Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
This is the Coronavirus Briefing, an informed guide to the pandemic. Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox.
The F.D.A. could authorize Moderna boosters for all adults as early as this week.
The U.S. plans to boost Covid vaccine manufacturing to create a billion doses a year.
The Netherlands’ coronavirus testing capacity is being pushed to its limit.
Germany’s Covid culture war
In certain pockets of Europe, unvaccinated people are driving the latest surge in infections, filling strained hospital wards and sending governments scrambling to head off a fourth wave of the pandemic.
Some Western European governments, like France, Spain and Italy, have resorted to both carrots and sticks to drive up their vaccination rates. But my colleague Katrin Bennhold, The Times’s Berlin bureau chief, reports that in Central and Eastern Europe — and in the German-speaking countries and regions bordering them — the problem is more stubborn.
Germany, Austria and the German-speaking region of Switzerland have the largest shares of unvaccinated populations in all of Western Europe. About one in four people over 12 is unvaccinated, compared with about one in 10 in France and Italy, and almost none in Portugal.
In the northern Italian province of Bolzano — which borders Austria and Switzerland, and where 70 percent of the population is German-speaking — the vaccination rate is the lowest in the country. Experts have linked a sharp increase in infections there to frequent exchanges with Austria, but also to a cultural inclination among the population toward homeopathy and natural cures.
Sociologists say that the vaccine resistance in some of these areas is also being fueled by a strong tradition of decentralized government that tends to feed distrust of rules imposed from the capital — and by a far-right ecosystem that knows how to exploit both. In some ways, vaccine resistance is the long tail of the populist nationalist movements that shook up European politics for a decade.
As a result, in parts of Europe, “whether you’re vaccinated or not has become almost a political identifier like in the United States,” said Pia Lamberty of CeMAS, a Berlin-based research organization focused on disinformation and conspiracy theories.
In Annaberg-Buchholz, a onetime medieval metal-mining town near the Czech border, the split is visceral. Every Monday, hard-line opponents of vaccines hold a small but noisy rally in the town center. This week, there were some 50 protesters raging against the government in Berlin, which they say is a dictatorship like Communism, “only worse.”
Rolf Schmidt, the mayor, said that the restrictions the government imposed on unvaccinated people — like requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter social venues and shops — were sowing division. He is lobbying to allow the town’s celebrated Christmas market to go ahead, with a testing mandate for all but no restrictions on the unvaccinated.
Half the booths in the market are already up, set to open on Nov. 26, but Mr. Schmidt worries that it will be banned by the state government.
“That would be the last straw,” he said. “For our region, this is more than a Christmas fair; it’s who we are as a town and as a region. It’s a feeling, it’s an identity. Big cities don’t understand it.”
Drug overdoses hit records
Before the pandemic, overdose deaths in the U.S. were already one of the country’s largest public health crises. Now, new research shows that Americans died of drug overdoses in record numbers during the pandemic.
In the 12-month period that ended in April, more than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses, up almost 30 percent from the 78,000 deaths in the year before, according to provisional figures from the National Center for Health Statistics.
It’s the first time that overdose deaths in the U.S. have exceeded 100,000 a year, more than the toll of car accidents and guns combined. Most of the fatalities occurred among people who were 25 to 55, in the prime of life.
The rise in deaths was fueled by widespread use of fentanyl, a fast-acting drug that is 100 times as powerful as morphine and has increasingly been added surreptitiously to other illegally manufactured drugs.
Fentanyl’s ubiquity has worsened the effects of the pandemic. The initial lockdowns and subsequent fraying of social networks, along with the rise in mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, added to the crisis. People struggling with addiction and those in recovery are prone to relapse, a tendency exacerbated by stress and isolation.
And they had fewer places to turn to during the pandemic. As health care providers nationwide struggled to tend to huge numbers of coronavirus patients, treatments for issues like substance abuse were postponed, helping create a health maelstrom.
What else we’re following
The White House estimated that nearly 10 percent of 5- to 11-year olds have gotten a first shot.
The W.H.O. said deaths in Europe jumped 5 percent in the last week, making it the only region in the world where fatalities from the virus are increasing.
Here’s how U.S. virus numbers are looking heading into Thanksgiving.
The C.D.C. says there has been an increase in the number of adults over 65 going to the emergency room across the country.
Ireland added new restrictions, including early pub closings.
A standoff over vaccines for troops has intensified between Oklahoma’s governor and the Pentagon.
Cities around the world are trying to tackle the mountains of waste caused by personal protective gear.
Disney Cruise Line will require all passengers 5 and older to be fully vaccinated.
The F.B.I. said that a couple convicted of stealing Covid funds is on the run.
A look at the hot stocks of the pandemic, and where they are now.
What you’re doing
During the depths of last year’s pandemic winter, I couldn’t bear to put away our artificial lighted holiday tree until Daylight Saving Time returned in March. So this year I proactively put up our “Standard Time Tree” last Saturday and it makes me smile every time I see it. I should have done this years ago!
— Christina Wheeler, Holliston, Mass.
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