UNICEF, the world’s largest single buyer of vaccines, is not waiting for approval of the first coronavirus vaccines for widespread use. The U.N. agency said Monday that it was purchasing and distributing more than half a billion single-dose syringes and other critical equipment in countries where it operates, to be ready when the time comes.
In a statement, UNICEF said the advance stockpiling — a collaboration with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance — was part of a larger plan to amass one billion syringes by 2021 to guarantee a supply “and help ensure that syringes arrive in countries before the Covid-19 vaccines.”
Henrietta H. Fore, the executive director of UNICEF, said the agency was anticipating that the vaccination effort would be “one of the largest mass undertakings in human history” and was working to avert the possibility that vaccines would be available but the means to administer them would not.
“In order to move fast later, we must move fast now,” Ms. Fore said.
As a rule, when it comes to syringe manufacturing and distribution, little moves particularly quickly.
Unlike vaccines, which are heat sensitive and so are usually shipped by air, syringes, which have a shelf life of five years, generally make their way to their destination by sea, UNICEF said.
UNICEF said it expected to obtain the half-billion syringes by the end of the year. The agency said it was also procuring five million safety boxes for disposal of used syringes, as well as solar-powered refrigerators to store the vaccines in countries with scant access to electric power.
The UNICEF announcement came against a backdrop of uncertainty over precisely when any of the dozens of vaccines in various stages of development around the world would become widely available. The first are expected in coming months.
The Trump administration has publicly refused to join the international collaborative agreement known as Covax, under which the World Health Organization, GAVI and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations have collaborated to ensure that rich and poor countries simultaneously receive new coronavirus vaccines.
Instead, the U.S. government has pursued a unilateral vaccine development program known as Operation Warp Speed. It has paid $11 billion to six vaccine companies that agreed to supply at least 100 million doses each, along with options for millions more, earmarked exclusively for the United States.
Each spring, a thousand or more Mexican tomato pickers descend on the Eastern Shore of Virginia to toil in the fields of Lipman Family Farms, enduring long hours stooped over to pluck the plump fruit. An adept worker will fill a 32-pound bucket every two and a half minutes, earning 65 cents for each one.
This year, there is a new and even more difficult working condition: To keep the coronavirus from spreading and jeopardizing the harvest, Lipman has put its crews on lockdown. With few exceptions, they have been ordered to remain either in camps where they are housed, or the fields, where they toil.
The restrictions have allowed Lipman’s tomato operation to run smoothly, with only a handful of coronavirus cases, at a time when many farms and food processing facilities across the country have wrestled to contain outbreaks. But they have caused some workers to complain that their work site has become like a prison.
Gone are the weekly outings to Walmart to stock up on provisions; to El Ranchito, the Mexican convenience store, to buy shell-shaped concha pastries; and to the laundromat to wash heavily soiled garments.
“You put up with a lot already. I never expected to lose my freedom,” said Martinez, 39, who is in his third year working in the tomato fields along the East Coast. (Many workers interviewed for this article asked to use only a first or last name for fear of losing their jobs.) He said workers spent months on end without interacting with anyone at all outside the farms, though Lipman eventually relented and organized a carefully controlled trip for groceries each week.
Lipman’s battle with its workers underscores one of the signature conundrums of the pandemic. Locking down its employees — a drastic measure that would be intolerable to most American workers — appears to have kept both the employees and the community safe. But at what cost?
The large tomato enterprise has been able to impose the restrictions on its workers because they are beholden to the company for their visa, housing and wages.
Lipman would not disclose total coronavirus case numbers, but employees said they knew of no cases at the Virginia operation following about six infections that occurred before most of the seasonal workers arrived. Kent Shoemaker, Lipman’s chief executive, said the company was proud of its record protecting both its employees and the surrounding communities.
“As of today, we do not have any confirmed Covid-19 cases on our farms or in our packing facilities,” Mr. Shoemaker said in mid-October.
The global total of coronavirus cases has passed 40 million, according to a New York Times database. As of Monday, at least 1.1 million people have died, and the virus has been detected in nearly every country.
An average of at least 350,000 new cases a day have been reported over the past week, the highest levels of the pandemic.
The United States has the world’s highest caseload, with 8.1 million, followed by India (7.5 million), Brazil (5.2 million), Russia (1.4 million) and Argentina (989,000).
The United States and Europe are seeing strong second waves of the virus. Unlike during the first wave, most countries are trying hard to avoid blanket lockdowns, tightening restrictions in steps and hoping to get the virus under control. Pandemic fatigue has set in for many people.
As most of the world still struggles with the pandemic, China is showing once again that a fast economic rebound is possible when the virus is brought under control.
The Chinese economy surged 4.9 percent in the July-to-September quarter compared with the same months last year, the country’s National Bureau of Statistics announced on Monday. That brings China almost back up to the roughly 6 percent pace of growth that it was reporting before the pandemic.
Many of the world’s major economies have climbed quickly out of the depths of a contraction last spring, when shutdowns caused output to fall steeply. But China is the first to report growth that significantly surpasses where it was at this time last year.
The vigorous expansion of the Chinese economy means that it is set to dominate global growth — accounting for at least 30 percent of the world’s economic growth this year and in the years to come, Justin Lin Yifu, a cabinet adviser and honorary dean of the National School of Development at Peking University, said at a recent government news conference in Beijing.
Chinese companies are making up a greater share of the world’s exports, manufacturing consumer electronics, personal protection equipment and other goods in high demand during the pandemic. At the same time, China is now buying more iron ore from Brazil, more corn and pork from the United States, and more palm oil from Malaysia. That has partly softened the impact of the pandemic on some industries.
For months, as New York City struggled to start part-time, in-person classes, fear grew that its 1,800 public schools would become vectors of coronavirus infection.
But nearly three weeks into the in-person school year, early data from the city’s first effort at targeted testing has shown the opposite: a surprisingly small number of positive cases.
Out of 15,111 staff members and students tested randomly by the school system in the first week of its testing regimen, the city has gotten back results for 10,676. There were only 18 positives: 13 staff members and five students.
And when officials put mobile testing units at schools near Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods that have had new outbreaks, only four positive cases turned up — out of more than 3,300 tests conducted since the last week of September.
New York City is facing fears of a second wave of the virus brought on by localized spikes in Brooklyn and Queens, which have required new shutdown restrictions that included the closure of more than 120 public schools as a precaution.
But for now, at least, the sprawling system of public schools, the nation’s largest, is an unexpected bright spot as the city tries to recover from a pandemic that has killed more than 20,000 people and severely weakened its economy.
In September, New York became the first big urban district to reopen schools for in-person learning.
Roughly half of the city’s students have opted for hybrid learning, where they are in the building some days, but not others. The approach has enabled the city to keep class sizes small.
Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official, was in critical condition on Monday after being hospitalized with the coronavirus.
Mr. Erekat, 65, was placed in a medically induced coma and put on a ventilator, according to the Israeli hospital where he was being treated. The Hadassah-Ein Kerem hospital also said that treating Mr. Erekat was an “enormous challenge” as he is the recipient of a lung transplant and is immunocompromised. He is also fighting a bacterial infection in addition to Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Mr. Erekat, who is the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, tested positive for the virus earlier this month.
His wife, Neamh Erekat, is also infected, but her condition is improving, Palestinian officials said.
Mr. Erekat, who has long supported nonviolence and the two-state solution, has been intimately involved in Palestinian politics and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for decades. He was a central member of the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid peace conference in 1991 and has served as a close aide to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
Mr. Erekat has also been one of the loudest Palestinian voices rejecting the Trump administration’s policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In other developments around the world:
Officials in Melbourne, Australia, announced some easing of one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, allowing residents to travel up to 25 kilometers from their homes and up to 10 people from two households to socialize outdoors. Dan Andrews, the premier of the state of Victoria, drew a contrast between the situation there and in Britain, where there have been fewer restrictions despite a surge in cases. “Back in August and at our peak, we reported 725 daily cases. At the same time, the U.K. recorded 891,” he said in a statement. “Today, as Victoria records two new cases, the U.K. hit 16,171. And as we continue easing our restrictions, they are being forced to increase theirs.”
Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister of Italy, announced new measures to curb the spread of the virus and “avoid a second general lockdown that would jeopardize the country’s economy.” The government did not introduce a curfew like other European countries. Mayors will have the power to close streets or squares where people tend to gather after 9 p.m., while restaurants, bars and pubs will be allowed to serve seated customers — up to six per table — until midnight. Drinking outside of restaurants or bars will be permitted only until 6 p.m. Gaming and betting halls will close at 9 p.m. Italy has so far fared better than its European counterparts, but infections have been rising in recent weeks, with a record 11,705 new cases reported on Sunday.
Ireland will reimpose tighter restrictions across the country on Monday, a cabinet minister said in a televised interview. Simon Harris, who was health minister in the spring and now heads the higher education ministry, said the current level of precaution in most of the country “has not worked” and that varying it by region had been ineffective, Reuters reported. Mr. Simon suggested that many nonessential businesses would have to close, but that the new restrictions would be short of a total lockdown. The country has set new daily case records four times in the past week.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin of Finland has tested negative for coronavirus, her office said on Monday. She left a European Union summit in Brussels prematurely on Friday because she had come in contact with people who later tested positive. “The prime minister will continue her self-isolation and she will be tested again on Monday,” the office said in a statement. Ms. Marin’s voluntary quarantine will end if the second test result proves negative, her office added.
South Africa’s health minister, Dr. Zwelini Mkhize, said that he and his wife, Dr. May Mkhize, had tested positive for the coronavirus and that he was optimistic that they would “fully recover.” Dr. Mkhize was tested on Saturday after showing mild symptoms, and both he and his wife are in quarantine at home. South Africa, which has recorded at least 703,000 cases of the coronavirus, has largely reopened its economy.
A wedding with up 10,000 guests? In Brooklyn, near a coronavirus hot spot?
No, New York state officials said.
The officials have taken extraordinary steps to shut down the ultra-Orthodox wedding planned for Monday, with the state health commissioner personally intervening to have sheriff’s deputies deliver an order to the Hasidic synagogue where it would take place.
The order, delivered on Friday, warned that the synagogue must follow health protocols, including limiting gatherings to fewer than 50 people.
On Sunday, the synagogue, the Congregation Yetev Lev D’Satmar, accused state officials of “unwarranted attacks” on the wedding, at which a grandson of Zalman Leib Teitelbaum, the synagogue’s rabbi, is to be married. The congregation said that the ceremony and meal would have been restricted to “close family members,” and that members of the public would have been invited to participate only “for a short period of time.”
The wedding will continue, the synagogue said, but will be limited to a smaller group of family members.
“It’s sad that nobody verified our plans before attacking us,” Chaim Jacobowitz, the congregation’s secretary, said in a statement.
The episode highlighted the brewing tensions between state and local officials the Hasidic community as state health officials try to control surging coronavirus cases in some neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens and in counties north of New York City.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said Sunday that a large wedding was too risky and could have resulted in a so-called superspreader event. State officials said that they determined the wedding, scheduled to take place in Williamsburg, could have had up to 10,000 people in attendance.
“My suggestion: Have a small wedding this year,” Mr. Cuomo said at a news conference on Sunday. “Next year, have a big wedding. Invite me, and I’ll come.”
Across Kenya, people in bars are hoisting drinks in proximity and taking to the dance floors of reopened nightclubs. Churches and mosques have started hosting congregations, schools have partially reopened, and the notorious traffic in cities like Nairobi has partly resumed.
After almost five months of a strict lockdown and dusk to dawn curfew, the authorities in Kenya last month eased the restrictions meant to curb the spread of the pandemic. But on Sunday, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe said the relaxation of the rules could lead to a second wave of the coronavirus. He said the percentage of positive test results had increased this month, after restrictions were lifted, and admissions to intensive care units had increased in recent days. Large number of cases were also reported in prisons.
“We can confidently point to a potential crisis unless we take some immediate action to avert this,” Mr. Kagwe said in a press briefing on Sunday. “We can choose to sink or swim.”
Mr. Kagwe blamed the rise in cases on the resumption of large public events including political rallies, weddings and burials. He said club owners weren’t enforcing social distancing and were not asking their patrons to wear masks.
Mr. Kagwe also accused health workers — hundreds of whom have tested positive and have protested lack of adequate protective gear — of getting lax about protection.
“These times are not normal and please don’t treat them normally,” he warned. “Normal behavior will have abnormal consequences.”
Kenya has reported nearly 45,000 cases of the coronavirus and 832 deaths, according to a New York Times database.
The eastern Chinese city of Yiwu has stopped the sale of a coronavirus vaccine after dozens of people demanded to be inoculated over the weekend, underlining the popularity of the treatment that has not even completed late-stage clinical trials.
Hundreds of people in Yiwu stood in line for a coronavirus vaccine after the government opened up bookings to the general public, the BBC reported on Sunday. The local government had said on Friday it would allow people to be vaccinated on an “emergency use” basis, a day after the neighboring city of Jiaxing announced the same.
The vaccine in Yiwu was made by a private company, Sinovac Biotech, according to The Paper, a Shanghai-based news website. Sinovac’s vaccine is in Phase 3 trials, the last stage of clinical trials before approval. Scientists have warned that taking a vaccine before the completion of clinical trials carries health risks.
On Sunday, The Beijing News, a state-run newspaper, cited a person familiar with the Yiwu health department as saying that the supply of vaccines had stopped and that people should not travel to the city to be vaccinated. But a representative from Yiwu’s center for disease control and prevention told The New York Times that local hospitals were still providing coronavirus vaccinations. He declined to confirm whether the sale had been suspended or provide more details.
According to the newspaper, the local government’s intention was to find out what demand was like for “emergency users,” defined mainly as people who had to travel from Yiwu, an export powerhouse in China.
The high demand for the vaccine in China highlights the potential shortfall that local governments could face once a treatment is approved. Unlike in the United States — where a growing number of polls have found that many people would not get a coronavirus vaccine in part because they feel the Trump administration is pushing for its approval before fully weighing the safety and efficacy data — many people in China are flocking to get one.
China has indicated it would expand the number of “emergency users” for a vaccination program, saying it plans to target people at higher risk of being exposed to the virus such as travelers and health care workers. Tens of thousands of people have already been vaccinated, including government officials and executives of vaccine companies.