The European Commission’s advice comes as officials are looking for a way to end France’s blockade of British ports. We share what we know about the British variant of the virus. California is building field hospitals. Here’s the latest.

As Britain found itself even more isolated on Tuesday because of a new variant of the coronavirus spreading there, the European Commission advised European Union members to lift blanket bans on travelers, recommending testing or quarantines instead. And one vaccine expert said that there was no evidence at the moment to suggest that the current product would have to be adapted.

The commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said on Tuesday that member states should move swiftly to reverse travel bans imposed over the past few days in an effort to stop the spread of new variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in Britain. It recommended testing or quarantining as needed, and stressed that nonessential travel should be discouraged. The recommendations are nonbinding.

The commission said it was important to maintain movement for essential travel and transport between Britain and the European Union, and also suggested that to allow the transport of goods to flow freely, countries should use rapid tests for truckers and haulers rather than time-consuming P.C.R. tests.

“While it is important to take swift temporary precautionary action to limit the further spread of the new strain of the virus, and all nonessential travel to and from the U.K. should be discouraged, essential travel and transit of passengers should be facilitated,” the commission said in a statement. “Flight and train bans should be discontinued given the need to ensure essential travel and avoid supply chain disruptions.”

A bottleneck has built up at the British-French border since the weekend, when France moved to unilaterally suspend all traffic between the two countries.

Addressing the issue of E.U. nationals stuck in Britain and vice versa, the commission said that they should be exempted from any temporary restrictions and be permitted to go home.

The commission’s cautionary tone was echoed by Dr. Ugur Sahin, the co-founder of BioNTech, which, with Pfizer, developed the first vaccine approved in the West to combat the coronavirus. In nuanced comments, he said that it would be two weeks before full results from laboratory studies would allow for a fuller understanding of how the mutations might impact the effectiveness of the vaccine.

“We believe that there is no reason to be concerned until we get the data,” he said.

If an adapted vaccine were necessary, it could be ready within six weeks, Dr. Sahin told a news conference on Tuesday. But it would require additional approval from regulators, which could increase the wait-time, he said.

But governments around the world were not waiting for a more complete picture of the new variant, instead racing to seal their borders to travelers from Britain. More than 50 governments put in place some sort of regulation, and officials in London warned that the lockdown measures in effect in the capital and southern England might need to be expanded.

The government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said Monday night that the new strain was now “everywhere” across England and that cases were only expected to grow over the holiday period.

“I think it’s likely therefore that measures will need to be increased in some places in due course, not reduced,” Mr. Vallance said.

Officials in France and Germany also acknowledged that it was possible the variant was circulating in their countries.

The World Health Organization also sought to temper the growing sense of alarm over the new variant and the danger it poses. “There is zero evidence at this point that there is any increase in the severity associated with this disease,” Mike Ryan, the W.H.O. emergency director, said at a virtual news conference. “Clearly there is work ongoing to look at transmission and the increased rates of transmission and how much of that is attributable to this particular variant.”

While scientists around the world worked to better understand the dangers of the variant, the measures being put in place to try and contain it were already being felt across Britain. Millions of people forced to abruptly cancel Christmas plans are now also facing the prospect of a disruption to basic services unlike anything experienced so far in the pandemic. Even the Royal Mail was forced to temporarily suspend all services to Europe, with the exception of Ireland, because of the “current restrictions around air, road, ferry and train movements.”

In recent days, the world has watched with curiosity and growing alarm as scientists in Britain have described a newly identified variant of the coronavirus that appears to be more contagious than, and genetically distinct from, more established variants. Initial studies of the new variant prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to tighten restrictions over Christmas, and spurred officials in countries around the world to ban travel from Britain.

No. It’s just one variation among many that have arisen as the coronavirus has spread around the world. Mutations arise as a virus replicates, and this variant — known as B.1.1.7 — has acquired its own distinctive set of them.

It appears so. In preliminary work, researchers in Britain have found that the virus is spreading quickly in parts of southern England, displacing a crowded field of other variants that have been circulating for months.

However, a virus lineage becoming more common is not proof that it spreads faster than others. It could grow more widespread simply through luck. For instance, a variant might start out in the middle of a crowded city, where transmission is easy, allowing it to make more copies of itself.

Still, the epidemiological evidence gathered so far from England does seem to suggest that this variant is very good at spreading. In places where it has become more common, the overall number of coronavirus cases is spiking. Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London, estimates that the variant has an increased transmission rate of 50 to 70 percent compared with other variants in Britain.

There is no strong evidence that it does, at least not yet. But there is reason to take the possibility seriously. In South Africa, another lineage of the coronavirus has gained one particular mutation that is also found in B.1.1.7. This variant is spreading quickly through coastal areas of South Africa. And in preliminary studies, doctors there have found that people infected with this variant carry a heightened viral load. In many viral diseases, this is associated with more severe symptoms.

Not yet, as far as anyone knows. But that does not mean it hasn’t already reached the United States. British scientists have established a much stronger system to monitor coronaviruses for new mutations. It’s conceivable that someone traveling from Britain has brought it with them.

No. Most experts doubt that it will have any great impact on vaccines, although it’s not yet possible to rule out any effect.

WASHINGTON — Congress has overwhelmingly approved a $900 billion stimulus package that would send billions of dollars to American households and businesses grappling with the economic and health toll of the pandemic.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said hundreds of dollars in direct payments could begin reaching individual Americans as early as next week.

The long-sought relief package was part of a $2.3 trillion catchall package that included $1.4 trillion to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. It included the extension of routine tax provisions, a tax deduction for corporate meals, the establishment of two Smithsonian museums, a ban on surprise medical bills and a restoration of Pell grants for incarcerated students, among hundreds of other measures.

Though the $900 billion stimulus package is half the size of the $2.2 trillion stimulus law passed in March that provided the core of its legislative provisions, it remains one of the largest relief packages in modern American history. It will revive a supplemental unemployment benefit for millions of unemployed Americans at $300 a week for 11 weeks and provide for a round of $600 direct payments to adults and children.

“I expect we’ll get the money out by the beginning of next week — $2,400 for a family of four — so much needed relief just in time for the holidays,” Mr. Mnuchin said on CNBC. “I think this will take us through the recovery.”

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who received a coronavirus vaccine on Monday with television cameras rolling, has insisted that this bill is only the beginning, and that more relief, especially to state and local governments, will be coming after his inauguration next month.

Lawmakers hustled on Monday to pass the bill, nearly 5,600 pages long, less than 24 hours after its completion and before virtually anyone had read it.

The legislative text is likely to be one of the longest ever, and it became available only a few hours before both chambers approved the bill. In the Senate, the bill passed 92 to 6, with Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rick Scott of Florida — all Republicans — voting no. It will now go to President Trump for his signature.

LOS ANGELES — As California’s new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to soar, the nation’s most populous state has emerged as the epicenter of the pandemic heading into a dangerous holiday week.

With just 2.5 percent of the state’s overall intensive care capacity available, officials have been rushing to get more so-called field hospitals up and running. And discussions are underway about how to implement the state’s plans to ration care.

While Gov. Gavin Newsom did not officially extend what were supposed to be three-week stay-at-home orders affecting most of the state’s 40 million residents, he said on Monday that it was “self-evident” the orders would need to be in effect well into January, in light of projections that more than 90,000 people in California could be hospitalized with the virus in coming weeks.

The state added 295,000 cases over the past week, according to a New York Times database, and is likely to reach 300,000 new cases this week, given the virus’s trajectory. No other state has added even 150,000 cases in a week.

Mr. Newsom urged Californians to view their sacrifices as part of a massive effort to mitigate the worst surge the state has seen, even as hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses are rushed to health care providers.

“We have agency,” he said, repeating a point he has made at various times throughout the pandemic. “The future is not something to experience — it’s something to manifest.”

The governor spoke during a Monday news conference from his home, where he is in quarantine for the second time because of exposure to a state employee who tested positive.

Mr. Newsom has tested negative, but he said that he, like tens of thousands of other Californians, would spend Christmas isolated even from his family.

The governor and other state leaders have in recent days painted an increasingly dark picture of the fate of those who fail to heed guidelines.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said in a news conference that health care providers and state and local leaders were working frantically to prevent the state from tipping into what he and the governor described as crisis mode.

“We continue to build up our capacity,” he said. “When we look forward to that forecast of quite a few patients towards the end of January — that’s not a story that’s already been written.”

But as has been the case in the last couple of months, making sure health care facilities are sufficiently staffed has been the biggest hurdle. Nurses, doctors, janitors and so many others are exhausted. Aid from other states and the federal government is scarce.

In the next week or so, more Californians could hear that hospitals are simply full. Patients who are unable to avoid going to the hospital will wait in hallways for hours.

The mere possibility that California’s caseload could overwhelm even the state’s emergency surge capacity is likely to harm workers, said Joanne Spetz, a professor at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco.

“The term psychologists use is moral distress,” she said. “And that is a huge, looming and developing issue among health professionals.”

New York City has been hit harder by the economic crisis set off by the pandemic than most other major American cities.

But no age group has had it worse than young workers. By September, 19 percent of adults under 25 in the city had lost jobs compared with 14 percent of all workers, according to James Parrott, the director of economic and fiscal policy at the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.

Young adults have been especially vulnerable because they were overrepresented in the service industries that have been decimated by social distancing restrictions.

While workers under 25 made up just 10 percent of the city’s total work force of 4.8 million before the pandemic, they held 15 percent of the jobs in the hardest-hit service industries, including restaurants, retail stores, and arts, entertainment and recreation businesses, Mr. Parrott said.

The consequences of losing a job for workers just starting out can reverberate for years, leading to lower wages, fewer job prospects and financial hardship and instability, especially for those already burdened with college or credit card debt.

Across the country, the overall unemployment rate for November was 6.7 percent, but it was 10.5 percent for 20- to 24-year-olds. By contrast, the rate for those 25 to 54 was 6 percent.

Workers under 25 filed slightly over one million claims in October for regular state unemployment benefits — not including pandemic assistance — compared with nearly 80,000 for the same month last year.

The coronavirus first smashed into Europe with a wave of infections that nearly broke its hospitals — exhausting, infecting and killing doctors and nurses. Lockdowns created some space in intensive care wards over the summer. But the reprieve was short-lived.

Since the fall, the continent has watched with horror, and paralysis, as another wave struck with nearly equal force — and in some places far more. Hospital corridors were crammed again, respirators overloaded. As death rates spiked, governments imposed restrictions, hoping to salvage their economies while keeping the virus at bay.

It hasn’t worked out that way. By December, the graphs charting the pandemic’s course looked less like progress than a scary roller coaster. The one constant through it all has been the strain on frontline workers in hospitals.

It has not helped them that European leaders are still struggling to get a handle on a pandemic that has eluded all their policy prescriptions. If any further reminder were needed, President Emmanuel Macron of France tested positive last week.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has closed much of the country again. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy has imposed tough new restrictions over the holidays. Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, facing a new and fast-spreading variant of the virus, has sealed off London and much of southeastern England. The king of Sweden said the country’s hands-off approach had “failed.”

Now, with the holidays and vaccines just starting to arrive, hopeful giddiness is mixing with reckless behavior and popular fatigue, raising fears that the new year will usher in yet another bump in infections.

The dread is pervasive. The already considerable burdens on health care workers have gotten worse in 30 countries across the continent in recent weeks, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, an E.U. agency.

Occupancy and admissions to hospitals and intensive care units were up over the previous week in at least a dozen countries, the agency said in a report on Thursday.

The pandemic is sweeping through death row at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind., with at least 14 of the roughly 50 men there having tested positive, lawyers for the inmates and others familiar with their cases said.

The outbreak comes as the Trump administration is seeking to continue the wave of federal executions it has conducted, with three more scheduled before President Trump leaves office on Jan. 20. Two of the three people scheduled to be put to death next month — Corey Johnson and Dustin John Higgs — have tested positive for the virus.

Already their lawyers are saying their execution dates should be withdrawn. And postponement past Jan. 20 could be the difference between life and death, as President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has said he would work to end federal capital punishment.

The Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons did not respond to questions about what protocols they would use to determine whether to delay execution of a prisoner who had Covid-19.

After the November execution of Orlando Hall, a Bureau of Prisons official revealed in a court filing that eight members of the execution team had tested positive for the coronavirus, and that five of them planned to travel to Terre Haute for the December executions. Mr. Hall’s spiritual adviser said he also tested positive after attending the execution.

There is a precedent of sorts for citing the virus as cause for postponement. The third person scheduled to be executed before Mr. Trump leaves office is Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row. She is not held at Terre Haute, and has not tested positive for the virus.

But after the government announced its intention to execute Ms. Montgomery — convicted of murdering a pregnant woman and abducting her unborn child — two of her lawyers traveled to visit her at a federal prison in Texas. They later tested positive for the coronavirus.

A court order then temporarily enjoined the government from executing Ms. Montgomery, who was scheduled to die this month, and the Justice Department delayed her execution until January.

SEOUL, South Korea — In several provinces across South Korea, there are no I.C.U. beds available to treat the rapidly rising number of Covid-19 patients. As of Monday, only 42 beds were available nationwide, the government said. In the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s population and the majority of its recent infections, there were just six. ​

The latest explosion of coronavirus cases in South Korea has put the country on edge in a way that it has not been since the beginning of the pandemic. If cases cannot be brought under control and the strain on hospitals alleviated, the government could for the first time impose Level 3 restrictions, the set of social-distancing rules ​just short of a lockdown in South Korea.

A quiet fear has taken hold in a country that for much of the year was held up as a model for the rest of the world. The streets of Seoul are growing emptier by the day. Supermarkets have reported brisk sales of instant noodles and meal kits. Restaurant owners are anxious they will be forced to close their doors except for takeout orders.

“Unlike in the past, this time the virus seems to pop up everywhere and no place is safe,” said Myeong Hae-kyung, a chief nurse at the Yeungnam University Medical Center in Daegu who served on the front line when the city was the epicenter of the country’s first coronavirus outbreak early this year.

“In recent days, my life has been alternating just between the hospital and home,” she said. “I am afraid to go anywhere else.”

In this wave, hospitals are a critical focus in South Korea. The country has aimed to provide patients with hospital beds within a day of receiving a diagnosis.

But as of Sunday, 368 patients in the Seoul metropolitan area were waiting at home for beds to be assigned to them. Last week, a patient in Seoul died at home while waiting for a hospital bed. Another died at home in Seoul on Sunday.

Despite Covid-19 cases spiraling upward and hospitalizations surging, federal officials in Mexico reassured the public during a Dec. 4 briefing that Mexico City had not reached the critical level of contagion that, according to the government’s own standards, would require shutting down its economy.

In fact, Mexico’s capital had surpassed that threshold, an investigation by The New York Times has found. Yet the capital stayed open for business, its streets thronged with shoppers, its restaurants teeming with diners.

Instead of shutting down the economy, the federal government misled the public about the severity of the outbreak — and allowed Mexico City to remain open for two more weeks, according to officials and a review of government documents.

Mexico decides when to lock down the nation’s capital and each of its states based on a formula that considers the latest numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. When the government introduced the system, officials told Mexicans that it would be a transparent and objective measure of the spread of the virus.

But this month, the government used in its calculation two numbers that were lower than figures it had made publicly available elsewhere, producing a result that would allow the capital, a city of nine million residents, to keep businesses open in the busy weeks of early December.

The government finally moved to shut the city down on Friday. By then, the capital’s hospitals were overflowing. More than 85 percent of hospital beds in the capital were occupied on Sunday, according to federal data, up from 66 percent when the government decided to delay the lockdown.

Federal health officials did not provide a response to requests for comment. The government of Mexico City pointed to recent public comments by the mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, who said that her government had avoided a lockdown because “this time of year is really important in terms of families’ finances.”

Unlike many global leaders, the Mexican president has not used a stimulus program to support businesses and the unemployed during the pandemic. Without a safety net in place, closing down Mexico City in the middle of the holiday shopping season would inflict considerable pain on the nation’s economy.

But allowing Mexico City’s residents to crowd into stores, dine indoors and work in their offices for two weeks while the virus was known to be spreading rapidly has increased the burden on an already strained public health system, experts say.

Taiwan on Tuesday reported its first case of local coronavirus transmission in eight months, creating an unfamiliar sense of anxiety on the island, which has so far avoided mass lockdowns and had only a handful of Covid deaths.

The government’s Central Epidemic Command Center said that the infected person, a woman in her 30s, had come in contact with an airplane worker who arrived in Taiwan from the United States last week and was confirmed to be infected on Sunday.

The airplane worker, whom the government described as a man in his 60s from New Zealand, had worked on the same Dec. 12 flight, from Taiwan to the United States, as two other people who have since tested positive for the virus. The three had spent time drinking and dining together without protective equipment, the Taiwan authorities said. The man from New Zealand had also been coughing on the flight, the authorities said.

Taiwan’s epidemic command center said on Tuesday that the man had traveled with the woman who tested positive to two department stores in Taipei and a Costco in the nearby city of Taoyuan between Dec. 8 and Dec. 11.

The command center said it had identified 167 people who may have come into contact with the woman and was arranging testing for them.

Taiwan has enjoyed remarkable success at dodging the worst of the pandemic by enforcing quarantines on people who enter from abroad. The island has recorded seven deaths related to the coronavirus and 770 confirmed infections, nearly all of them overseas arrivals.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/live/2020/12/22/world/covid-19-coronavirus/

News – Covid-19 Latest Updates: E.U. Urges Members to Lift Blanket Travel Bans on Britain