Moderna’s vaccine is effective against new variants of the coronavirus that have emerged in Britain and South Africa, the company announced on Monday. But it appears to be less protective against the variant discovered in South Africa, and so the company is developing a new form of the vaccine that could be used as a booster shot.
“We’re doing it today to be ahead of the curve should we need to,” Dr. Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, said in an interview. “I think of it as an insurance policy.”
He added, “I don’t know if we need it, and I hope we don’t.”
Moderna reported findings from a study that used blood samples from eight people who had received two doses of the vaccine, and two monkeys that had also been immunized.
The variant found in Britain had no effect on the levels of neutralizing antibodies — the type that can disable the virus — produced after vaccination. But with the form from South Africa, there was a sixfold reduction in those levels.
Even so, the company said, those antibodies “remain above levels that are expected to be protective.”
Moderna collaborated on the study with the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.
The results have not yet been published or peer-reviewed, but have been submitted to bioRxiv, which posts preliminary studies online.
The company’s action is part of a race to control a shape-shifting virus that has already created global havoc and now threatens to mutate in ways that will make it even harder to fight.
California officials announced on Monday morning that they were lifting severe coronavirus restrictions on huge swaths of the state, home to tens of millions of people. The decision would allow restaurants in those areas to reopen for outdoor dining, and would give hair salons and other personal care businesses the green light to resume limited operations.
However, local officials can still opt to keep restrictions in place, based on conditions in individual communities.
“Seven weeks ago, our hospitals and frontline medical workers were stretched to their limits,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said in a statement. “But Californians heard the urgent message to stay home when possible, and our surge after the December holidays did not overwhelm the health care system to the degree we had feared.”
Effective immediately, state officials said, they were ending regional stay-at-home orders, which banned gatherings of any size and required residents to stay home except for essential work. The orders came into force when hospital intensive-care units in the region were projected to become dangerously full.
Such orders had been in effect for Southern California, a huge region encompassing Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego, as well as for the San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area. Counties in those regions will now return to a tiered system of rules tied to the prevalence of the virus in each county.
The move is a victory for restaurateurs, who have been pushing the governor to ease what they have said are arbitrary and unnecessary rules.
But it is also a sign that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is struggling to keep a firm grip on a pandemic response that has been criticized as chaotic and piecemeal, undercutting what should be strong, clear public guidance.
The news came on the heels of a weekend of mixed signals from the state about its strategy to curb the rampant spread of the virus.
While California’s overall case numbers have been on the decline, hospitals in Southern California are still overwhelmed, and experts worry that new variants of the virus — including one that researchers recently found in more than half of test samples collected in Los Angeles — could threaten progress.
In the Bay Area, the amount of available intensive care unit capacity has risen to 23.4 percent, according to the state as of Sunday — well above the 15 percent threshold that triggered the stay-at-home order for the region. Yet the Sacramento area has just 11.9 percent intensive care unit capacity, and was allowed to exit the strict order more than a week ago.
Although The San Francisco Chronicle reported on Saturday that officials in the region were feeling hopeful that the order would be lifted soon, the state’s department of public health said on Sunday that the Bay Area wasn’t eligible to have restrictions loosened based on its projections.
Mr. Newsom has repeatedly said that the state’s reopening process would be guided by transparent data, but The Associated Press reported that Mr. Newsom’s administration has refused to disclose key data that officials are using to make decisions about restrictions.
And even after President Biden unveiled what experts have long said is a desperately needed national strategy for finally controlling the pandemic, there are still major hurdles in the vaccine rollout, which in California has contributed to continuing chaos, in which vaccine eligibility rules have been implemented differently county by county.
The state quietly rolled out a promised clearinghouse website to help people find vaccination appointments. But it’s still described as a pilot site.
The governor has been facing mounting political pressure from a recall effort. Experts have said that the vaccine rollout, as well as efforts to reopen, are key tests for his administration.
Merck announced on Monday that it was abandoning a pair of Covid-19 vaccines in clinical trials.
The news came as a disappointment at a time when the United States and other countries are struggling to accelerate their sluggish vaccination campaigns and new coronavirus variants threaten to bring surges over the next few months.
The two projects are the second and third vaccines to be abandoned in clinical trials. The University of Queensland in Australia abandoned its own effort in December. Sanofi and other vaccine makers have paused some projects after getting disappointing initial results but are now regrouping to move forward.
Merck was slower than other companies to get into the Covid-19 vaccine race. In June, it acquired the Austrian firm Themis Bioscience to develop a vaccine originally designed at Institut Pasteur, based on a weakened measles virus. Researchers began a Phase 1 trial in August. In a second effort, Merck partnered with IAVI, a nonprofit scientific organization that develops vaccines and treatments, on another vaccine. For that one, they used the same design that they successfully employed to make a vaccine for Ebola.
Merck and IAVI were awarded $38 million for their vaccine research, but neither of Merck’s projects earned the lavish support that Operation Warp Speed showered on other efforts from companies such as Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. In its announcement, Merck said that both vaccines looked safe in early clinical trials. But neither produced a strong response from the immune system. They decided that it was not worth going forward with large-scale trials that would demonstrate whether the vaccines protected people from Covid-19.
“We are grateful to our collaborators who worked with us on these vaccine candidates and to the volunteers in the trials,” Dr. Dean Y. Li, the president of Merck Research Laboratories, said in a statement.
Merck will instead focus its Covid-19 efforts on an experimental antiviral drug known as molnupiravir. Originally designed for influenza, it has shown promising effects in studies on animals and in early clinical trials. The trial is set to finish by May, although preliminary results could come out as early as March.
IAVI said it would continue searching for Covid-19 vaccines. “Our scientists will continue to evaluate other candidates to see if other routes of administration or changes to the construct could lead to improved immune response,” said Karie Youngdahl, senior director and head of global communications at IAVI.
President Biden will ban travel by noncitizens into the United States from South Africa because of concern about a coronavirus variant spreading in that country, and will extend similar bans imposed by his predecessor on travel from Brazil, Europe and the United Kingdom, his press secretary said Monday.
The move comes as officials in the new Biden administration are trying to get their hands around a fast-changing pandemic, with public health officials racing to vaccinate the public — and to expand the supply of vaccine — as more contagious variants of the coronavirus spread.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s leading infectious disease specialist, said at the White House last week that “we’re following very carefully” the variant of the virus in South Africa because it appears to be more highly contagious. On Monday, Moderna said its vaccine is effective against new variants of the coronavirus that have emerged in Britain and South Africa. But the immune response is slightly weaker against the variant discovered in South Africa, and so the company is developing a new form of the vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against that virus.
And Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, offered a blunt assessment of the vaccination campaign on Sunday, predicting that supply would not increase until late March. Federal health officials and corporate executives agree that it will be impossible to increase the immediate supply of vaccines before April because of lack of manufacturing capacity. A third vaccine maker, Johnson & Johnson, is expected to report the results of its clinical trial soon.; if approved, that vaccine would also help shore up production.
“I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have, and if I can’t tell it to you then I can’t tell it to the governors and I can’t tell it to the state health officials,” she told “Fox News Sunday.”
Mr. Biden’s travel ban is a presidential proclamation, not an executive order; typically, proclamations govern the acts of individuals, while executive orders are directives to federal agencies. It will go into effect Saturday and apply to non-U.S. citizens who have spent time in South Africa in the last 14 days. The new policy, which was earlier reported by Reuters, will not affect U.S. citizens or permanent residents, officials said.
On his last full day in office, Mr. Trump tried to eliminate the Covid-19-related ban on travel the United Kingdom, Ireland, 26 countries in Europe and Brazil, saying it was no longer necessary. Jen Psaki, now the White House press secretary, said at the time that ending the ban was the wrong thing to do; on Monday, she announced during her regular briefing that it would remain intact.
“With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants spreading, this isn’t the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she said.
Ms. Psaki also said the Biden administration intends to hold regular public health briefings three times a week, beginning this Wednesday. She said Mr. Biden would be “briefed regularly” on the pandemic, adding, “I suspect far more regularly than the past president.”
The variants of the coronavirus that are now spreading in South Africa and Brazil have not yet reached the United States. But on Monday health officials announced a case of the variant found in South Africa had been recorded in New Zealand in a returned traveler who had been released from hotel quarantine after twice testing negative. Over two dozen countries have now reported cases of the variant.
In addition to the travel bans, Mr. Biden issued an executive order last week requiring that all international travelers present negative coronavirus tests before leaving for the United States. The move extended a C.D.C. requirement for the tests that was issued by the Trump administration but set to expire on Tuesday.
A White House official said Sunday that the C.D.C. will not issue waivers from that policy as some airlines had requested.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, recommended on Monday restricting nonessential travel in a bid to curb the spread of new more contagious variants of the coronavirus.
At the same time, the commission’s proposal aims to prevent blanket border closures, which would obstruct trade and the movement of cross-border workers. Traveling without restrictions would still be possible for family, work and health reasons, which are deemed essential.
“The situation in Europe with the new variants have led us to take difficult but necessary decisions,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the commission, wrote on Twitter. “We need to keep safe and discourage nonessential travel.”
Also on Monday, Moderna announced that while its vaccine is effective against new variants, it appears to be less protective against the one that emerged in South Africa, raising further concern.
President Biden’s press secretary said Monday that he would ban travel by noncitizens into the United States from South Africa because of concern about a coronavirus variant spreading in that country, and will extend similar bans imposed by his predecessor on travel from Brazil, Europe and the United Kingdom.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to announce an extension and tightening of lockdown rules in England this week amid growing concern.
In the E.U. plan, countries and regions where the 14-day infection rate is more than 500 per 100,000 inhabitants would qualify as “dark red,” or high-risk zones, and moving between them should be limited to essential reasons, the commission said. At the same time, those coming in from outside the bloc, even for essential reasons, would have to undergo testing and quarantines. “The first recommendation is: don’t travel,” said Ylva Johansson, the bloc’s commissioner for home affairs.
The commission’s proposal is nonbinding and needs to be endorsed by national governments, who will discuss it Monday afternoon. It comes after last week’s meeting of the leaders of 27 European Union nations, who agreed in principle to selectively restrict nonessential travel, but did not decide on the details.
“There is currently a very high number of new infections across many member states,” said Didier Reynders, the bloc’s commissioner for justice. “There is an urgent need to reduce the risk of travel-related infections, to lessen the burden on overstretched health care systems.”
Freedom of movement is the cornerstone of the bloc, but travel restrictions remain the province of national governments and vary from country to country, creating a chaotic patchwork of measures. Belgium, for example, has announced a ban on nonessential travel coming into force this Wednesday, with fines for those who don’t comply.
China’s coronavirus vaccines were supposed to deliver a geopolitical win that showcased the country’s scientific prowess and generosity. Instead, in some places, they have set off a backlash.
Officials in Brazil and Turkey have complained that Chinese companies have been slow to ship the doses and ingredients. Disclosures about the Chinese vaccines have been spotty. The few announcements that have trickled out suggest that China’s vaccines, while considered effective, cannot stop the virus as well as those developed by Pfizer and Moderna, the American drugmakers.
In the Philippines, some lawmakers have criticized the government’s decision to purchase a vaccine made by a Chinese company called Sinovac. Officials in Malaysia and Singapore, which ordered doses from Sinovac, have had to reassure their citizens that they would approve a vaccine only if it has been proven safe and effective.
At least 24 countries, most of them low and middle income, signed deals with the Chinese vaccine companies because they offered access at a time when richer nations had claimed most of the doses made by Pfizer and Moderna. But the delays in getting the Chinese vaccines and the fact that the vaccines are less effective mean that those countries may take longer to vanquish the virus.
Beijing officials who had hoped the vaccines would burnish China’s global reputation are now on the defensive. The state news media has started a misinformation campaign against the American vaccines and promoting the Chinese vaccines as a better alternative. They have also distributed online videos that have been shared by the anti-vaccine movement in the United States.
The vaccines are also meant to prove that China has become a scientific and diplomatic powerhouse. It remains on par with the United States in the number of vaccines approved for emergency use or in late-stage trials. Sinopharm, a state-owned vaccine maker, and Sinovac have said they can produce up to a combined two billion doses this year, making them essential to the global fight against the coronavirus.
Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, their doses can be kept at refrigerated temperatures and are more easily transported, making them appealing to the developing world.
China’s campaign has been plagued with doubts, however. A YouGov survey this month of roughly 19,000 people in 17 countries and regions showed that most were distrustful of a Covid-19 vaccine made in China. The misinformation campaign surrounding Western vaccines could further undermine its image.
Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City announced on Monday that the openings of planned mass coronavirus vaccination sites at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field would be postponed because of the low supply of doses available.
“We want to get those to be full blown, 24-hour operations,” Mr. de Blasio said at a news conference, “but we don’t have the vaccine.”
The site at Citi Field had been set to launch this week, while plans for the one in the Bronx were still being developed. Another site at the Empire Outlets on Staten Island was initially scheduled to open last week, but would also be postponed, the mayor said.
The city had a total of 19,032 first doses in inventory on Monday morning, Mr. de Blasio said, and expects to receive just under 108,000 doses this week. But he continued to warn that figure was not nearly enough to keep up with the pace at which New Yorkers are being inoculated: If the supply was greater, the mayor said New York City would be on pace to administer roughly 500,000 doses per week.
Instead, he said many inoculation appointments will continue to be canceled or rescheduled as they were last week.
Some public health experts have worried that the limited supply could undermine goals of state and city officials to prioritize communities hard hit by the virus — Black and Latino people and low-income New Yorkers — in the vaccine rollout.
The state has not released demographic information on the distribution, but Mr. de Blasio said on Monday that data would come “this week,” adding that “it’s part of making sure that we act to address the disparities that have pervaded the Covid experience.”
The mayor last week also sent a letter to President Biden requesting more doses, along with the “flexibility” to use second doses to increase the pace of vaccinations. He did not discuss any specific progress made on Monday, but appeared hopeful that an update could come soon.
“What is so clear now is the commitment of the Biden administration,” Mr. de Blasio said, “to finding every conceivable way to get us more vaccine quickly. We are waiting in the course of this week for more detailed information.”
But federal health officials and corporate executives agree that the immediate supply is unlikely to increase before April because of manufacturing constraints. Public health officials are also awaiting clinical trial results for the vaccine under development by Johnson & Johnson, which city officials said on Monday they hoped would also raise supply levels.
And as small businesses across New York City continue to collapse during the pandemic, Mr. de Blasio said the city’s annual restaurant week started on Monday with a focus on takeout and delivery options.
“There’s a lot of things we need to keep doing to help our business in the meantime,” he said, “as they work to survive.”
With roughly 70,000 kindergarten through eighth grade students scheduled to return to public school classrooms in Chicago next week, the district and the teachers’ union remain locked in a battle over the reopening plan, with the union saying that a majority of its members voted to authorize a strike if the district seeks to force teachers back into buildings.
All staff working in kindergarten through eighth grade classrooms were originally supposed to report to buildings on Monday to prepare for students’ return next week. But late last week, the union asked its members to vote on a resolution calling on them to refuse to report in-person and to authorize a strike if the district locked them out of its electronic systems.
Over the weekend, the two sides jockeyed for leverage. The district sent a message to families and staff saying that it had agreed to a request from the union to postpone the date for staff to return to Wednesday. Shortly after, the union sent its own message denying that there had been any agreement and saying that its members had voted to continue working remotely indefinitely.
The district said that the union was making several requests that it disagreed with, including delaying reopening until all staff members had been able to receive at least one dose of the vaccine or until the citywide positivity rate fell below 3 percent. Over the last week, the citywide positivity rate has been 7.2 percent. The district has said it will begin vaccinating teachers in mid-February and that it hopes to vaccinate all employees in the coming months.
According to the district, the union was also requesting weekly surveillance testing of staff as well as regular testing of students in parts of the city with high positivity rates. Currently, the district is planning to test up to a quarter of staff each week and is not planning to do surveillance testing of students.
Prekindergarten students and some special education students returned to school buildings on Jan. 11, in the first wave of the district’s reopening. The district said on Friday that roughly 60 percent of the 5,352 students who were expected to attend in person actually did in the first week. Overall about a third of families in the district who have been given the option to have their students return in person have signed up to do so.
Chicago is not the only district where opposition from teachers’ unions is threatening reopening plans: Over the weekend, plans to reopen schools in Montclair, New Jersey, were postponed indefinitely after the superintendent said he did not have enough teachers to properly staff the schools.
The European Union escalated a war of words with AstraZeneca on Monday over the company’s sudden announcement on Friday that it would have to drastically cut the number of vaccine doses delivered to the bloc and its 27 members.
The European health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, said a call with the company’s leadership on Monday had not yielded sufficient answers as to why the company was breaking its contractual obligation and said another call would be held on Monday evening.
A spokesperson for AstraZeneca, said: “Our C.E.O. Pascal Soriot was pleased to speak with the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen earlier today. He stressed the importance of working in partnership and how AstraZeneca is doing everything it can to bring its vaccine to millions of Europeans as soon as possible.”
The AstraZeneca debacle delivers a serious blow to the bloc’s sluggish vaccination rollout, and comes days after Pfizer notified E.U. members and several other countries that it would slow down deliveries until mid-February as it upgraded its Belgium factory to increase production.
The twin disappointments have left several E.U. countries hamstrung, and have thwarted the bloc’s collective effort to vaccinate 70 percent of its population by this summer, as Britain and the United States are making better progress with their inoculation programs.
“The European Union has pre-financed the development of the vaccine and its production, and wants to see the return,” Ms. Kyriakides said, implying that the E.U. was concerned the company had sold the vaccines the bloc had funded to other countries.
“The European Union wants to know exactly which doses have been produced, where by AstraZeneca so far, and if, or to whom, they have been delivered,” she added.
Ms. Kyriakides also said that the European Commission, the executive branch of the E.U., was proposing its members approve a system in which pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca that produce vaccines in plants in E.U. territory would need to register any intention to export part of that production outside the bloc.
An adviser to seven presidents and the nation’s top infectious disease expert for decades, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci has weathered many crises.
But in 2020, as one of the most familiar, trusted faces of the nation’s public health community, Dr. Fauci, 80, faced a year like no other when the coronavirus pandemic unfolded in the final months of the Trump administration amid an extremely divisive election season.
In an hourlong conversation with The New York Times over the weekend, Dr. Fauci described some of the difficulties, and the toll, of working with President Donald J. Trump.
In his first 48 hours in office, President Biden sought to project an optimistic message about returning the nation’s many homebound students to classrooms. “We can teach our children in safe schools,” he vowed in his inaugural address.
The following day, Mr. Biden signed an executive order promising to throw the strength of the federal government behind an effort to “reopen school doors as quickly as possible.”
But with about half of American students still learning virtually as the pandemic nears its first anniversary, the president’s push is far from certain to succeed. His plan is rolling out just as local battles over reopening have, if anything, become more pitched in recent weeks.
Teachers are uncertain about when they will be vaccinated. With alarming case counts across the country and new variants of the coronavirus emerging, unions are fighting efforts to return their members to crowded hallways.
The Chicago Teachers Union told members to defy orders to return to the classroom on Monday and to begin working remotely. The teachers say the district has not done enough to keep students and teachers safe during the pandemic. Students are supposed to come back to classrooms on Feb. 1.
Given the seemingly intractable health and labor challenges, some district officials have begun to say out loud what was previously unthinkable: that schools may not be operating normally for the 2021-22 school year. And some labor leaders are seeking to tamp down the expectations Mr. Biden’s words have raised.
“We don’t know whether a vaccine stops transmissibility,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers union.
Some virus experts, however, have said there is reason to be optimistic on this question.
Ms. Weingarten said a key to returning teachers to classrooms in the coming months would be promises to allow those with health conditions, or whose family members have compromised immune systems, to continue to work remotely; the collection of centralized data on the number of coronavirus cases in specific schools; and assurances from districts that they would shut down schools when cases occur.
Fights over those very demands have slowed and complicated reopenings across the country.
Mr. Biden’s executive order directs federal agencies to create national school reopening guidelines, to support virus contact tracing in schools and to collect data measuring the impact of the pandemic on students. The White House is also pushing a stimulus package that would provide $130 billion to schools for costs such as virus testing, upgrading ventilation systems and hiring staff members.
Research has pointed to the potential to operate schools safely before teachers and students are vaccinated, as long as practices like mask wearing are adhered to, and especially when community transmission and hospitalization rates are controlled.
An official in the northeastern Chinese city of Tonghua, where residents are barred from leaving their homes amid a strict lockdown, apologized to residents who said they had not been receiving enough food.
Tonghua, an industrial city of about two million people in Jilin Province, went into lockdown on Jan. 20 after the number of recent cases grew to nearly 100. Since then the local outbreak has been largely brought under control, with just two new symptomatic cases reported on Saturday.
As China observes the one-year anniversary of the lockdown in Wuhan, the central city where the virus was first discovered, other parts of the country are confronting smaller outbreaks. The government has responded with mass testing and citywide lockdowns that at one point affected more than 28 million people, almost three times the size of the population that was initially locked down in Wuhan.
On Monday, China reported 124 new cases in the previous 24 hours, including 117 local cases and seven among travelers in quarantine after returning from overseas. That is an increase from 80 cases reported a day earlier, though still vastly lower than other large countries. Mainland China, which has a population of 1.4 billion people, has recorded a total of about 100,000 coronavirus cases and 4,635 deaths, according to a New York Times database.
In Tonghua, the tough restrictions on movement have led to widespread complaints, with residents taking to social media to vent and seek help. Jiang Haiyan, a deputy mayor, acknowledged the problems on Sunday, saying that a lack of personnel had hindered the distribution of supplies.
“At present, there are problems of untimely and inadequate distribution of household materials for citizens, which has caused great inconvenience to everyone’s lives,” Ms. Jiang said.
The city’s Communist Party committee and local government “express their sincere apologies to everyone,” she added.
The city had since recruited a large number of community workers and volunteers to ensure adequate supply distribution, Ms. Jiang said.
But on the social media accounts for The People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s main newspaper, some people continued to express dissatisfaction with the situation.
“Before the residents weren’t treated humanely, they didn’t tell us anything and in one night went from house to house sealing everything up,” read one popular reply. “Now grass-roots officials and volunteers are treated inhumanely, and in one night all the food must be distributed door to door.”
Salman Masood and Lin Qiqing contributed reporting.
In other developments around the world:
Australia on Monday approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for use among people 16 and older, the country’s first vaccine approval. Vaccinations are expected to start late next month. The announcement came one year to the day after Australia reported its first coronavirus case.
Pakistan is likely to approve the Russian Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, officials said. It would be the third to get such approval, joining Oxford University’s AstraZeneca and the Chinese SinoPharm vaccines. Pakistan, which has an approximate population of 212 million, has yet to start its rollout. Dr. Faisal Sultan, the de facto health minister, said last week that one million dosages would be distributed in the first three months of 2021. Trials of the Chinese CanSino vaccine are currently being conducted in the country, and the results are expected in the first week of February, officials said.
The pandemic has inflicted the greatest labor crisis since the Great Depression, Guy Ryder, the head of the United Nations International Labour Organization, said on Monday. Mr. Ryder said the coronavirus has caused a loss of working hours equivalent to some 255 million jobs last year. There is still massive uncertainty about when the global economy will return to pre-pandemic levels of employment, but it won’t be in 2021, the agency said. Its analysis also pointed to the unevenness of the pandemic’s impact, with growth in the finance and I.T. sectors, underscoring the need for a targeted response to the crisis.
After delays, Turkey received 6.5 million more doses of a Chinese-produced coronavirus vaccine Monday morning, the state-run news agency, Anadolu, reported. Turkey was expecting to receive at least 10 million doses of the vaccine in December, and 20 million more in January. But the batches were delayed and the number of doses remained below expectations, an apparent blow to China’s vaccine diplomacy. Turkey has given more than 1.2 million inoculations, according to Health Ministry data, using the CoronaVac shot from the Chinese company Sinovac. Almost 2.5 million people in Turkey are infected with the coronavirus and more than 25,000 people have died, government data shows.
Officials in New Zealand confirmed on Monday a case of the South African variant of the coronavirus in a returned traveler a week after she left hotel quarantine. Officials have said the 56-year-old, who had tested negative twice before being allowed to return home, was probably infected by a fellow returned traveler while in quarantine. People who were at the same hotel have been urged to self-isolate immediately. It is the first case New Zealand has recorded outside quarantine since November. The government in Australia responded on Monday by suspending its travel bubble with New Zealand for at least 72 hours, saying all travelers from the country must quarantine on arrival.
The presidential election in Portugal on Sunday was marked by record-low voter turnout amid a nationwide lockdown and the country’s highest one-day death toll from the coronavirus. Turnout was about 39 percent, according to the preliminary results, despite an easing of restrictions on movement and an increase in the number of polling stations. In the last presidential election in 2016, turnout was more than 48 percent. On Sunday, officials reported a record 275 coronavirus deaths, one day after reporting 15,333 cases, also a single-day record. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s center-right president, was re-elected to a second five-year term with about 61 percent of the vote.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands said on Monday that anyone involved in riots over the weekend protesting the country’s coronavirus measures had engaged in “criminal violence” and warned that perpetrators would be treated accordingly.
Hundreds of people were detained during unrest in Amsterdam, Eindhoven and at least eight other cities after the start of a 9 p.m. curfew on Saturday, the police said. Officers used tear gas, attack dogs and water cannons to disperse crowds in the southern city of Eindhoven, where shops were looted and cars set on fire. In Urk, a staunchly protestant fishing village young people burned down a Covid test facility.
“This has nothing to do with protest or fighting for freedom,” Mr. Rutte, told reporters on Monday. “This is criminal violence, and we will treat it as such.”
His caretaker government implemented harsh new lockdown measures last week, vetted by Parliament, to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Flights to Britain, South Africa and most of South America were halted on Saturday. It also implemented a nationwide curfew, the first since World War II.
The mayor of Eindhoven, John Jorritsma, was visibly upset when he spoke to reporters about the violence in the city. He called the rioters “scum of the earth” and said he feared the Netherlands, normally one of the quietest countries in the European Union, was “on a path of civil war.”
A spokesman for the Dutch police union said the group feared that the illegal protests and riots were just the start of the curfew-related unrest. “I hope it was a one-off, but I’m afraid it was a harbinger for the coming days and weeks,” the spokesman, Koen Simmers, said, according to the public broadcaster NOS. “We haven’t seen so much violence in 40 years,” he added.
The protesters also gathered last week in Amsterdam after calls on social media to “resist” the lockdown rules and the government’s policies overall. Mr. Rutte is one of the longest-serving European leaders. Elections in the Netherlands are scheduled for March.
Protests also erupted over the weekend in Denmark. Five people were arrested on Saturday during an anti-lockdown demonstration in Copenhagen, local news outlets reported. Around 1,000 protesters gathered to demonstrate against what they said were limitations of their freedoms, after a call for protest by a Facebook group. Protesters tied an effigy of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to a pole and burned it, Danish channel TV2 reported. A sign was hung around the effigy’s neck saying, “She must and should be killed.”
Ukraine reopened schools, restaurants and movie theaters on Monday after testing showed the coronavirus was spreading less rapidly after just one week of a strict lockdown.
The health minister, Maksym Stepanov, pointed to the improving statistics as a clear indication that a strict lockdown, even if brief, can tamp down numbers. The rate of new infections declined about a third after the first seven days of closures, he said.
The cumulative number of infections nationwide last week was just over 30,000, nearly 14,000 less than the week before, Mr. Stepanov said. “The statistics are relatively optimistic and point to an improvement in the situation,” he said, local media reported.
Mr. Stepanov also pointed to a decline in hospitalizations, which typically trail infections by several weeks, suggesting that the downward trend had begun before the lockdowns and that New Year celebrations had not shifted the dynamic.
President Volodymyr Zelensky quickly imposed lockdowns last spring before easing them over the summer. The country retained a system that can close businesses in cities or regions with flare-ups.
Though the government lifted some restrictions on Monday, not all businesses can open. Nightclubs and sports stadiums remain closed. Schools are not allowed convene large gatherings of students, such as for performances or schoolwide meetings.
Ukraine, which aspires to join the European Union but is not in the bloc, has struggled to find vaccines and may not be able to inoculate its population until well into the year, forcing it to rely on quarantines, lockdowns and other restrictions until then.
Google said it will make company buildings, parking lots and open spaces available to serve as temporary vaccination clinics in partnership with health care providers and public health officials.
In a blog post on Monday, Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said the company will start by opening sites in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City, with plans to expand to other sites nationwide.
The move is part of a series of measures to help accelerate vaccination efforts. Google also said it plans to contribute $100 million in ad credits to health organizations to educate people about the vaccine and $50 million for groups working on fair access to the vaccine.
It will also include more information in search results and maps to help people find vaccination locations with details about who is eligible and whether appointments are necessary. Google said it will provide local distribution information in search results in the coming week so people can determine whether they are eligible to receive a vaccine.