Germany braces for more protests as vaccine rules tighten across Europe.Germany braces for more protests as vaccine rules tighten across Europe.
Demonstrators in Magdeburg, Germany, on Sunday during a rally against government measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.Credit…Christian Mang/Reuters
Cities across Germany braced for major protests against coronavirus restrictions on Monday, and a tough new vaccine requirement came into force in Italy as governments across Europe continued to tighten their rules in a struggle to contain the Omicron variant.
The developments in two nations where cases are rising fast — up 91 percent over the past two weeks in Germany, and more than 300 percent over the same period in Italy — encapsulate the tensions in European countries where leaders are doubling down on Covid vaccinations and boosters, beginning to make them all but mandatory.
More than 69 percent of people in the European Union have been fully vaccinated, according to official data, and the numbers are higher in the western part of the bloc, where Italy has vaccinated 75 percent and Germany 72 percent. With studies showing that the vaccines provide protection against severe illness and death from Omicron and other variants, governments increasingly see those who remain unvaccinated as an obstacle to avoiding more painful measures, such as reverting to lockdowns.
The challenge was expressed in harsh language last week by President Emmanuel Macron of France, who said in a newspaper interview that he wanted to “piss off” the millions of his compatriots who have declined the shots by barring them from public spaces. On Saturday, thousands of protesters took to the streets in opposition to a government proposal that would effectively ban unvaccinated people from public areas.
Vaccine skeptics also came out in big numbers in Vienna, where Covid shots will be mandatory for the entire adult population starting next month.
In Germany, where a strident anti-vaccination movement has ties to the far right, social restrictions and rules that shut the unvaccinated out of much of public life have prompted large protests on Mondays, a day that holds special resonance since weekly demonstration walks helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989. In recent weeks, tens of thousands of demonstrators have marched in cities and towns across the country, with some protests turning violent.
Last Monday, in the southwestern state of Baden-W?rttemberg, some 50,000 people took part in 170 marches. In the eastern state of Thuringia, the police in the town of S?mmerda used tear gas against a group of protesters. In Lichtenstein, a town in neighboring Saxony, 14 police officers were wounded in an attack by demonstrators, with one suffering a bite wound and another having to fend off an assailant who went for the officer’s weapon.
The recently elected chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has asked Germans to respect the restrictions and to get inoculated, and he used a New Year’s speech to rebut misinformation that the shots were unsafe. German lawmakers are expected soon to begin discussing legislation that would make vaccinations mandatory nationwide, but some members of Mr. Scholz’s coalition government are wary of the possible backlash.
In Italy, where opposition to vaccines is less fierce, a rule goes into effect on Monday that requires all public and private sector employees age 50 and older to be vaccinated against Covid or be able to show that they have recovered from the disease. Those who don’t meet the requirement by Feb. 1 could be suspended from work, part of the latest restrictions introduced by the government of one of Europe’s worst-affected nations to curb the steep rise of infections and mitigate the impact on hospitals.
With the Omicron variant fueling a doubling of the case rate over the past week, the Italian government has imposed the restriction on older workers because they are more susceptible to serious illness. Until now, those employees could take frequent P.C.R. tests that, if negative, allowed them to enter their workplaces.
Other new measures going into effect on Monday in Italy bar unvaccinated people from banks, offices, public transport, outdoor dining, hotels, ski lifts and a host of other places.
Public school students in Chicago woke up Monday facing another day of canceled classes, as a labor stalemate continued between the city and its teachers’ union over in-person instruction and pandemic safety.
Hundreds of thousands of students in Chicago’s school district, the third largest in the country, have not attended school since classes were dismissed last Tuesday, because members of the Chicago Teachers Union voted to stop reporting to work amid concerns over the rapidly spreading Omicron variant. On Sunday night, the city announced that classes would not be held again Monday.
The union, citing concern for the safety of its teachers, has insisted that the city switch temporarily to virtual learning.
“Honestly, remote learning is an important tool. We’ve learned a lot about what to do and not to do around it,” Jesse Sharkey, the union president, said at a news conference on Saturday. He acknowledged that remote learning was not as effective as in-person schooling. “But we’re dealing with the high point of a surge, and we have to have adequate safety measures in place.”
Under a proposal that the union outlined on Saturday, teachers would have distributed equipment and materials for online instruction and helped parents sign up for virus testing on Monday and Tuesday, and then taught students remotely for the rest of next week.
City officials have repeatedly rejected remote learning as an option. But on Sunday morning on the NBC program “Meet the Press,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said her team spent Saturday evening drafting a new proposal to give to the union. Classes would still be in-person, but the new proposal, the mayor said, had a list of conditions that could trigger a switch to virtual learning on a school-by-school basis.
Although both sides reported on Sunday night that they were still negotiating, the parties exhibited some of the animosity that has characterized the talks.
On “Meet the Press,” Ms. Lightfoot condemned the union for “being critical and throwing bombs.” And she described the union’s vote last week to stop reporting to work as an illegal walkout. “They abandoned their post, and they abandoned kids and their families,” Ms. Lightfoot said.
In a statement on Sunday, the union said that “educators are not the enemy Mayor Lightfoot wants them to be. They are parents, grandparents, clergy, community partners and Chicagoans.”
SYDNEY, Australia — Novak Djokovic, the Serbian tennis star, moved one step closer to competing for his record 21st Grand Slam title after an Australian judge ordered his release from immigration detention on Monday, the latest turn in a five-day saga over his refusal to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
The judge, Anthony Kelly, found that Djokovic had been treated unfairly after his arrival at a Melbourne airport for the Australian Open, where he had been cleared to play with a vaccination exemption. After detaining Djokovic, the border authorities promised to let him speak with tournament organizers and his lawyers early Thursday morning, only to cancel his visa before he was given a chance.
Djokovic arrived with a visa and a vaccination exemption to play in the Australian Open, which begins Jan. 17. Credit…Paul Crock/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Restoring the visa does not, however, guarantee that Djokovic will be able to vie for his 10th Open title when the tournament begins next Monday. In court, the government’s lawyers warned that the immigration minister could still cancel his visa, which would lead to an automatic three-year ban.
Whatever happens next, the drawn-out conflict over the world’s top men’s tennis player seems to have crystallized a moment as the pandemic approaches its third year and the coronavirus is circulating more widely than ever. Hosting international sports events now involves navigating ever-evolving public health and border security rules, including the management of vaccine mandates on athletes who see themselves as high priests of their own bodies and their sports.
Uganda reopened its schools on Monday after the longest pandemic-prompted shutdown in the world, but educators and others say that the closing has taken a lasting toll, eroding decades of classroom gains in the East African nation.
Despite efforts at remote education, more than half of Uganda’s students effectively stopped learning after the government ordered classrooms closed in March 2020, a government agency has found.
And the outlook is not optimistic: Up to a third of students, many of whom took jobs during the pandemic to support their struggling families, may not return to the classroom. Thousands of schools, themselves under financial stress, are not expected to reopen their doors. And countless teachers will not come back either, having turned to other work after losing their income during the shutdown.
“The damage is extremely big,” said Mary Goretti Nakabugo, the executive director of Uwezo Uganda, a Uganda-based nonprofit that conducts educational research. Unless there are intensive efforts to help students catch up, she said, “we may have lost a generation.”
In other news from around the globe:
Myanmar‘s ousted civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was convicted on Monday and sentenced to more four years in prison for possessing walkie-talkies in her home and for violating Covid-19 protocols. Altogether, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, has been sentenced to a total of six years in prison so far, with more charges pending against her.
Macau‘s ban on all incoming commercial international flight took effect at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, as the autonomous Chinese region went further than Hong Kong in seeking to keep out the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Hong Kong temporarily banned flights from eight countries, including the United States. The flight suspensions in Chinese regions will last two weeks. Macau, a popular gambling destination, has recorded fewer than 80 cases of the virus, according to figures from Our World in Data.
Livia Albeck-Ripka and Richard C. Paddock contributed reporting.
Some people with a weakened immune system can get a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine as early as this coming week, according to recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that were updated last week.
The C.D.C. endorsed a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for moderately or severely immunocompromised people on Aug. 13, but said this would be considered a part of the primary immunization, not a booster shot.
In October, the agency said those immunocompromised people could receive a booster shot — a fourth dose of vaccine, six months after their third dose. These guidelines were consistent with its recommendation for other adults.
Last week, hoping to stem the surge of infections with the highly contagious Omicron variant, the C.D.C. shortened that interval to five months for a booster shot for Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna recipients.
For immunocompromised people who received a single shot of the coronavirus vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, the C.D.C. does not recommend additional primary doses, but advises that they get a booster shot of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines two months after the first dose.
Some people are born with absent or faulty immune systems, and in others, treatments for some diseases like cancer diminish the potency of immune defenses. The C.D.C. estimates there are about seven million immunocompromised individuals in the country.
Many of them produce few to no antibodies in response to a vaccine or an infection, leaving them susceptible to the virus. When they do become infected, they may suffer prolonged illness, with death rates as high as 55 percent.
It is unclear what proportion of those people are protected by additional doses. Still, with the Omicron variant surging in the country, some immunocompromised people sought out fourth or even fifth shots of the vaccines even before the C.D.C. changed its guidelines. While receiving multiple doses of vaccines in a short period is unlikely to be harmful, it may produce diminishing returns, according to some experts.
The C.D.C. has said that any American 12 and older can receive a Pfizer-BioNTech booster — those 18 and older can alternatively receive a Moderna booster — five months after completing their initial shots with those vaccines. Israel has already begun offering fourth doses to high-risk groups including older adults. But the Biden administration has not yet said whether it plans to follow suit.
When asked on Friday about the possibility of a fourth shot for the general population, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the C.D.C., said that focus remained on Americans eligible for their third shots.
She added that U.S. officials remained in close touch with Israel experts about their data. “We will be following our own data carefully as well, to see how these boosters are working in terms of waning effectiveness, not just for infection but, importantly, for severe disease,” she said.
We spoke to experts to better understand what it could mean to test positive for both infections. Here’s what to keep in mind.
Will co-infection make me twice as sick?
A co-infection doesn’t immediately mean that a patient will be doubly sick. A strong immune response may actually help the body fight off pathogens of all types, so one infection could stimulate some additional protection.
“An infection to one might help to aid your immune response to another,” Dr. Grein said, “because it’s activating that same immune response that’s going to be effective in fighting both.”
Still, scientists don’t know for sure yet, because so few people have tested positive for both Covid-19 and influenza. But judging from past trends, doctors are not overly worried.
Who is most susceptible?
Dr. Saad B. Omer, the director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, identified two groups he thought could be most vulnerable to co-infection.
First: unvaccinated adults. “Based on previous work on vaccinations, people who refuse one vaccine might refuse others as well,” he said. He said he expected there to be a “significant overlap between people who refuse both vaccines.”
Second: children, especially those under 5, who are too young to get vaccinated against Covid. Kids are also petri dishes, as any parent will tell you, and have lived through fewer cycles of the flu. So even if a child got a flu shot, Dr. Omer said, “their library of protection is narrow” against the many viral flu strains that can emerge each year.
How can I prevent co-infection?
On this one, the medical advice remains consistent: Get vaccinated for both Covid and flu. And get vaccinated right now.
Both kids and adults can get both vaccines at the same time. Children ages 5 years and older are eligible for a Covid vaccine, and children older than 6 months can get vaccinated against the flu.
In addition, experts agree you should wear masks and maintain social distancing measures when appropriate. Both flu and the coronavirus are airborne viruses, so limiting your exposure cuts down on your chances of getting infected.