Register now for FREE unlimited access to reuters.com
Virus trends in the U.S. are improving, largely because of the rising level of immunity.
Public discussion of “herd immunity” often treats it like an on-off switch: When the U.S. reaches herd immunity, the crisis will be over; until then, the country has little immunity from Covid-19.
But that’s not right.
Herd immunity is more like a light dimmer. The more people develop immunity — either from having been infected or from being vaccinated — the less easily the virus will spread.
Nearly 30 percent of Americans have now had the virus, according to Youyang Gu, a data scientist. (That includes many people who have never taken a Covid test.) About 18 percent have received at least one vaccine shot. There is some overlap between these two groups, which means that about 40 percent of Americans now have some protection from Covid.
Had these people been exposed to the virus a year ago, they could have become infected — and then spread Covid to others. Today, many are protected.
“This level of population immunity slows down transmission,” Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in The Washington Post. “After millions of infections and the start of a vaccination campaign, the virus is finally, slowly, starting to run out of new people to infect.”
The pandemic is still a long way from over. And the situation may worsen again, because of a combination of risky behavior and new virus variants. Experts are particularly worried about some states’ rush to lift mask mandates and restrictions on indoor gatherings. For now, however, the virus trends are improving, thanks largely to the rising level of immunity.
When I last gave you an overview of the U.S. situation — two weeks ago — I highlighted a mix of positive trends (declining nursing home deaths and encouraging vaccine news) and negative ones (rising caseloads and falling vaccination numbers). Since then, the good news has largely continued, and the bad news has not. Below is a new update, with help from three charts.
When the number of new cases began rising last month, it was reasonable to wonder if the more contagious virus variants were on the verge of sparking a nationwide surge. They have not. In retrospect, the February increase looks like a blip:
One caveat, as you can see in the chart, is that the recent decline is much gentler than the declines during most of January and February. The reasons aren’t wholly clear, and the variants may play a role. Either way, it’s another sign that the pandemic is not on the verge of ending.
The pace of vaccination slowed last month, because of winter storms. But it has now picked up again, and more than two million Americans per day are receiving shots:
The current pace won’t be impressive for long. By the end of the month, the federal government will be receiving an average of more than three million doses a day, from Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer. At that point, three million daily shots will be a more sensible goal.
How quickly the Biden administration and state governments can get there will help determine how many lives are saved and how quickly normal life returns.
I recommend you keep two different ideas about the variants in mind at the same time: First, one or more of the variants could create terrible problems — by being highly contagious, by reinfecting people who already had Covid or by causing even more severe symptoms. A British study released yesterday, for instance, found that the B.1.1.7 variant increases the risk of death in unvaccinated people.
But — here’s the second idea — the overall evidence on the variants has been more encouraging so far than many people expected. The vaccines are virtually eliminating hospitalizations and death in people who contract a variant. Reinfection does not seem to be widespread. And even if the variants are more contagious, they have not caused the kind of surges that seemed possible a couple of weeks ago.
In Florida, where B.1.1.7 has spread widely, “there’s no sign of any increase in cases,” Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Research wrote. In South Africa, where the B.1.351 variant was first detected, cases are nonetheless plunging:
It’s a remarkable decline, given the variant. What explains it? Growing natural immunity appears to be part of the reason, The Financial Times has reported. Rising vaccinations are also helping. So did the restrictions that South Africa imposed in late December and January, including “a ban on alcohol sales, the closing of all land borders and most beaches, and an extended curfew,” Bloomberg explained.
South Africa’s situation also serves as a useful summary of where the U.S. stands: Natural immunity has become a significant force in slowing the pandemic, but government policy can still make a big difference, by accelerating vaccination and discouraging needlessly risky behavior.
Over the past week, another 12,000 Americans died of Covid. The crisis continues.
In other virus news:
The U.S. plans to purchase an additional 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which may be used to inoculate children once the F.D.A. allows it.
The Biden administration has loosened its guidelines for nursing home visits. The advice recommends outdoor visits, but says that “responsible indoor visitation” should be allowed.
The House passed the pandemic relief bill. No Republican lawmaker voted in favor, but polls show the legislation has widespread public support.
The bill will do more than cut poverty: It also contains tax benefits and health insurance subsidies that will help many middle-class families.
Do you qualify for a stimulus check? When will it arrive? The Times answers frequently asked questions.
Wall Street analysts have been warning about the onset of inflation for years — wrongly. Will stimulus money mean that this time is different?
The Senate confirmed Merrick Garland as attorney general. Twenty Republicans voted for his confirmation, including Mitch McConnell.
Mexico approved a bill to legalize recreational marijuana.
Beth Moore, a prominent evangelical Christian, said she was leaving the Southern Baptist denomination, partly because of its embrace of Donald Trump.
The federal authorities are investigating the founder of the Oath Keepers, an antigovernment militia, in connection with the Capitol attack.
The U.S. and Iran seem to be at an impasse over talks about resuscitating the 2015 nuclear accord.
Fallout from Prince Harry and Meghan’s interview continues in Britain, raising questions about racism in the British press.
Ten Years Later: In 2011, a tsunami destroyed the Japanese village of Kesen. Residents have realized that the emptiness is forever.
From Opinion: If American democracy is to survive, the filibuster must go, The Times’s editorial board argues.
Lives Lived: In 1994, thieves stole “The Scream,” Edvard Munch’s masterpiece, from the National Gallery in Oslo. Three months later, it was returned, thanks largely to the efforts of a Scotland Yard detective named Charles Hill. Hill died at 73.
Last month, someone bought an animated gif of a flying cat for more than $500,000. A short video by the artist Beeple went for almost $7 million. Anyone can still view or share the clips. So what’s the point of owning them?
It may not make sense to everyone — and has elements of a financial bubble. It mostly comes down to very expensive bragging rights, as well as the potential of reselling it for more money.
These rights are known as NFTs, short for “nonfungible tokens.” “It seems crazy to do that for something purely digital that can be easily copied and shared across the internet,” Erin Griffith, a Times tech reporter who has written about the trend, told us. “But the popularity of NFTs shows that people are willing to pay for special, scarce collector’s items.”
The technology has made it easier for artists, musicians and sports franchises to make money from digital goods. The N.B.A. recently introduced a series of NFTs, Top Shot, that turn highlight clips into trading cards. In music, the latest album by Kings of Leon is an NFT.
The pangram from yesterday’s Spelling Bee was handbook. Here is today’s puzzle — or you can play online.
Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Pops (three letters).
If you’re in the mood to play more, find all our games here.
Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David
P.S. The Senate confirmed Janet Reno as the nation’s first female attorney general 28 years ago today. The Times’s story quoted a certain Delaware senator praising her: “President Clinton — albeit not the first time at bat — has hit a home run.”
You can see today’s print front page here.
Lalena Fisher, Claire Moses, Ian Prasad Philbrick, Tom Wright-Piersanti and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at email@example.com.
The most interesting battle of the 44th Parliament’s early days has been the recurring back-and-forth between Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre.
This running debate between two of the most prominent figures in Canadian politics maps out some of the fault lines that might define the present and near-future of the national debate.
Once one of Stephen Harper’s most enthusiastically combative lieutenants, Poilievre has spent the past two years cultivating an online following — even playing footsie with some of the Internet’s conspiracy theorists.
This past spring, six months before the fall election, Erin O’Toole decided he didn’t want Poilievre to be the Conservative Party’s spokesperson on fiscal matters and shuffled him to another job. O’Toole’s team insisted it wasn’t a demotion — though it’s not hard to imagine that Poilievre might have been a bit too edgy for the non-threatening and moderate campaign O’Toole ran this fall.
But Poilievre was returned to the position of “shadow finance minister” after O’Toole and the Conservatives stumbled to a disappointing election result in September. Poilievre now seems like something of a spiritual leader for the Conservative side.
Before the election, Poilievre enthusiastically attacked federal spending and the Bank of Canada’s purchase of government bonds. He now points to this fall’s inflation figures as vindication of his arguments. On Twitter, he has adopted the oh-so-clever hashtag of #Justinflation to underline his claim that the prime minister is to blame for recent price increases.
Poilievre also has taken to using the phrase “just inflation” during question period — barely skirting the rule against using another MP’s proper name — and four other Conservative MPs joined him in doing so in the House on Tuesday.
Inflation has dominated questions from the Conservative side through the first week of the 44th Parliament. So Freeland was prepared when she and Poilievre faced each other directly last Thursday.
After Poilievre needled Freeland for acknowledging that inflation is a “crisis” and challenged her to admit that it’s a “homegrown problem,” Freeland stood and listed off numbers that suggest Canada’s level of inflation is in line with the rest of the G20.
At her next opportunity, Freeland referred Poilievre to the words of a National Post columnist (“The Conservatives may not want to listen to me about inflation, but I suspect they read the National Post”) who wrote that inflation is a “global phenomenon” and also described Poilievre as “charging out of his corner, arms wind-milling.”
Poilievre tried again and Freeland challenged him to tell Canadians that he thinks a pandemic is a time for “austerity.”
In her own way, Freeland is a good match for Poilievre — and each might define something about their respective sides.
An erudite former journalist, Freeland is one of the key figures of the Trudeau era. She was the Liberal leader’s first star recruit nearly a decade ago, then the woman he chose to put front and centre against Donald Trump, and the deputy prime minister he needed after the bruising campaign of 2019. Now she is the first woman to be put in charge of federal fiscal policy.
Poilievre, who casts himself as a populist fighter, is also a keen student of rhetorical combat. He once said that his approach is based on an understanding of the minutiae of legislation and a mastery of “simple facts.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals — content to drown the proceedings in values statements — have not always shown much interest in trying to win question period. In her own news conferences, Freeland has tended to prefer long and careful explanations.
For those reasons, Freeland’s recent efforts stand out.
After former Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz told CTV on Sunday that inflation in Canada was not caused by federal spending, Freeland waved his words in front of the Conservative benches — and reminded the Official Opposition that Stephen Harper appointed Poloz to preside over the bank.
But as more voices have jumped into the inflation fray, Poilievre has pivoted slightly to focus on the rising cost of housing.
On Monday, Poilievre raised the case of a 27-year-old constituent who couldn’t afford to buy a house and wanted to know why prices had increased so much over the last year. In response, Freeland pointed to the money families would save thanks to the federal government’s push for expanded child care.
Poilievre came back to note that his constituent wouldn’t be able to start a family until he could afford to buy a house.
There are unanswered questions for both sides here.
Freeland might not be directly responsible for the cost of groceries or the price of a detached home in Southern Ontario, but if neither issue resolves itself, the Liberal Party will have to worry about dealing with a frustrated electorate.
Poilievre’s hawkish stance on government spending, meanwhile, is undermined by the fact that his party just ran on a platform that promised nearly identical levels of spending. And the one major cut the Conservatives were willing to campaign on — walking away from billions in promised spending on child care — might be impossible to pursue if Ontario joins the federal child care plan.
Regardless, the cost of living and public spending will be some of the most valuable terrain in Canadian politics for the next while.
A fall economic statement is expected this month, with a budget due in the spring. So Poilievre and Freeland are likely to see a lot of each other in the coming weeks and months.
Beyond that, you can use your own imagination.
If O’Toole were to lose his tenuous grip on the Conservative leadership, attention would quickly focus on Poilievre — either as a potential candidate or as a potentially influential figure in deciding who leads the party next.
Whenever Trudeau decides to step aside, Freeland will be foremost in the pool of possible successors.
But we don’t need to get ahead of ourselves. There is already much to confront over the next year. And much might depend on how well Freeland and Poilievre make their respective arguments.
VIENNA, Dec 2 (Reuters) – Austrian conservative leader Sebastian Kurz, who resigned as chancellor in October after he was placed under investigation on suspicion of corruption, said on Thursday he was quitting politics in a surprise move that leaves a power vacuum in his party.
Kurz has been the dominant figure of his People’s Party and Austrian political life since 2017, when he became party leader and then chancellor, winning a parliamentary election and forming a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party. He told a news conference he was leaving politics altogether.
Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by John Stonestreet
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
The COP26 Glasgow summit was probably disappointing with little to show by way of policy progress. The conference president, Alok Sharma, noted: “We can say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 (degrees Celsius) within reach, but its pulse is weak.” If this is the state of climate politics, it is depressing. Post Paris, aggressive decarbonization was supposed to be up and running. And the best we can say after the Glasgow summit is that it is alive!
Glasgow did move the policy needle a bit. Countries agreed on new rules for carbon trading, tackling methane emission, curbing deforestation, and phasing down coal (although ironically, coal consumption is up this year). In addition, developed countries promised to provide $100 billion annual climate aid between 2021 and 2025.
Did Glasgow influence U.S. climate policy? It neither accelerated nor derailed Biden’s climate agenda. The reason is that climate politics is increasingly local. This is not to say that global climate conferences are a waste of time and resources. They shine the spotlight on climate issues and increase their salience. These conferences also motivate politicians (who probably do not want to look bad among their peers) to make climate pledges. For some, a weak pledge is superior to no pledge. For others, weak pledges demobilize the climate movement by creating an illusion of policy progress.
What Did Biden Hope to Achieve at Glasgow?
Biden’s stated objective was to reclaim U.S. leadership on global climate policy. Of course, it is not clear what the U.S. gains by exercising this leadership? Vanity? A nostalgia for post-cold war Pax Americana?
And it is certainly not clear why U.S. leadership would further the global climate agenda. Does the U.S. have the financial or coercive power to motivate other countries? Is the U.S. the shining light that guides the world on climate issues?
The brutal truth is that the world has moved on without U.S. climate leadership. China leads in renewable technologies and the European Union in policy innovation. America’s economic and coercive power is declining, as demonstrated in the huge budgetary deficits and the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
And its moral power – give us a break! Domestically, the U.S. has made modest progress in climate policy. Unfortunately for Democrats, blaming Trump for climate problems no longer works. Biden’s own party held up the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House of Representatives, which provides substantial funding for climate projects.
Biden’s second objective probably was to reassure his domestic base about his commitment to climate issues. Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not attend the Glasgow meeting with little domestic backlash. Imagine the domestic backlash if Biden stayed home!
So, Biden attended along with a sizeable U.S. delegation. He said the right things and in the right tone. But is this sufficient to satisfy the U.S. climate movement which wants to see Biden deliver on the climate promises made during the campaign? The reality is that intra-party differences, the fight between the progressives and the moderates, is derailing progress on climate policy. The failure to persuade Democrats to implement his climate agenda undermines Biden’s international and domestic credibility as a climate champion.
Intra-Party Squabbles and the Virginia Election Shock
Historically, U.S. presidents have exercised the bully pulpit power to mobilize legislators behind their policy agendas. But this requires the President to enjoy high levels of public support. And citizens probably support the President, who they perceive to be following the right policies and is able to deliver on them.
After a strong start, Biden has lost public support. As per RealClear politics, his net approval (approval-disapproval) has fallen by almost 30% points: from positive 20.3% 0n January 28 to negative 10.7% on November 27.
Democrats’ loss in Virginia and a near loss in New Jersey gubernatorial races have further undermined Biden’s image as a leader who can get things done. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) noted: “The voters of Virginia and the voters of America gave us the presidency, the Senate and the House. They expected us to produce.” Indeed, within a few days of the Virginia election shock, the House passed the stalled bipartisan infrastructure bill. Arguably, Biden’s climate credentials in Glasgow and at home would have been stronger, had the House passed this bill earlier. But Biden’s own party denied him this opportunity.
Biden has another signature issue, the Build Back Better (BBB) bill, which has been passed in the House and is being considered in the Senate. This provides an additional $555 billion for climate projects. Does Biden have the political muscle to persuade Democrats to pass it? The problem is that Senators Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ) want cutbacks which the House Progressives might not agree to. This will be the second litmus test of Biden’s leadership and legislative skills.
Enter Inflation and Gas Prices
Over the summer, many suggested that inflation is temporary. Very few do so now. While scholars debate what caused it, inflation will weaken Biden’s Presidency. Americans have become accustomed to a low inflation economy with stable prices. Inflation is already affecting real household incomes as people pay more for electricity and for gas. For example, the average U.S. gasoline prices have increased by 50% since last year: from $2.27 per gallon to $3.40 per gallon.
How has Biden responded? With panic and confusion. He has asked OPEC countries to increase oil production and has authorized releases from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The deeper problem is that the climate movement implicitly promised a painless transition to a decarbonized economy. Yet, there will be pain, be it in terms of losing fossil fuel jobs or higher energy prices. Biden clearly did not prepare Americans for this inconvenient truth. The insistence on reducing fossil fuel production at home while asking for increased production abroad invites accusations of policy inconsistency from Republicans, blue-collar labor unions, and fossil fuel communities.
Overall, the U.S. climate policy is in a bit of turbulence. Inflation, COVID, the Afghanistan fiasco, rising urban crime, and supply chain shortages are contributing to Biden’s unpopularity. Infighting among Democrats conveys the image of a “do nothing” party, to use Truman’s famous words. Democrats have about 11 months until the midterms, when Republicans will probably win back the House. This means that the window to make legislative progress on climate policy is slowly closing. Does Biden have the political muscle to compel Democrats to focus on their agreements and not play up the disagreements on climate policy? This probably is the key issue to watch for until the November 2022 midterm elections.
Middle Class are Under Siege in Canada
Arctic could see more rain than snow in 30 years, study suggests – Eye on the Arctic
Super Powers Addiction to Opium
How HIV research paved the way for the Covid mRNA vaccines – CNBC
COVID-19 vaccine rolls out for children under 12 – Yahoo News Canada
How to talk to children about getting their vaccine: U of T's Jean Wilson shares advice – News@UofT
Which media were included in Trudeau's $10 million top-up fund – CANADALAND
All high-profile streamers to leave Twitch for YouTube Gaming – Dot Esports