Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
Lockdowns and protests in Austria,
This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
As Thanksgiving approaches, U.S. virus cases are rising again.
About 90 percent of federal workers will meet President Biden’s vaccination deadline.
More Asian countries are reopening their borders to vaccinated travelers.
Lockdowns and backlashes in Europe
Tens of thousands of people marched in Vienna this weekend to protest Austria’s lockdown and coronavirus restrictions. Most marchers were peaceful, but some members of far-right groups and others burned masks, threw beer cans at police officers and set off pyrotechnics.
Mass demonstrations also took place in Switzerland, Brussels and the Dutch city of Rotterdam, sometimes punctuated with outbreaks of violence.
There are probably additional restrictions on the way across Europe: Slovakian and German politicians are also discussing a vaccine mandate similar to Austria’s as the only way to sustainably overcome the pandemic.
“Probably by the end of this winter, as is sometimes cynically said,” the German health minister, Jens Spahn, said, “pretty much everyone in Germany will be vaccinated, recovered or dead.”
The Austrian states of Salzberg and Upper Austria are among the worst affected, according to my Berlin-based colleague, Christopher Schuetze.
“They have had such bad case numbers that, apparently, there was a hospital where they had the dead lying in the hallway, on gurneys,” he said. “It is not quite Italy in the spring of 2020, but close to that.”
Resistance to public health measures is growing. Still, European leaders may feel they have little choice but to implement them, despite the spread of vaccines that were seen a year ago as a fail-proof way out of the pandemic.
“It’s basically like they’re in a car going 200 kilometers an hour, driving into the wall,” Chris said. “At some point, someone has to hit the breaks.”
Some European countries that have imposed strict mandates have seen success.
Vaccination rates dip as you travel east in Europe. Germany, Austria and the German-speaking region of Switzerland have the Continent’s largest shares of unvaccinated populations: About one in four people over 12 are unvaccinated, compared with about one in 10 in France and Italy and almost zero in Portugal.
To make things worse, Germany is facing a dwindling supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine as it races to provide booster shots.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia are each averaging around 10,000 cases a day, and infections are also high in Greece, Hungary and Croatia. The president of Slovakia, Austria’s eastern neighbor, also raised the prospect of a universal mandate on Saturday.
Austria’s nationwide vaccination mandate — Europe’s first — is set to come fully into force in February. The decision came after months of attempts to halt the spread of the virus through testing and partial restrictions, including a lockdown only for unvaccinated people.
“Politically, it’s very, very unpopular to either have a vaccine mandate or lockdown completely,” Chris said. “It will give the far right a lot of political power. But they’ve gotten to a point where they cannot not do it. It’s just gotten so bad.”
A look at South Sudan
Coronavirus vaccines are a tough sell in South Sudan, the world’s newest country. Many people recognize the pandemic as a threat — just not a very pressing one.
“We heard people are dying, but we haven’t seen anyone sick here,” said one village leader in a rural area that has suffered from years of flooding. “When you are starving, you don’t think about other things — you need to feed your stomach first.”
The vast majority of the 11 million people living in one of the poorest countries on Earth have yet to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. The Times photojournalist Lynsey Addario spent almost a week traveling with a U.N. team that was in South Sudan to assess the flood damage and prepare for the vaccine rollout in the region.
“What the children are dying from is malaria, diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections,” said Yves Willemot, a UNICEF communications officer. “We have one child out of 10 that dies before the age of 5, and they don’t die from Covid-19.”
Still, in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, there was a steady stream of people at vaccination sites across the city. One young man had little use for rumors around his neighborhood that the vaccine spreads to the liver and causes death within a year. He wanted a shot so that he could continue studying abroad, in Uganda.
“If you don’t have vaccine,” he said, “they won’t let us in.”
What else we’re following
An Indian company is testing a cheap vaccine that appears to protect vulnerable older adults.
Australia will allow skilled workers and international students to enter the country in December.
Disney paused its worker vaccine mandate for Florida employees after the state’s ban went into effect.
Guadeloupe, a French territory in the Caribbean, suffered violent protests over vaccine mandates and economic inequality.
Thousands rallied in Melbourne and other Australian cities on Saturday to protest pandemic restrictions and vaccine mandates.
All adults living in New York City are officially eligible to receive boosters. Here’s what you need to know.
Kenya will institute a widespread vaccine mandate next month.
International tourists are slowly returning to New York City.
New research predicts that some Pacific nations will take years to vaccinate their populations at the current rate.
In Opinion: Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel argue that remote work is failing younger employees. And Zeynep Tufekci, a Times columnist, argues that the U.S. failure to curb the pandemic is “a profound sign of how decayed our institutions and capacity have become.”
What you’re doing
I live in Austria. I did not want to get vaccinated. But the restrictions for the unvaccinated were too much. Not for me, I am an author and I work from home. But I had to be vaccinated to take my young son anywhere (hairdresser, McDonald’s, etc.). So I did it for him.– Avlon McCreadie, Austria
Let us know how you’re dealing with the pandemic. Send us a response here, and we may feature it in an upcoming newsletter.