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Covid Live Updates: N.Y.C. Takes Big Leap Forward in Reopening

Credit…Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

New York City’s reopening — a milestone longed for over the last 14 months — arrived at last on Wednesday. It was less a grand gala than a soft opening, a finish line at the end of a long race that no one wanted to be the first to cross.

Four hundred and twenty three days since the city shut down, on a Sunday in March 2020, when it accounted for half the nation’s coronavirus cases, its first day fully back in business was messy and inconsistent and confusing. In short, it was New York City, and a single set of new rules statewide was widely superseded by the personal comfort levels of the city’s millions of residents.

Masks, no longer a hard requirement for the vaccinated in most situations, remained firmly in place by the majority of people, whether in the big-box stores and tiny boutiques of Manhattan or the shaded paths of Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

“It’s still store policy,” said Raj Lalbatchan, 23, a worker at Victoria, a store selling clothing in the Bronx. Nearby, Elisabeth Ocasio, 51, a server at the restaurant La Isla, said it is standing firm with the status quo. “We don’t know who’s vaccinated and who’s not,” she said. “We’re doing everything the same here.”

Across United States, other states were also moving to reopen amid a drastic drop in new cases and expanded vaccine eligibility to those 12 and older. But the pace of average vaccinations has declined precipitously since mid-April and even some inoculated Americans have shown some skepticism of the new federal guidance allowing for fully vaccinated people to go without a mask in most circumstances. As of Tuesday, 48 percent of people have received at least one shot, according to federal data.

Outside the U.S., France loosened its rules on Wednesday, and the European Union agreed to reopen its borders to visitors who have been fully vaccinated with an approved shot, just in time for summer tourists. And yet, the virus continued to ravage India, which recorded 4,529 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday, the pandemic’s highest single known daily death toll in any country so far.

As the virus was crushing New York City last year, testing was limited, hospitals were full and thousands were dying every day. The living retreated to their apartments and the city, almost overnight, transformed into a shadow of itself. The city’s known death toll sits at more than 33,000 people.

But on Wednesday, scenes of joy alongside those of caution played out throughout the city. The owner of du Pont dry cleaners on Amsterdam Avenue in the Upper West Side, Byong Min, 64, spent 90 days in a hospital suffering from Covid last year, the scar from his tracheotomy visible above his collar. On Wednesday morning, a customer arrived and asked tentatively: Could she enter without a mask?

He said yes. But he regretted it moments later.

“She told me she was vaccinated and I am vaccinated, but wow, maybe I should be more careful,” he said. “I wasn’t really thinking. I just said OK.”

In Red Hook in Brooklyn, the Chelsea Garden Center, a bustling nursery, considered removing its 2-customer indoor limit, but stopped short. “It’s a little scary to change things,” said Bethany Perkins, an employee. “We’re so used to the rules right now.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday morning that he planned to keep mask rules in place at city offices because there would be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people there, and that he planned to wear a mask in most cases out of an abundance of caution.

“When you’re not sure, my personal advice is wear a mask,” the mayor said, adding “we’ve done it, for god’s sakes, for a year, we can do it a little bit longer to finish the job.”

Adeel Hassan and Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

United States ›United StatesOn May 1814-day change
New cases27,910–35%
New deaths867–12%

World ›WorldOn May 1814-day change
New cases622,515–20%
New deaths14,434–7%

U.S. vaccinations ›

Where states are reporting vaccines given

Wednesday marked the first time that Emergent BioSolutions executives have publicly defended the company amid continuing questions about its manufacturing capability and whether it has leveraged its connections in Washington to win lucrative government contracts.
Credit…Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The chief executive of Emergent BioSolutions, whose Baltimore plant ruined millions of coronavirus vaccine doses, disclosed for the first time on Wednesday that more than 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are now on hold as regulators check them for potential contamination, and apologized to members of Congress.

“No one is more disappointed than we are that we had to suspend our 24/7 manufacturing of new vaccine,” the chief executive, Robert G. Kramer, told members of a House subcommittee that is investigating his firm, adding, “I apologize for the failure of our controls.”

Mr. Kramer’s appearance before the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis marked the first time that company executives have publicly defended Emergent amid continuing questions about the firm’s manufacturing capability and whether it has leveraged its connections in Washington to win lucrative government contracts.

In more than three hours of testimony, Mr. Kramer acknowledged unsanitary conditions, including mold, at the Baltimore plant; conceded that Johnson & Johnson — not Emergent — had discovered the potential contamination; and fended off aggressive questions from House Democrats about his stock sales and hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses for top company executives last year.

Under aggressive questioning by House Democrats, he said he expects the Baltimore plant, which was forced to halt operation a month ago after contamination spoiled the equivalent of 15 million doses, to resume production “in a matter of days.” He said he took “very seriously” a recent Food and Drug Administration inspection showing unsanitary conditions — including mold — in the plant, and conceded that quality tests by Johnson & Johnson, not Emergent, had identified the contamination that forced Emergent to discard so many doses.

“My teenage son’s room gives your facility a run for its money in terms of its cleanliness,” Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, Democrat of Illinois, told Mr. Kramer at one point.

Mr. Kramer’s estimate added another 30 million doses to the number of Johnson & Johnson doses that remain on hold because of regulatory concerns about the contamination at the plant. Federal officials had previously estimated that the equivalent of about 70 million doses of that vaccine — most of them destined for domestic use — could not be released until further tests are conducted for purity. So far, the federal government has paid Emergent more than $271 million but American regulators have not released a single dose of vaccine manufactured at Emergent’s plant for use by the American public.

Mr. Kramer, who testified virtually, was joined at the hearing by Fuad El-Hibri, the company’s founder and executive chairman, who also expressed contrition.

“Let me be clear,” Mr. El-Hibri declared. “The cross-contamination incident is unacceptable. Period.”

House Democrats launched a broad inquiry into Emergent after The New York Times documented months of problems at the plant, including failure to properly disinfect equipment and to protect against viral and bacterial contamination. Committee staff released a series of confidential audits, previously reported by The Times, that found a range of violations of manufacturing standards as well as a June 2020 report by a top federal manufacturing expert warning that Emergent lacked trained staff and adequate systems for quality control.

Lawmakers are looking into whether company officials leveraged relationships with the Trump administration to win a $628 million federal contract, and whether Emergent executives accepted the award despite known deficiencies. They are also looking at Mr. Kramer’s sale of $10 million worth of Emergent stock this year, and at hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash bonuses Emergent’s board awarded to its top executives.

Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York, complained that Emergent officials “appear to have wasted taxpayer dollars while lining their own pockets.” Mr. Krishnamoorthi asked Mr. Kramer sharply if he would consider turning over his $1.2 million bonus from 2020 to the American taxpayers.

“Congressman, I will not make that commitment,” Mr. Kramer replied evenly.

“I didn’t think so,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi shot back.

As to his stock trades, Mr. Kramer said they were “made pursuant to a plan that was approved by the company” and put in during “a quiet period that was also approved by the company.” He added, “My participation was completely removed from those trades.”

Early in the hearing, Mr. Kramer testified that the possible contamination of the Johnson & Johnson doses “was identified through our quality control procedures and checks and balance.” But under questioning, he later acknowledged that it was picked up by a Johnson & Johnson lab in the Netherlands.

While Democrats pressed Mr. Kramer for information about vaccine manufacturing, Republicans sought to defend the company, and tried to change the subject by talking about the unproven theory that the coronavirus emerged from a laboratory in China, the “lies of the Communist Party of China” and mask mandates, as well as the Biden administration’s call for a waiver of an international intellectual property agreement, which is strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry.

“You are a reputable company that has done yeoman’s work to protect this country in biodefense!” Representative Mark Green, Republican of Tennessee, exclaimed at one point, adding, “So you gave your folks a bonus for their incredible work.”

Tourists in Athens this month. New European rules for travelers could go into effect as early as next week.
Credit…Louisa Gouliamaki/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BRUSSELS — The European Union agreed on Wednesday to reopen its borders to visitors who have been fully vaccinated with an approved shot and to those coming from a list of countries considered safe from a coronavirus perspective, permitting broader travel just in time for the summer tourism season.

Ambassadors from the 27 member states of the European Union endorsed a plan that would allow visits from tourists and other nonessential travelers, who have been mostly barred from entering the bloc for more than a year.

The move has been seen as an economic imperative for tourism-dependent countries such as Greece and Spain, and it has been months in the works. Other E.U. nations that are less reliant on tourists for jobs and income, particularly in northern Europe, had been eager to maintain higher barriers for nonessential visitors to keep the coronavirus at bay. But they relented as vaccinations advanced and after they were promised the ability to reverse course if cases surge again.

The new rules are set to become formal policy next week after clearing some bureaucratic hurdles, and, depending on how well each country has prepared to welcome tourists, could be implemented immediately. Some countries, like Greece, have already said that they will remove testing and quarantine requirements for vaccinated visitors. But most countries are likely to implement such changes more slowly and conservatively.

Some experts recently cautioned that restarting international tourism could be premature.

Dr. Sarah Fortune, the chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that reopening areas to vaccinated tourists was a calculated risk.

“My doomsday scenario,” she said, “is a mixing of vaccinated and unvaccinated populations in a setting where there is high viral load and high viral transmission.”

Countries like Greece, Iceland and Croatia had opened to tourists from the United States and other countries before the bloc’s announcement.

Greece, where hospitality and tourism make up a large portion of the economy, was especially intent on reopening. Incoming tourists have to be vaccinated or present a negative PCR test taken up to 72 hours before their arrival, but they do not have to quarantine.

“Unfortunately, after more than 10 years of economic hardship, tourism and food is our only industry,” said Kostas Tzilialis, a co-owner and co-worker at a cafe and bookshop in Athens. “We don’t produce cars or machines. So we have to open our industry right now. Let’s hope that people will be careful and the vaccines will protect us.”

European Union member states will retain the freedom to tweak these measures if they want to take a more conservative approach, meaning that some European countries could retain demands for negative PCR tests or quarantines for certain visitors.

The bloc will also maintain an emergency-brake option, a legal tool that will allow it to quickly snap back to more restrictive travel conditions if a threatening new variant or other Covid emergency emerges.

Paige McClanahan and Stephen Hiltner contributed reporting.

People with breathing problems receiving free oxygen support in Delhi last month.
Credit…Atul Loke for The New York Times

India recorded 4,529 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday, the pandemic’s highest single known daily death toll in any country so far, the authorities said on Wednesday, as the virus spread into the country’s vast hinterlands.

The previous deadliest day for a single country was recorded in the United States in January, when 4,468 people died.

Many experts believe the true number of deaths and infections in India, a country of 1.4 billion people, is even higher, and evidence has emerged across the country of large numbers of people dying from Covid who have not been officially counted.

India reported 267,000 new cases on Tuesday, pushing the official case tally past 25 million, with more than 280,000 deaths.

While infections seem to be slowing down in some of India’s urban centers, including New Delhi and Mumbai, the virus is spreading in the countryside. Testing there is limited, the medical infrastructure is woefully underfunded and overwhelmed, and some leaders have been trying to downplay the damage, sometimes even criminalizing cries for help.

Experts warn that a drop in new daily cases is likely to be a reflection of the success of urban lockdowns, and that the virus is still spreading elsewhere unchecked. Hospitals remain short of supplies, and the vaccination campaign has been slow. The death toll has remained over 4,000 for several days, suggesting that even if new infections are decreasing in urban centers, those infected earlier are dying.

The virus has taken a heavy toll on India’s doctors and medical workers as well.

More than 1,000 doctors have died of Covid since the pandemic began last year. The rate of deaths has been much higher, and the age of victims often much younger, since the second wave of infections started this spring. More than 260 doctors have died since April, according to the Indian Medical Association.

At Carmine's restaurant on the Upper West Side on Tuesday, plastic dividers were in between tables. 
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

New York State is taking its biggest step yet toward normalcy, or a new version of it.

Starting Wednesday, 14 months after pandemic restrictions began, most businesses can return to 100 percent capacity if customers maintain six feet of distance. The biggest change will be seeing the faces of New Yorkers again: Vaccinated people in most cases no longer have to wear masks, indoors or outdoors, unless businesses mandate them.

Theaters and other large venues, including ballparks, can return to full capacity, up from one-third, if they require patrons to show proof of vaccination. House parties will be allowed: Up to 50 people can gather indoors in private homes.

“This is an exciting moment; this has been a dark, dark hellish year,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said on Monday, after announcing the end of the mask mandate. “But that was yesterday, and we are looking at a different tomorrow.”

But the reopening won’t be a sudden return to prepandemic life. Many New Yorkers will prefer to keep wearing masks. And some restaurant owners, like Annie Shi of King, a small restaurant in the West Village, said that with distancing requirements, “75 percent or 100 percent doesn’t mean a whole lot.”

Sal Rao, the owner of Mama Rao’s in Borough Park, Brooklyn, said that he and his staff — who all got vaccinated on one day, closing the restaurant to do it — will remain masked, but they will let patrons take off their masks on the honor system.

“We are going to let them come in and enjoy some of the privileges of being human again,” Mr. Rao said.

Masks, following new federal guidance, will continue to be mandatory on public transit and in schools from prekindergarten to 12th grade, in homeless shelters, correctional facilities, nursing homes and health care settings.

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City said on Wednesday morning that he planned to keep mask rules in place at city offices because there would be a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people there, and that he planned to wear a mask in most cases out of an abundance of caution.

“When you’re not sure, my personal advice is wear a mask,” the mayor said, adding “we’ve done it, for god’s sakes, for a year, we can do it a little bit longer to finish the job.”

In the coming weeks, major venues like Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden will be opening or raising capacity at indoor concerts, shows and sporting events. Patrons will have to show either a paper vaccination card, the New York State digital Excelsior Pass or another digital form to enter or, in venues that allow unvaccinated attendees who test negative for the virus, to sit in vaccinated sections.

Restaurants will be allowed to place tables closer together to reach 100 percent capacity if five-foot-tall solid partitions are placed between them, Mr. Cuomo said. But some restaurants feel that using partitions compromises the dining experience, and Plexiglas can be expensive.

Mia Jacobs, a 23-year-old who lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, said the reopening feels “hopeful.” She works in social media in the restaurant and hospitality industry, and said she hopes that with the lifting of restrictions, “people will feel more encouraged to go to the restaurants they’ve been wanting to go to for an entire year.”

Even though she is fully vaccinated, Ms. Jacobs said she would probably continue to wear a mask, and that it would take time for her to get reacquainted with being surrounded by many people.

Mr. Cuomo said Wednesday that effective immediately that child care programs, and day and overnight camps, must conduct daily health screenings for all staff and visitors, including daily temperature checks. Unvaccinated people 2 and older must wear face masks unless they are eating, showering, swimming or sleeping, he said. Staff members who have not been vaccinated should stay six feet away from vaccinated staff, and each program or camp should have a capacity limit specific to their property that allows people to stay socially distanced.

Still, the lifting of restrictions meant to curb the spread of a virus that devastated the city comes as a welcome sign of New York’s progress. Cases are plummeting as more New Yorkers get shots — about 43 percent of people in New York State are fully vaccinated, including more than half of Manhattan’s residents, according to C.D.C. data. Nationally, about 37 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated.

Mr. Rao, the restaurant owner, said “it was tough” doing temperature checks and contact tracing throughout the pandemic. “I think we are over that now,” he said. “I hope to God this is over.”

People waiting to receive their second dose of Covishield vaccine in Kolkata, India, last week, which is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
Credit…Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

The vaccination woes of some of the world’s poorest nations will continue as the Serum Institute of India, a crucial manufacturing pillar in the plan to supply two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to low-income countries, signaled that it would not be able to provide vaccines beyond India before the year’s end.

The revelation, tucked into a statement by the vaccine manufacturing giant that attempted to deflect mounting criticism, was another setback for Covax, the global vaccine partnership for the poor. It is already more than 140 million doses behind schedule, and the Serum Institute’s announcement suggested it was all but impossible to meet the goal of two billion doses by the end of the year.

The announcement once again underscored the glaring contrast of inequality: As some of the richer nations tout levels of vaccinations that allow them to reopen their society, most of the poorer nations have barely gotten a start.

“We continue to scale up manufacturing and prioritize India,” the Serum Institute of India said in the statement on Tuesday. “We also hope to start delivering to Covax and other countries by the end of this year.”

The Serum Institute’s manufacturing capacity is at the heart of Covax, run by a global alliance that includes the World Health Organization. The institute received hundreds of millions of dollars to expand its facilities and manufacture the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, licensed to it with the commitment that a large share would go to poor nations.

As part of its plan to have two billion doses by the end of the year, Covax has been counting on hundreds of millions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by Serum Institute, as well as hundreds of millions of a second vaccine called Novavax that the company is developing.

After India’s devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, the institute diverted all its manufacturing powers to domestic needs, falling behind on commitments to the Covax partnership as well as on bilateral commercial deals with many countries. The institute played down each delay as temporary. But Tuesday’s statement makes clear it is unlikely to meet commitments before the end of the year.

So far, the Covax alliance has supplied only 65 million vaccines, spread across 124 countries, according to the World Health Organization. The W.H.O. said the global alliance was already 140 million doses behind and likely to miss another 50 million doses in June.

“Once the devastating outbreak in India recedes, we also need the Serum Institute of India to get back on track and catch up on its delivery commitments to Covax,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the chief of W.H.O.

For its part, the Serum Institute has said its failure in international commitments has been due to the scale of the demand in India.

But India’s vaccination drive has been slow and is facing shortages despite all of Serum’s production capacity. Vaccinating a nation of 1.4 billion was always going to be a mammoth task that has been made more difficult by the government’s mismanagement of the crisis.

India has administered about 180 million doses of vaccines, or only about 5 percent of the country’s adult population. The vaccination rate has fallen to about 1.8 million doses a day, which means it would take the country more than three years to vaccinate 80 percent of its population.

One of Emergent BioSolutions’ plants in Baltimore last April. The biotech company awarded cash bonuses of up to $1.2 million to its top executives last year.
Credit…Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Emergent BioSolutions, the biotech company whose Baltimore plant ruined millions of coronavirus vaccine doses, awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses to its top executives last year, and the company’s board praised its founder and chairman for “leveraging his critical relationships with key customers, Congress, and other stakeholders,” according to documents released Wednesday by a House subcommittee.

The government, which awarded the firm a $628 million contract last year, has so far paid Emergent $271 million, even though U.S. regulators have yet to clear a single dose of vaccine produced at its manufacturing plant in Baltimore, according to the documents released by the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis in advance of a hearing on Wednesday.

Production at the plant was halted a month ago after workers accidentally contaminated a batch of vaccine, forcing Emergent to discard the equivalent of up to 15 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine.

Records from an Emergent board of directors compensation meeting offer a rare glimpse inside a politically connected federal contractor whose business is built largely around a single customer: the United States government.

The documents reflect earlier reporting by The New York Times, including a series of confidential audits that highlighted repeated violations of manufacturing standards at the Baltimore plant, including failure to properly disinfect the plant and protect against contamination of vaccine batches. Another report in June 2020, by a top manufacturing expert for the federal government, warned that Emergent lacked trained staff and adequate systems for quality control.

Emergent’s board gave top performance ratings to those in its leadership ranks, including the company’s founder and chairman, Fuad El-Hibri, and its chief executive, Robert G. Kramer, who testified before the House panel. At the hearing, the chief executive of Emergent disclosed for the first time on Wednesday that more than 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are now on hold as regulators check them for potential contamination, and apologized to members of Congress.

An Emergent spokesman, Matt Hartwig, said in a statement Wednesday morning that the company executives “look forward to clarifying misconceptions and addressing concerns” of members of Congress. “We recognize that our role in helping the nation respond to, and hopefully end, the Covid-19 pandemic is a profound and unique responsibility, unlike any we have confronted before,” he added.

The board lauded executives for their “exemplary overall 2020 corporate performance including significantly outperforming revenue and earnings targets.”

Since 2018, Mr. El-Hibri and his wife, Nancy, have donated at least $150,000 to groups affiliated with the top Republican on the panel, Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, as well as Mr. Scalise’s campaigns. At least two other members of the subcommittee received donations during the 2020 election cycle from the company’s political action committee, which has given about $1.4 million over the past 10 years to members of both parties.

Mr. Kramer received a $1.2 million cash bonus, the records show; the board found that he had “significantly exceeded expectations.” Three of the company’s executive vice presidents received bonuses ranging from $445,000 to $462,000 each.

Sean Kirk, the executive responsible for overseeing development and manufacturing operations at all of Emergent’s manufacturing sites, received a special bonus of $100,000 last year, over and above his regular bonus of $320,611, in recognition of his “exceptional performance in 2020,” and for significantly expanding the company’s contract manufacturing capability to address Covid-19, the documents show. After the discovery that workers had accidentally contaminated a batch of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine with the virus used to produced another vaccine at the same plant, the company said Mr. Kirk had taken personal leave from his job.

Mr. El-Hibri, who was praised for leveraging his connections, cashed in stock worth $42 million last year, according to an investigation by The Times.

Over the past two decades, Emergent has grown from a fledgling biotech company into a firm with annual revenues that last year topped $1.5 billion. Much of its success has come from selling products aimed at thwarting a bioterrorist attack, including its anthrax vaccine, to the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency medical reserve.

The $628 million contract, awarded by the Trump administration nearly a year ago, was mostly to reserve space at Emergent’s Baltimore plant for vaccine manufacturing. The contract was approved by a former Trump administration official, Dr. Robert Kadlec, who previously consulted for Emergent.

The documents show that Emergent retained Dr. Kadlec to serve as a consultant from 2012 through 2015, agreeing to pay him $120,000 annually over that three-year period. In return, Dr. Kadlec agreed to provide advice on “international biosecurity and biodefense related issues to Emergent BioSolutions,” including outreach to senior government officials in Saudi Arabia and other countries.

Dr. Kadlec has said that while he did not negotiate the contract, he did sign off on it. The documents also show that last August he recommended that Emergent be given a “priority rating” so that suppliers would give preference to its requests.

Rebecca R. Ruiz contributed reporting.

Last week in the Public Gardens in Boston, some people wore masks, others did not.
Credit…Katherine Taylor for The New York Times

Teamwork became a motif of the pandemic’s early days. Holed up inside their homes last spring, crafty Americans sewed masks, neighbors planted yard signs supporting health care workers, and politicians spoke in lofty language about working together to “flatten the curve.”

Then came a partisan division over masks, screaming crowds outside state capitols, death threats against local and state health officials. On the other side of the debate, some people who supported Covid-19 restrictions embraced the job of mask policing.

It quickly became apparent that, even in a crisis, Americans struggled to come together.

So it is no surprise that the latest honor code — the federal government’s guidance encouraging vaccinated Americans to take off their masks — was greeted with skepticism in parts of the country that have not already done so.

“It’s a very complicated symphony right now,” said Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan who is an expert on pandemics. “There’s been such an erosion of trust — distrust for government, distrust for the virus, distrust for this party or that party. So when you tell the public what to do, there are people who say, ‘How can I trust the guy without the mask?’”

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Jean Castex at a cafe terrace in Paris, on Wednesday.
Credit…Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

President Emmanuel Macron of France enjoyed an early-morning coffee with his prime minister at a cafe in Paris on Wednesday to celebrate the partial lifting of lockdown restrictions around the country.

French television showed Mr. Macron and the prime minister, Jean Castex, in an animated conversation as they sipped espressos on the narrow terrace of a café near the presidential palace, with bodyguards nearby.

Mr. Macron, interviewed by reporters through the lattice woodwork that surrounded the terrace, said it was “a little moment of recovered freedom.”

Mr. Macron noted that France’s Covid figures were headed in the right direction, with continued decreases in new daily cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

“We have to remain cautious and to collectively succeed in keeping the epidemic under control,” Mr. Macron said before walking back to the Élysée Palace.

The impromptu sit-down was intended to celebrate the first time since October that the French have been able to grab a drink on the terraces of cafes and restaurants, which have reopened at half capacity and with no more than six people per table.

Nonessential businesses were permitted to reopen on Wednesdays, as were movie theaters and museums, with limits on their capacity. The nighttime curfew, enforced since last fall, was also pushed back to 9 p.m. from 7 p.m.

In other developments from around the globe:

  • The United Arab Emirates said on Tuesday that it would offer a booster shot of the Sinopharm vaccine at least six months after the initial two doses, Reuters reported. Bahrain also said it would offer a third dose of the vaccine, at least six months after the second shot, starting with more vulnerable groups.

Town Hall rail station in Sydney, Australia. Officials announced last week that the country was unlikely to fully reopen its borders until mid-2022.
Credit…Joel Carrett/EPA, via Shutterstock

When Australian officials announced last week that the country was unlikely to fully reopen its borders until mid-2022 because of the coronavirus, the backlash began building immediately.

Critics warned that Australia risked becoming a “hermit nation.” Members of the Australian diaspora who had been struggling to return home for months considered it another blow. The announcement drew dire warnings from business, legal and academic leaders.

Polls show that keeping the borders shut is a popular idea. But the opposition sees political opportunism on the part of the government. Others predict that a continued policy of isolation could mean young people “face a lost decade” because of prolonged economic loss and social dislocation.

Australian officials contend that the restrictions on international travel — some of the strictest in the world — are the main reason the country has been so successful in crushing the virus. The government is resisting pressure from many quarters to consider an earlier reopening, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison declaring on Tuesday, “I’m not going to take risks with Australians’ lives.”

Australia is believed to be the only country to have announced that it intends to keep its borders closed for so long because of Covid-19. Officials have made it difficult not only to fly in, but also to fly out, requiring citizens and permanent residents to apply for exemptions for occasions like funerals. A group of experts warns in a report, titled “A Roadmap to Reopening,” of long-lasting damage to the country, and especially its young people.

“There is an illusion that Australia can go at it alone and be this Shangri-La in the South Pacific,” Tim Soutphommasane, a political expert at the University of Sydney and co-sponsor of the report, said in an interview. “But I think that’s a misguided view. Other countries that do have a vaccinated population will be able to attract skilled migrants, have their universities open up to international students.”

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