr. Trump than Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who has been wary of writing bigger checks. But Mr. Biden, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, when the deal seemed done, cast it as a hopeful harbinger of future agreements with Mr. McConnell, his frequent bargaining partner in the Obama years.

In that sense, Mr. Biden is coming in as president the way he left the vice presidency, with a smile of reassurance, while Mr. Trump is going out as he came in — with a defiant scowl.

How the current impasse, which comes at a moment of acute national crisis, plays out is hard to say. Mr. Trump is scheduled to leave this afternoon for his annual Christmas trip to Florida, though his plans could change.

But what struck many Republican aides most on Wednesday was Mr. Trump’s sudden embrace of a cause typically championed by the other party.

While Mr. Trump floated the idea of increasing the size of the checks in private last week, he did not push for the proposal on Twitter or weigh in personally with legislative leaders, nor did he instruct Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who represented him in the talks, to reject the compromise.

Boarded-up storefronts in Los Angeles. The stimulus package approved by Congress may not do enough for millions of jobless Americans if hiring does not pick up significantly.
Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

New economic data from the federal government on Wednesday highlighted the recovery’s precarious state.

A report from the Commerce Department showed that personal income fell in November for the second straight month and that consumer spending fell for the first time since April.

Separately, the Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits remained high last week ahead of a new injection of federal aid.

About 869,000 people filed new claims for state jobless benefits. That was down from a week earlier but is significantly above the level in early November, before a surge in coronavirus cases prompted a new round of layoffs in much of the country.

Another 398,000 people filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, one of two federal programs to expand jobless benefits that were set to expire this month without congressional action.

Help may be on the way. After months of delays, Congress on Monday passed a $900 billion economic relief package providing aid to unemployed people, small businesses and most households. Most urgently, it would prevent jobless benefits from expiring at the end of this week for millions of people. But on Tuesday evening, President Trump demanded sweeping changes in the bill, throwing into doubt whether he would sign it.

The data released Wednesday showed the toll that the delays in aid — along with rising virus cases — have taken on the economy. Personal income fell 1.1 percent in November and is down 3.6 percent since July, as waning federal assistance more than offset rising income from wages and salaries. Consumer spending, which helped drive the initial recovery after lockdowns lifted last spring, also faltered, falling 0.4 percent as the weather cooled and virus cases rose. Spending on dining and travel both fell last month, the Commerce Department said.

The income and spending data was just the latest evidence that after rapid gains in the spring and summer, the recovery has stalled and could be going into reverse. Some forecasters expect the December employment report to show a net loss of jobs.

“That huge looming cliff that everyone’s been talking about for months on end, that’s been averted,” said AnnElizabeth Konkel, an economist for the hiring site Indeed. “But there’s no momentum forward. It feels like we’re just stuck. Hopefully the new stimulus package will help get a little more wind in our sails.”

The relief bill was smaller than many economists said was needed to carry the economy through the pandemic and ensure a robust recovery. It won’t revive industries that have been ravaged by the pandemic or undo the damage left by months of lost income for many households.

But the recent deterioration in the economy shows why economists across the ideological spectrum were urging Congress to act quickly even if that meant accepting a smaller bill.

“Without the aid, it seemed like we were on the precipice and there was definitely concern that we could have had a double-dip recession,” said Daniel Zhao, senior economist with the career site Glassdoor. “The position that we find ourselves in now is significantly stronger than where we were even a week ago.”

Erik Vammen works in a shed that formerly housed mink at the Semper Avanti mink farm in Moldrup, Denmark, earlier this month. Danish mink farmers killed the entire population of 15-17 million farmed mink during a coronavirus outbreak earlier this year.
Credit…Andrew Kelly/Reuters

The weasel family continues to hold the position as the nonhuman animals most affected by the coronavirus. Fortunately they, too, have vaccines in the pipeline.

A number of other animals can be infected by the virus, but without severe illness. Farmed mink, however, can sicken and die. And because the virus rampages through mink farms, millions of the animals have been slaughtered to prevent the spread of mutations that could potentially affect human drugs or vaccines.

But mink may have protection soon. The head of the International Fur Foundation, Mark Oaten, said that he expected news in 2021 of Russian vaccines in development for commercially farmed mink. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has invited applications from veterinary pharmaceutical makers for permits or licensing for mink vaccines for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19 in people.

A small study last month, not yet peer-reviewed, showed success in blocking infection in laboratory ferrets. And endangered black-footed ferrets, located at the National Black-Footed Ferret Conservation Center in Colorado, have already received an experimental vaccine.

No infections have been discovered among the endangered ferrets, but since their population is at risk, researchers developed an experimental vaccine that may or may not work. It has produced antibodies, according to news reports.

Infections in farmed mink do not threaten the species as a whole, but they do threaten the viability of the industry that raises them. Denmark slaughtered its entire population of 15 to 17 million farmed mink. Most would have been killed in a normal year in any case — but they would have been skinned and the furs sold. Instead, many were buried — sloppily as it turned out. Denmark is now facing the task of exhuming millions of carcasses in the spring and incinerating them, to avoid environmental contamination caused by their decomposition.





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Fraser Island to reopen to tourists after rain eases bushfire threat


Manger of Cathedrals campground Jack Worcester said the decision to allow tourists to return to Fraser Island was “fantastic news” for business owners.

“It’s just in time for Christmas, it’s a good Christmas present,” he said.

“No infrastructure across the whole island was damaged, and no attractions, so it’s a big relief.”

Local rangers battled the blaze alone for the first month before QFES crews were sent to help.

Up to 17 aircraft, including specialist air tankers, were also used at various points to fight the fire.



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Six TDSB schools will close Monday and reopen after winter break


Six additional schools in the Toronto District School Board are closing their doors beginning Monday for Toronto Public Health to investigate COVID-19 cases at the schools.

The TDSB announced Sunday afternoon that until Jan. 4, City Adult Learning Centre, Humewood Community School, RH McGregor Elementary School, David Lewis Public School and Grenoble Public School will be closed to students and staff.

Later on Sunday evening, the TDSB announced that Oakridge Junior Public School, located in Scarborough, would also be shutting down.

TPH has also advised for Thorncliffe Park Public School and Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy to continue to be dismissed until the end of the winter break.

This past week it was announced that Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute would also be closed until January.

TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird confirmed nine schools are expected to be closed until Jan. 4.

“At each of these schools, students will be flipping over to remote learning,” Bird said. “From the beginning of the year, we’ve been asking our schools and classes to make sure they’re ready to flip to remote learning (in case) of something like this.”

One school in the Toronto Catholic District School Board, St. Conrad Catholic School, is also expected to be closed Monday for the week.

In its latest data released Friday morning, Ontario reported 151 more school-related cases in the province — 125 more students were infected for a total of 4,212; 26 more staff members for a total of 915 and zero individuals that weren’t identified for a total of 1,090.

According to the TDSB website, as of Dec. 13, there have been a total of 444 confirmed COVID-19 cases of students, 88 cases of staff and 663 resolved cases.

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With a file from Kristin Rushowy





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Newcastle Jets re-open talks with investors


Potential buyers have expressed interest in purchasing Newcastle’s A-League licence in encouraging news for the battling Jets.

Rocked this week by the news that a prospective ownership group had withdrawn its interest because the club had reportedly not been able to produce audited financial accounts, the Jets’ spirits lifted on Friday following interest from other parties.

“It was very disappointing but we just have to move on and re-engage with people who were interested before, which we’ve done, so we’re working through that now,” Jets CEO Lawrie McKinna said.

“It’s good after just being told the other group are out that the other groups are interested, so that’s very positive.”

If new investors can’t be found to end Martin Lee’s troubled Newcastle tenure, the owners of other A-League clubs will fund the Jets in the interim.

FFA head of leagues Greg O’Rourke said it was “our intent to have the Newcastle Jets men’s and women’s teams operating in the 2020-21 season”, which starts on December 27.

“We’re working through the options to ensure we have 12 A-League teams and nine W-League teams in the competition which we’re confident of doing,” O’Rourke said.

“Everybody’s staying calm, that’s the main thing.”

McKinna said Jets captain Nigel Boogaard had addressed the Newcastle squad – who have been in Coffs Harbour this week ahead of a trial against Brisbane Roar on Saturday – on the club’s ownership situation.

“He spoke to the boys … there’s a great mood about the place,” McKinna said.

“Training’s been good. It’s a nice chance of environment.”

A Professional Footballers Australia spokesman said: “The PFA have been informed throughout by the clubs and the FFA, and will continue to work with them on a resolution.”

Craig Deans will continue as Newcastle’s interim coach at least until the ownership situation is resolved.

“I’m enjoying doing what I’m doing and so are the rest of the staff, so we’ll just keep doing it for as long as we need to and then a lot of things are dependent on the ownership, and one of them is the coaching role,” Deans said.

Meanwhile, Swiss goalkeeper Daniel Lopar has parted ways with Western Sydney Wanderers.

Lopar, 35, played 22 matches for the Wanderers last season before leaving when the A-League was suspended due to COVID-19.

Despite missimg the season’s completion when the competition resumed in July, Lopar returned to Australia and was set to honour the second year of his contract.

However, it’s understood he would not agree to a wage cut brought on by a reduced salary cap, with the Wanderers announcing Lopar’s departure on Friday.

Emerging custodian Daniel Margush, a recent arrival from Perth Glory, has played in recent trials for the club, while the experienced Vedran Janjetovic continues his recovery from shoulder surgery.



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Queensland and WA announce they will reopen borders in time for Christmas



Queensland has announced it will reopen its borders to Adelaide from 12 December, provided there is no more community transmission this week.

Health Minister Yvette D’ath made the announcement on Monday afternoon following a briefing from Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young, who noted South Australia had not recorded any new local cases this week.

Meanwhile, Western Australia will reopen its borders to NSW and Victoria from Tuesday after fears of undetected COVID-19 transmission in Sydney were dispelled.

The decision reclassifies those states as “very low risk” and means travellers will no longer have to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

Premier Mark McGowan revealed his decision on Monday, having taken the weekend to review further test results from NSW.

No locally acquired cases have been detected after a Sydney quarantine hotel cleaner caught the virus at work.

“It is very pleasing to know that no further cases have been identified over the past five days,” Mr McGowan told reporters.

“I want to acknowledge and thank everyone for their patience and understanding.”

The premier also announced that from Friday, travellers from South Australia will no longer require exemptions to enter the state.

They will still need to quarantine for 14 days.

A potential threat emerged over the weekend when two German travellers managed to avoid quarantine upon landing in Sydney and instead board a flight to Melbourne.

The duo have since tested negative to the virus and NSW police have accepted responsibility for the bungle, which forced the entire plane into self-isolation.

“It’s certainly not the gold standard,” Mr McGowan said, referencing a phrase used by NSW counterpart Gladys Berejiklian to describe her state’s handling of the pandemic.

“It obviously shows that COVID is a risk and that’s why we continue to have a controlled border to ensure we can protect people into the future.”

Travellers from NSW and Victoria have been blocked from entering WA for almost nine months unless they went into quarantine and, until recently, secured exemptions.

The decision to proceed with reopening the NSW border is significant for many Australians separated from loved ones with Christmas around the corner.

It comes at a time when the federal government is urging Australians to travel across the nation in an attempt to help the struggling tourism industry.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your jurisdiction’s restrictions on gathering limits.

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

Please check the relevant guidelines for your state or territory: NSWVictoriaQueenslandWestern AustraliaSouth AustraliaNorthern TerritoryACTTasmania





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