United Airlines Is Firing Workers Over Vaccine Noncompliance

About 600 people out of the company’s 67,000-person U.S. work force are set to lose their jobs. The airline said it would work with employees who decide to get vaccinated after the company deadline.,

LiveUpdated Sept. 29, 2021, 5:22 p.m. ETSept. 29, 2021, 5:22 p.m. ET

Many U.S. health workers are complying with vaccine mandates. Although some have quit their jobs rather than get shots, hospitals’ and nursing homes’ ability to hire healthy immunized employees may ease any shortages.

ImagePregnancy is among the health conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists that increase the risk of severe Covid.
Pregnancy is among the health conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists that increase the risk of severe Covid.Credit…Hannah Beier/Reuters

In an urgent plea on Wednesday, federal health officials asked that any American who is pregnant, planning to become pregnant or currently breastfeeding get vaccinated against the coronavirus as soon as possible.

Covid-19 poses a severe risk during pregnancy, when an individual’s immune system is tamped down, and raises the risk of stillbirth or another poor outcome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-two pregnant individuals in the United States died of Covid in August, the highest number in a single month since the pandemic started.

Some 125,000 pregnant people have tested positive for the virus; 22,000 pregnant individuals with Covid have been hospitalized, and 161 have died. Hospital data indicates that 97 percent of those who were infected with the virus when they were hospitalized — for illness, or for labor and delivery — were not vaccinated.

Vaccination rates among those who are pregnant are lower than among the general population. Fewer than one-third of all pregnant people were vaccinated before or during their pregnancy, the agency said.

The rates vary widely by race and ethnicity, with the highest vaccination coverage among pregnant Asian American individuals, nearly half of whom are vaccinated, and the lowest rates among pregnant Black individuals, at just 15 percent.

Pregnancy is on the C.D.C.’s list of health conditions that increase the risk of severe Covid. Though the absolute risk of severe disease is low, pregnant patients who are symptomatic are more than twice as likely as other symptomatic patients to require admission to intensive care or interventions like mechanical ventilation, and may be more likely to die.

Some data also suggest that pregnant individuals with Covid-19 are more likely to experience conditions that complicate pregnancy — like a kind of high blood pressure called preeclampsia — compared with pregnant individuals who don’t have Covid. Pregnant individuals with the disease are also at increased risk for poor birth outcomes, like preterm birth.

Clinical trials have a long history of excluding those who are pregnant from participation, and pregnant individuals were not included in the coronavirus vaccine trials. As a result, data on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines is limited in this group.

Studies conducted since the vaccines were authorized, however, have shown that the vaccines do not increase the risk of a miscarriage. Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines produced robust immune responses in those who are pregnant, and did not damage the placenta, researchers have found.

“Pregnancy can be both a special time and also a stressful time, and pregnancy during a pandemic is an added concern for family,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C. She encouraged those who are pregnant and those who may become pregnant “to talk with their health care provider about the protective benefits of the Covid-19 vaccine to keep their babies and themselves safe.”

Administering shots to medical staff at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff, Ark., in December.Credit…Andrea Morales for The New York Times

Hundreds of sought-after nurses are leaving some U.S. hospitals that have established vaccine requirements for all employees, involving some protests and legal opposition. But most workers, especially at large hospital chains, appear to be complying with the policies.

New York hospitals and nursing homes are grappling with the state’s Monday deadline for workers to have received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose, with thousands of workers remaining unvaccinated and at risk of being fired. Several other states and cities have also imposed mandates for health care workers, with deadlines approaching.

All are also facing a looming federal vaccine mandate for hospital and nursing home staff that President Biden ordered, though its exact scope and timing has yet to be announced.

The departures, especially of nurses, have compounded major staffing shortages over the course of the pandemic. The situation has become acutely difficult these past few months, particularly in regions where the Delta variant has overwhelmed hospitals and caused new spikes in Covid cases among nursing home staffs and residents. In one instance, a hospital in upstate New York said it briefly had to stop delivering babies after six of its employees left rather than get vaccinated.

At Novant Health, a large hospital group based in North Carolina, 375 workers were suspended after not meeting the system’s vaccination deadline this month. Another 200 agreed to comply, increasing the vaccination rate to over 99 percent of its more than 35,000 employees, according to Novant.

Yet the loss of some employees “is going to be the cost of doing business in a pandemic,” said Dr. Saad B. Omer, the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, who has studied vaccine mandates. “I’m not seeing any widespread disruptive effect,” he said.

Dr. David H. Priest, an infectious-disease specialist and senior executive at Novant, said he believed that the hospital would persuade most of its workers by addressing their concerns. The hospital has “been working on this for weeks on end,” he said, by holding webinars and sending emails to help educate employees about the benefits of being immunized.

How the nation’s hospitals are handling the holdouts varies widely, and many facilities are waiting for federal guidelines. Others have set deadlines later this year.

Many hospitals are not establishing sharp cutoffs for when they might eventually fire someone.

UNC Health, another North Carolina group, said that it was confirming the status of about 900 employees. About 70 employees have left as a result of the system’s mandate, and the group has granted about 1,250 exemptions for medical or religious reasons. About 97 percent of its work force have complied. Those who still need to be vaccinated or qualify for an exemption have until Nov. 2, providing what UNC described as “a last chance to remain employed.”

At Trinity Health, one of the first major hospital chains to announce a vaccine mandate, the percentage of its vaccinated staff has increased from 75 percent to 94 percent, said the group, which operates in 22 states.

SSM Health, a Catholic hospital group based in St. Louis, also adopted a mandate but said that few of its workers had left because of its requirement.

Hospitals and nursing homes have raised concerns about their ability to find workers if they impose strict requirements. The situation may be worse in rural areas, where limited numbers of workers are available. But healthy vaccinated workers may also ease staffing shortages.

At Houston Methodist, where 150 employees left from a work force of about 26,000 people, the hospital said that there had been little lasting effect on its ability to hire people. And when Texas was hit with rising numbers of Covid cases over the summer, the hospital found that fewer of its workers were out sick.

“The mandate has not only protected our employees, but kept more of them at work during the pandemic,” a hospital spokeswoman said in an email.

ChristianaCare, a hospital group based in Wilmington, Del., said on Monday that it had fired 150 employees for not complying with its vaccine mandate. But the group emphasized that over the last month it had hired more than 200 employees, many of whom are more comfortable working where they knew their colleagues were vaccinated.

Mary Bassett, who ran New York City’s health department with acclaim, was named the state’s new health commissioner.Credit…Go Nakamura for The New York Times

Mary Bassett, who won acclaim for leading New York City through a series of health crises, was named on Wednesday as the state’s new health commissioner.

Dr. Bassett ran the city’s health department for four years until 2018, and joins the state after a stint as director of Harvard’s FXB Center for Health and Human Rights.

The announcement by Gov. Kathy Hochul comes less than a week after Dr. Howard A. Zucker, the current health commissioner, announced he would resign in the wake of political pressure stemming from his role leading the state’s pandemic response under former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Dr. Bassett’s appointment will take effect on Dec. 1.

“Our recovery from this pandemic requires tested leadership and experience to improve health equity and access across the state, and Dr. Bassett is perfectly equipped to lead the New York State Department of Health during this critical moment,” Governor Hochul said in a statement Wednesday. “Dr. Bassett is both a highly regarded public health expert and an exemplary public servant, and I look forward to working with her to keep New Yorkers safe and healthy.”

“I am humbled and honored to return to my home state of New York to lead the Department of Health at this pivotal time,” Dr. Bassett said in a statement.

Dr. Bassett was praised for her handling of the Ebola scare in 2014, as well as for steering the city’s response to an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease and to the threat of Zika. She was known for taking racial justice and social equity into consideration when setting the city’s health policy, developing neighborhood health centers in an effort to better serve the most vulnerable New Yorkers.

But the health department also came under scrutiny during her tenure for its handling of lead paint inspections in New York City’s public housing system.

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, she was one of the authors of an op-ed urging Mr. Cuomo, who was then governor, to release older and high-risk inmates, as well as those incarcerated for noncriminal parole violations and those nearing release, from the state’s jails and prisons.

“This is not only an issue about the health of people in prisons, but also a public health crisis that threatens to become a humanitarian disaster,” the op-ed warned.

Dr. Bassett, who grew up in Washington Heights, served as a deputy health commissioner under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg before being appointed to the city’s top role by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

She received degrees from the University of Washington, Harvard, and Columbia University, where she has also taught. She spent seventeen years in Zimbabwe developing interventions for the treatment of AIDS and consulting for nonprofits including Unicef and the World Bank.

YouTube said it was banning the accounts of several prominent anti-vaccine activists from its platform, including that of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.Credit…Desiree Rios for The New York Times

YouTube said on Wednesday that it was banning the accounts of several prominent anti-vaccine activists from its platform, including those of Joseph Mercola and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., as part of an effort to remove all content that falsely claims that approved vaccines are dangerous.

In a blog post, YouTube said it would remove videos claiming that vaccines do not reduce rates of transmission or contraction of disease, and content that includes misinformation on the makeup of the vaccines. Claims that approved vaccines cause autism, cancer or infertility, or that the vaccines contain trackers will also be removed.

The platform, which is owned by Google, has had a similar ban on misinformation about the Covid-19 vaccines. But the new policy expands the rules to misleading claims about long-approved vaccines, such as those against measles and hepatitis B, as well as to falsehoods about vaccines in general, YouTube said. Personal testimonies relating to vaccines, content about vaccine policies and new vaccine trials, and historical videos about vaccine successes or failures will be allowed to remain on the site.

“Today’s policy update is an important step to address vaccine and health misinformation on our platform, and we’ll continue to invest across the board” in policies that bring its users high-quality information, the company said in its announcement.

In addition to banning Dr. Mercola and Mr. Kennedy, YouTube removed the accounts of other prominent anti-vaccination activists such as Erin Elizabeth and Sherri Tenpenny, a company spokeswoman said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, left, met with President Vladimir V. Putin in Sochi, Russia, on Wednesday. It was Mr. Putin’s return to public duties after a coronavirus scare.Credit…Pool photo by Vladimir Smirnov

MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia emerged on Wednesday from two weeks of isolation that began after a coronavirus outbreak in his entourage.

After several members of his inner circle tested positive for the virus in mid-September, Mr. Putin canceled an in-person appearance at a regional security conference and kept a low-profile through parliamentary elections.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that his face-to-face meeting with President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi was the Russian leader’s return to public duties after the coronavirus scare.

Although the virus spread in the president’s inner circle, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, has said that most of the cases were either asymptomatic or mild.

Those infected had been inoculated soon after Russia’s domestically made vaccines became available late last year, Mr. Peskov said, but they had not received the booster shot recommended for those who were immunized early on.

Outside the Kremlin, infections have been rising sharply in the country. And Russia on Wednesday reported 857 new Covid-related deaths, its highest number for a single day since the pandemic began.

Vaccination has gone relatively slowly in Russia. The country has fully vaccinated 29 percent of its population, below the global average of 34 percent and far below the levels in most European nations and in the United States.

Mr. Putin has remained exceedingly cautious about infection, keeping largely to the bubble of his official residences, and requiring tests for all visitors. He made at least one exception to his regime of self-isolation this month to console relatives of a government minister who died in an accident.

Vaccinating in Srinagar, Kashmir, on Friday. India, which has a population of about 1.4 billion, has fully immunized about 234 million people.Credit…Danish Ismail/Reuters

Indian health officials said on Wednesday that they had recorded the lowest number of new daily coronavirus infections in about six months, one day after the country reported its lowest daily Covid death toll since mid-March.

And while the country’s Covid figures throughout the pandemic have drastically understated the virus’s toll there, the new figures suggested a positive trend.

“This is good news for India,” said Dr. Thekkekara Jacob John, a senior virologist in the southern state of Tamil Nadu. “Hospitals will not be overwhelmed, there will be no shortage of drugs,” he said. “We are more experienced in treating the patients and, more important, doctors are relaxed.”

India recorded just 179 Covid-related deaths on Tuesday, a sharp decline from May, when the country was reporting an average of 4,000 a day. The toll ticked up slightly on Wednesday, with 378 further deaths, taking the registered total to 447,751. India also recorded 18,870 new infections on Wednesday.

During a devastating second wave of infections in early May, crematories toiled to handle the volume of dead bodies, Indian hospitals struggled to treat patients and families tried to save sick relatives by taking to social media to plead for oxygen cylinders.

Since then, the country has made remarkable strides. The authorities added beds at government-run hospitals, lifted oxygen production and bolstered staffing at rural clinics.

India’s enormous government work force has also powered a vaccination drive, reaching remote areas and lowering many people’s risks of coronavirus infections requiring hospitalization. Even so, the country was recording more than 30,000 new daily infections until a few days ago.

In India, which has a population of about 1.4 billion, about 234 million people are fully vaccinated and another 409 million are partly vaccinated.

Still, states that fared better in the previous wave are now witnessing a steady rise in new infections. They include the southern state of Kerala, which has gone from being relatively lightly affected to being one of the worst-hit regions.

A health worker in San Francisco prepares to administer a vaccine dose in one of the city’s Hispanic neighborhoods. Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

The share of Hispanic adults in the U.S. who say they have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine reached 73 percent in September, an increase of 12 percentage points from July, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey.

The increase was the fastest of any demographic group in the survey, and it put the reported vaccination rate for Hispanic adults slightly ahead of that of white adults.

Experts say that disparities in vaccination rates and access persist in may parts of the country. But they said that the strong increases among Hispanic and Latino adults in the national poll signaled that on-the-ground vaccination efforts focused on the group were paying off.

Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of President Biden’s Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force, said Tuesday at a White House news conference that the survey findings “represent much more than simply time passing — they tell the story of an all-of-society effort to get us to where we are today.”

Other surveys have also found high rates of vaccine uptake among Hispanic people. The Pew Research Center found in a survey of 10,000 adults released earlier in September that 76 percent of Hispanic adults were at least partially vaccinated.

“I think there have been some very concerted efforts,” said Dr. Bertha Hidalgo, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Hispanic people, she noted, “were one of the most highly affected groups during the earlier parts of the pandemic, when there were really high numbers of cases and also large numbers of deaths in Latinos.”

Hispanic people in the United States have been 2.3 times as likely as non-Hispanic white people to die of Covid-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A federal report found that from 2019 to 2020, Hispanic Americans experienced a drop in life expectancy of three years, compared with 2.9 years for Black Americans and 1.2 years for non-Hispanic white people.

Because they were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, it is possible that many Latinos have been driven by fearful memories to get the vaccine, said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California.

Hispanic people continue to lag behind in some places, like Los Angeles County, where about 62 percent of Latinos 12 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine, compared with about 72 percent for non-Hispanic white people, according to county data. In Colorado, Hispanic people make up 22 percent of the state’s overall population but only about 12 percent of the vaccinated population.

“We are seeing that Latinos are headed in a more positive direction,” said Dr. Amelie Ramirez of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. “But it’s not everywhere, so that’s why we need to continue this effort.”

Dr. Hidalgo said that focused measures like walk-up vaccine clinics in church parking lots, making information available in Spanish and promoting vaccination on the widely watched Univision and Telemundo television networks had helped to persuade many initially hesitant Latinos to get shots.

Overcoming hesitancy fueled by misinformation continues to be a hurdle, she said, but support of vaccination by the Catholic Church, the predominant faith among Latinos, has helped.

Locally, community health workers known as promotores de salud who work in Spanish-speaking communities have had success easing anxieties about getting vaccinated, according to Kurt Organista, a professor of social welfare at U.C. Berkeley.

“They’re the ones who really go out with a personal contact to say, ‘Hey listen, you don’t need to worry about your immigration status or ability to pay,'” Dr. Organista said.

N’Golo Kante, left, a star midfielder for Chelsea, took part in a match against Manchester City on Saturday. He later tested positive for the coronavirus.Credit…Chris Lee/Chelsea FC, via Getty Images

Concerned that a significant number of its players remained unvaccinated, the Premier League, the top league in English soccer, is offering its 20 clubs an unspecified “reward” for getting more of their rosters immunized.

The proposal was set out in a letter sent to the teams last week, which said only seven of the 20 teams had more than half their players fully vaccinated. The figure has alarmed officials of a league that features players from all over the world who regularly cross national borders for competitions.

“It is increasingly clear that full vaccination will be the key criteria for government and health authorities, in terms of international travel and potential Covid certification at large-scale events,” the letter said.

The efforts of the Premier League, the world’s most popular domestic soccer league, to push for greater vaccine uptake mirror the challenges faced by other sports leagues, including the National Basketball Association in the United States. The N.B.A. players’ union has strongly opposed mandatory vaccinations, and unvaccinated players must submit to daily testing.

The Premier League’s letter did not outline what type of reward teams with high vaccination rates could expect. Officials briefed on the matter said the rewards were likely to be a loosening of the stringent coronavirus protocols in place since the league resumed play last year after being suspended because of the pandemic.

“We are considering if and how best we can ‘reward’ those squads/players who are most Covid-compliant,” the league told the clubs.

Many Premier League players also compete on national teams, whose next round of games begins in October. Some league clubs have refused to release players selected by national teams in South America, despite the threat of penalties from the sport’s governing body, because of concerns that when the players returned to Britain, they would be subjected to quarantine, as other travelers are when arriving from that continent.

Premier League teams are tested regularly, and coronavirus cases have continued to occur. N’Golo Kante, a star midfielder for Chelsea who is also on the French national team, tested positive for the virus this week, ruling him out from playing in Chelsea’s Champions League match with Juventus, an Italian team, on Wednesday, as well as an upcoming league game in Britain and a French national team match next week.

Thomas Tuchel, coach of the Chelsea club, told reporters on Tuesday that he did not know how many of the players on his roster were vaccinated.

“We are a reflection of society, the players are adults and they have a free choice,” he said, adding, “I know the situation is far from over. It makes you very aware it is not over.”

United Airlines said in early August that all employees would be required to provide proof of vaccination.Credit…Chris Helgren/Reuters

United Airlines said it would terminate about 600 employees for refusing to comply with its vaccination requirement, putting the company at the forefront of the battle over vaccine mandates as the economy moves through a bumpy pandemic recovery.

The airline also said that 99 percent of its U.S. work force of 67,000 had been vaccinated, a sign that mandates can be an effective way for companies to prod their employees to get shots.

More large companies have announced vaccine requirements as the government puts increasing pressure on them to help the country increase its inoculation rate. This month, President Biden mandated that all businesses with 100 or more workers require their staff to be vaccinated or face weekly testing, helping propel new corporate vaccination policies.

Some companies are still trying to encourage their employees with a mix of incentives and deterrents, but many others have made vaccination compulsory as a condition of work. On Wednesday, AT&T said it was extending its vaccination requirement to tens of thousands of unionized employees.

In August, United Airlines became the first U.S. carrier and one of the first large corporations to mandate a vaccine for Covid-19.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision but keeping our team safe has always been our first priority,” Scott Kirby, United’s chief executive, and Brett Hart, its president, said in a memo sent to the staff on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman confirmed that the company had already begun its process to terminate 593 U.S.-based employees who declined to be vaccinated.

“We will work with folks if during that process they decide to get vaccinated,” the spokeswoman said. United Airlines did not give a timeline for the termination process or a breakdown of the job categories of the fired workers.

United has said that unvaccinated workers can request an exemption based on religious or medical reasons. It had planned to place exempt workers on leave, in many cases unpaid, starting Saturday. But the airline postponed the decision, until Oct. 15, pending a lawsuit filed by six employees, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union said in a statement on Monday.

Roughly 350 workers in customer service, storekeeper and baggage service positions have not reported proof of vaccination to the airline, said Michael Klemm, district president of the machinists union.

“We’re not in agreement with United’s position,” he said. “We plan, through a collective bargaining agreement, to grieve this process.”

A spokesman for the union representing flight attendants said about 100 of its members had not reported proof of inoculation. “We are demanding that the company give the flight attendant every benefit and make sure they’ve researched every issue for every flight attendant before they’re terminated,” said Jeff Heisey, the secretary-treasurer of the union, the United Master Executive Council.

Any company is within its legal right to require employees to be vaccinated, barring any conflicting disability or religious belief, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not provided details in response to Mr. Biden’s announcement for a nationwide mandate. The regulation is expected to be challenged in court by employers and perhaps even some states.

OSHA has the authority to quickly issue a rule, known as an emergency temporary standard, if it can show that workers are exposed to a grave danger and that the rule is necessary to address that danger. The rule must also be feasible for employers to enforce.

“There’s public policy in favor of vaccine mandates, so it’s almost impossible for an employee to argue that it’s against public policy to terminate them as long as the employer provided exemptions on medical and religious grounds,” said Aditi Bagchi, a labor law professor at Fordham University School of Law.

In early August, United announced that all its employees would be required to provide proof of vaccination within five weeks of a vaccine’s full approval by the Food and Drug Administration, or by Oct. 25, whichever came first. The F.D.A. in late August granted full approval to Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 and older. At the time, United warned that it would fire employees who did not follow the new policy.

Other airlines have taken different measures to encourage employees to get inoculated. Delta Air Lines announced last month that it was adding a $200 monthly surcharge on its health care plan for unvaccinated employees. The company has also said that it requires new employees to be vaccinated, but that existing employees are exempt. American Airlines said it was “not putting mandates in place” for employees or customers.

Other industries are enforcing vaccination requirements. Hospitals across the country have fired health care workers for refusing to comply with vaccination requirements, and in early August, CNN said it had fired three employees who violated its coronavirus safety protocols by going to the office unvaccinated.

The Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home of Real Madrid. Starting on Friday, stadiums in Spain will no longer have to limit the number of spectators watching soccer and other outdoor events.Credit…Juan Medina/Reuters

Spain’s health ministry said on Wednesday that fans would be allowed to fill soccer stadiums again, the latest step toward a general removal of restrictions after the country’s coronavirus infection rate fell to its lowest level in over a year.

Starting on Friday, stadiums will no longer have to limit the number of spectators at soccer matches and other outdoor events. For indoor stadiums hosting basketball and other competitions, the limit will be 80 percent of capacity.

Fans will still have to wear face masks, including in outdoor stadiums, and a ban on food service remains in place.

The Spanish authorities agreed in August to reopen stadiums after the summer break, but they initially limited capacity to 40 percent for outdoor stadiums and 30 percent indoors. As the pandemic numbers continued to improve — and after the country announced that 70 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated as of the end of August — the stadium capacity thresholds were raised to 60 percent outdoors and 40 percent indoors.

Many of the main restrictions in Spain have now been significantly eased or lifted altogether. In the capital region of Madrid, restaurants and bars were allowed this month to stay open as late as their licenses allow, and shopping malls, cinemas and theaters no longer have to apply limits on capacity.

On Tuesday, Spain registered 2,290 new cases of Covid-19 — its lowest daily number in more than a year. The 14-day infection rate fell to 62 registered cases per 100,000 inhabitants. (The infection rate had reached almost 700 during July, and 400 during August.)

The rate remains above 100 in just two Spanish enclaves in North Africa: Ceuta and Melilla.

Most experts attribute the improvement in Spain to the speeding up of vaccinations. The immunization rate — 77 percent on Tuesday — translates to 36.5 million residents, one of the largest fully inoculated populations in Europe.

And more than 90 percent have now received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, including about three-quarters of adolescents.

Outside a London hospital in June. Because of delays caused by the pandemic, five million patients in England are waiting for planned surgeries or treatment.Credit…Andy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

Across the world during the pandemic, hospitals facing a surge of Covid patients have had to make difficult choices about who receives care and when to postpone treatment or surgery for other patients.

In England, the health system has a backlog of five million patients who are waiting for planned surgeries or treatment. And hundreds of thousands of patients have been waiting for at least a year, according to the National Health Service’s website.

To help ease that crunch, England’s hospitals are now relaxing restrictions that were put in place to deal with the pandemic, though some experts say that the measures cannot be effective unless the problem of acute staffing shortages is also addressed.

“Easing restrictions, like social distancing, may free up capacity in hospitals and alleviate some of the pressure,” said Katharina Hauk, a professor of health economics at Imperial College London. But with a sharp drop in hospital staffing numbers during the pandemic, she noted, “making room for more beds is not going to fix the problem if you don’t have the staff to look after the patients lying in these beds.”

The changes being introduced include reducing physical distancing from two meters to one meter in nonemergency departments, returning to regular cleaning procedures, and eliminating the requirement that patients must quarantine and get tested for Covid before receiving elective surgery.

Sajid Javid, the British health secretary, said that the country’s “phenomenal vaccination campaign” had made the changes possible.

“We can now safely begin to relieve some of the most stringent infection control where they are no longer necessary to benefit patients and ease the burden on hard-working N.H.S. staff,” he said in a statement on the website of the U.K. Health Security Agency, which gives guidance on public health policy and security.

Different coronavirus rules can apply in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

As of Monday, about 82 percent of England’s population age 16 or older are fully inoculated against the coronavirus, and nearly 90 percent have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the N.H.S. website.

Britain’s government announced this month a $7.3 billion package for the health service to try to deal with the soaring waiting lists and bolster the Covid response.

The decision this week to ease hospital restrictions is the latest in a series of moves by the government to return the country to prepandemic levels of normalcy. England lifted all but a few remaining Covid restrictions on July 19. The number of new cases has fluctuated since then.

The seven-day average of new daily coronavirus cases in Britain stood at 34,242 on Tuesday, a 6 percent rise compared with that figure two weeks previously, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Covid deaths have decreased by 4 percent in that period.

Migrant workers in their room in the Westlite Juniper dormitory in Singapore in August of last year.Credit…How Hwee Young/EPA, via Shutterstock

Rubel, a 30-year-old roofer from Bangladesh, is among more than 300,000 migrant workers currently living under lockdown restrictions in Singapore that essentially prevent them from doing anything other than going from their crowded dorms to work and back to their dorms again.

When the pandemic began, Rubel shared a single room with about 30 people, he said, and there were 10 bathrooms for the 100 people in his building — conditions that he has tolerated because he can take in 28 Singapore dollars a day (about $20), plus overtime, which he sends home to his wife and young son.

But the toll on his mental health is growing.

“While we are grateful for many things, I can’t breathe,” he said.

Singapore’s pandemic restrictions on migrant workers began in April 2020. The country’s Ministry of Manpower said they were targeted for lockdowns because “the vast majority” of coronavirus infections in the country were coming from the dormitories where such workers live.

Now, more than 90 percent of migrant workers in the dorms are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. And despite that high inoculation rate, the strict regulations have remained in place, effectively trapping the workers inside crowded, uncomfortable and unsafe conditions.

“I really hope that we can get permission soon go to outside, as it really has been very long,” Rubel said.

Two weeks ago, the government introduced a pilot program to allow up to 500 vaccinated workers a week to visit predetermined locations for up to six hours — a move that Alex Au, the vice president of Transient Workers Count, Too, an organization that works with migrant workers in Singapore, described as “madness.”

“It would take 600 weeks, or 12 years, to give all the migrant workers a chance to go outside,” he said, adding that the pilot program also did not meet the workers’ emotional and social needs.

Jeremy Lim, a professor at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said the lockdown had taken a tremendous toll on the workers’ mental health.

Both Professor Lin and Mr. Au said there had been an increase in suicides among migrant workers in Singapore, though the government has denied any increase. And a study by Yale-N.U.S. College found that restricted movement for people living in the dorms was associated with higher levels of stress and depression.

“From a public health point, there is no danger of letting the workers out of their dorms,” Professor Lin said.

The government and other organizations have created telephone lines to help migrant workers deal with mental health issues. But Professor Lim said the best solution was to let migrant workers move more freely so that they can reintegrate into society and reestablish social connections.

As for Rubel, he said he had a plan for what to do when he is allowed to move freely around Singapore, where 79 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“I need meet my friends and sit outside,” he said.

A vigil at Clapham Common in London in March to commemorate Sarah Everard and call for an end to violence against women and girls.Credit…Mary Turner for The New York Times

LONDON — A police officer who pleaded guilty to murdering Sarah Everard in London this year used the false pretense that she was violating Covid-19 regulations to abduct her before he raped and killed her, a prosecutor told a London courtroom on Wednesday.

Ms. Everard’s abduction and murder in March galvanized a national movement demanding better protections for women, but the harrowing details of how the officer, Wayne Couzens, used his official police credentials, equipment and training to carry out the crime were detailed publicly for the first time during his sentencing hearing.

The prosecution called Mr. Couzens’ actions an attack of “deception, kidnap, rape, strangulation, fire.”

When Ms. Everard was abducted on March 3, Britain was in the midst of a national lockdown because of the pandemic. People’s movements were restricted, and the regulations were often enforced by the local police.

Tom Little, the prosecutor, described in court how Mr. Couzens confronted Ms. Everard in South London as she walked home from a friend’s house and conducted “a false arrest” for breaching lockdown guidelines to get Ms. Everard into his car.

Mr. Couzens, who was a diplomatic protection officer with the Metropolitan Police, used his warrant card — a type of police identification card — before restraining her with handcuffs and then driving away, according to the prosecutor.

Her remains were discovered seven days later in a wooded area in Kent, roughly 60 miles from London.

The apparel company Everlane said that 40 percent of its wares came from Vietnam.Credit…Justin Kaneps for The New York Times

After a bruising 18 months of the pandemic, this fall represented a fresh start for the apparel company Everlane. It was preparing to release a slew of new products, with September marking the beginning of an ambitious marketing campaign around its denim.

Instead, Everlane has spent this month scrambling just to get jeans out of Vietnam, where a surge in coronavirus cases has forced factories to either close or operate at severely reduced capacity with staff living in on-site bubbles.

“At this point we have factories in 100 percent lockdown,” Michael Preysman, Everlane’s chief executive, said in an interview. “Do we fly things over? Do we move things? Do we adjust in the factory? It’s a nonstop game of Tetris.”

The crisis in Vietnam is the latest curveball to be tossed at the retail industry, which has been battered by the pandemic. And it comes after Vietnam made it through the first part of the pandemic relatively unscathed. But now the Delta variant is on a rampage, highlighting the uneven distribution of vaccines globally and the perils that new outbreaks pose to the world’s economy.

Harvard Business School will move its classes online due to an uptick in outlier cases among graduate students.Credit…Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Harvard Business School said on Monday that all first-year and some second-year graduate students would temporarily revert to remote learning after a recent surge in breakthrough coronavirus cases driven by the Delta variant.

The shift to remote learning for the school will last through Sunday, said Mark Cautela, a spokesman for the business school.

“In recent days, we’ve seen a steady rise in breakthrough infections among our student population, despite high vaccination rates and frequent testing,” he said in a statement.

As of Sept. 22, 95 percent of students and 96 percent of employees at Harvard were fully vaccinated, according to data from the university.

“Contact tracers who have worked with positive cases highlight that transmission is not occurring in classrooms or other academic settings on campus,” Mr. Cautela said. “Nor is it occurring among individuals who are masked.”

The university has asked students to avoid unmasked indoor activities, group travel and gatherings with people outside their household.

The business school will begin testing all students three times a week, regardless of their vaccination status, Mr. Cautela said. Previously, unvaccinated students were being tested twice a week, and vaccinated students once a week, he said.

Graduate students have accounted for most of the recent positive cases at Harvard, according to the university’s Covid-19 dashboard. Over the past seven days, graduate students have made up 51 of the 66 positive cases at the school.

Massachusetts has some of the highest vaccination rates in the country, with 77 percent of its population at least partly vaccinated and 68 percent fully vaccinated. New cases in the Boston area have been falling since a recent spike in mid-September.

Johnny English, 78, receives a Pfizer Covid-19 booster shot in the Bronx.Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Americans who received a third dose of a coronavirus vaccine in recent weeks reported side effects at roughly the same rates as they had after their second shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday, a reassuring sign about the safety of additional doses.

At the time of the C.D.C. study, which stretched from mid-August to mid-September, additional vaccine doses were only authorized for people with compromised immune systems who had gotten two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine. Last week, though, federal regulators authorized Pfizer booster shots for broad swaths of the general population, making the safety of the additional doses an issue of intense interest for health officials, doctors and ordinary Americans.

The C.D.C. analyzed how commonly people reported side effects after a third dose compared with a second among 12,600 recipients who had filled out surveys as part of a voluntary safety monitoring system.

Reactions at the injection site, like pain or swelling, were reported by 79.4 percent of recipients after a third vaccine dose, compared with 77.6 percent after a second dose. Slightly smaller numbers of people experienced systemic reactions, like a fever or headache: 74.1 percent of people reported those side effects after dose three, compared with 76.5 percent after dose two.

“Most reported local and systemic reactions were mild to moderate, transient, and most frequently reported the day after vaccination,” the study’s authors said.

The study focused on people who had received a third dose of the same vaccine that they had originally received, either from Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. The C.D.C. said that too few people had reported receiving an additional dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or an additional dose from a different vaccine maker than they had originally received, to study those side effects.

The results reinforced findings from a small clinical trial of third shots of the Pfizer vaccine that the company’s scientists outlined to federal medical advisers last week. That trial, too, found that adverse reactions after a third dose were similar to those after a second.

While the C.D.C. study covered only a period when people with immune problems were eligible for additional doses, the data likely also included people without such conditions who had nevertheless received a third shot, the study’s authors wrote. In all, the study said, about 2.2 million people had received additional doses by Sept. 19, the end of the C.D.C. study period.

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