While more than 120,000 people were airlifted out during the August withdrawal of U.S. troops and diplomats, according to White House figures, those remaining include Afghan Americans who live there and have families there, Zalmay Khalilzad said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Levine, the nation’s highest-ranking openly transgender official, made history this week as the first openly transgender four-star officer in the uniformed services when she was sworn in as an admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.
Facebook defended itself against U.S. President Joe Biden’s assertion that the social media platform is “killing people” by allowing misinformation about coronavirus vaccines to proliferate, saying the facts tell a different story, Trend reports citing Reuters.
“The data shows that 85% of Facebook users in the US have been or want to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” Facebook said in a corporate blog post by Guy Rosen, a company vice president. “President Biden’s goal was for 70% of Americans to be vaccinated by July 4. Facebook is not the reason this goal was missed.”
COVID-19 misinformation has spread during the pandemic on social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet Inc-owned YouTube. Researchers and lawmakers have long accused Facebook of failing to police harmful content on its platforms.
As the Delta variant rips through conservative swaths of the country, some elected Republicans are facing growing pressure from public health advocates to speak out — not only in favor of their constituents being inoculated against the coronavirus but also against media figures and elected officials who are questioning the vaccines.
“We don’t control conservative media figures so far as I know — at least I don’t,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said in an interview on Wednesday. “That being said, I think it’s an enormous error for anyone to suggest that we shouldn’t be taking vaccines. Look, the politicization of vaccination is an outrage and frankly moronic.”
Republican senators who favor vaccination are still taking pains not to mention the names of colleagues, such as Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky, who have given voice to vaccine skepticism, or media personalities like Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson, who expresses such skepticism almost nightly.
Vaccines are indeed effective against the Delta variant, and nationwide, the numbers remain at some of the lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic.
Still, with cases ticking upward, driven by localized outbreaks in places with low vaccination rates — Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Nevada — Republican leaders are talking.
“As a polio victim myself when I was young, I’ve studied that disease,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, said on Tuesday. “It took 70 years — 70 years — to come up with two vaccines that finally ended the polio threat. As a result of Operation Warp Speed, we have not one, not two, but three highly effective vaccines, so I’m perplexed by the difficulty we have finishing the job.”
“If you’re a football fan,” Mr. McConnell said, “we’re in the red zone. But we’re not in the end zone yet. And we need to keep preaching that getting the vaccine is important.”
Still, when asked about his conversations with vaccine skeptics in the Senate Republican Conference, Mr. McConnell demurred. “I can only speak for myself, and I just did,” he said.
Senior Republicans are clearly walking a fine line. They cannot afford to see a resurgent coronavirus disproportionately hurt conservative voters, who have been fed a diet of misinformation about vaccines by right-leaning news outlets and commentators. But they cannot afford to alienate them either.
Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said on Wednesday that much of the skepticism surrounding vaccines “is based on conspiracy theories, unfortunately.”
“I do acknowledge the right of an individual to decide whether they’re going to get the vaccine,” he said, “but what I’ve tried to do is encourage everybody to get the vaccine.”
On Wednesday, a group of Republican senators and House members introduced legislation to repeal mask mandates on public transport, dismissing the spread of the virus.
“The viral spread is collapsing and our normal lives are returning,” declared Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona.
Mr. Cornyn drew a distinction between densely populated urban areas like Houston and Dallas, where he said mass vaccination is vital, and smaller, spread out cities like Odessa and Midland where “social distancing is not a problem, let me say.”
The virus has not drawn that distinction. Some of the fastest growth is happening in smaller cities and rural regions, like parts of southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.
Mr. Romney tried to appeal to supporters of former President Donald J. Trump in those areas.
“People who support him applaud the fact that he moved heaven and earth to get vaccines developed on a timely basis,” Mr. Romney said. “He accomplished that, and not taking advantage of that would be an insult to the accomplishment.”
As to his message to vaccine skeptics in his conference, Mr. Romney said, “They know where I stand.”
Even as many Americans celebrate the apparent waning of the pandemic, the thrum of concern over the so-called Delta variant grows steadily louder.
The variant, the most contagious version yet of the coronavirus, accounts for more than half of new infections in the United States, federal health officials reported this month. The spread of the variant has prompted a vigorous new vaccination push from the Biden administration, and federal officials are planning to send medical teams to communities facing outbreaks that now seem inevitable.
Infections, hospitalizations and deaths are rising swiftly in some states with low vaccination rates like Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Nevada, and are beginning to show small upticks in all of the others. The curves have also begun shifting upward in New York City, and the percentage of positive tests in the city has doubled in the past few weeks to just over 1 percent.
Nationwide, the numbers remain at some of the lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic, but are once again slowly trending upward, prompting a debate about when booster shots might be needed to protect Americans.
The virus has also set off large outbreaks across the globe, from Japan and Australia to Indonesia and South Africa, forcing many countries to reimpose stringent restrictions on social activity. Even in places like Britain, where wide swaths of the population are immunized, the Delta variant has outpaced vaccination efforts, pushing the goal of herd immunity further out of reach and postponing an end to the pandemic.
But scientists say that even if the numbers continue to rise through the fall, Americans are unlikely to revisit the horrors of last winter, or to require booster shots in the foreseeable future.
If Britain’s experience is a harbinger of what’s to come, the overall number of infections may rise as the Delta variant spreads through the United States. But hospitalizations and deaths are likely to be much lower than they were following the arrival of previous variants, because the average age of those infected has shifted downward and young people tend to have mild symptoms.
As important, vaccines are effective against the Delta variant and already provide a bulwark against its spread.
“I think the United States has vaccinated itself out of a national coordinated surge, even though we do expect cases pretty much everywhere,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“Delta is creating a huge amount of noise, but I don’t think that it’s right to be ringing a huge alarm bell.”
Still, there are likely to be isolated outbreaks in pockets of low vaccination, he and other scientists predicted. The reason is simple: The pattern of the protection against the coronavirus in the United States is wildly uneven.
Broadly speaking, the West and Northeast have relatively high rates of vaccination, while the South has the least. The vaccinated and unvaccinated “two Americas” — as Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the administration’s leading adviser on the pandemic, has called them — also are divided along political lines.
Counties that voted for Mr. Biden average higher vaccination levels than those that voted for Donald Trump. Conservatives tend to decline vaccination far more often than Democrats.
“I don’t expect that we will get close to the kind of mayhem we saw earlier,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego. “There are going to be clusters, and they’re going to be in states where you have low vaccination rates.”
In a country that should be able to end its pandemic in short order with widespread vaccination, the Delta variant is well designed to take advantage of the cultural divide. The virus seems to combine the worst features of previous variants, Dr. Andersen noted.
For more than a year since the coronavirus outbreak, New York State officials have stuck with an approach that has allowed the state to report a lower and incomplete death toll.
The number of deaths reported on the state’s online dashboard, and during Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s coronavirus briefings, includes only people who died at hospitals, nursing homes and adult-care facilities, but not, for example, at home or in prisons. The toll also includes only deaths that were confirmed with a coronavirus test by a lab.
New York’s methodology differs from that of many other states, as well as the federal government’s National Center for Health Statistics, which uses more precise criteria to assemble state-by-state death tolls, relying on death certificates submitted by state health departments.
Now, the effect of New York’s more constrained count has begun to show: The state’s official virus death toll as of Wednesday was about 43,000, compared with the death toll of more than 54,000 compiled by the N.C.H.S., which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New York is not alone: At least half the states, including California and Texas, have publicly reported a lower number of deaths than the N.C.H.S.
But other states with lower death tolls were below the N.C.H.S. number by about 3,000 or fewer; nowhere is the gap between the reported deaths larger than the 11,000-death discrepancy in New York, according to a New York Times analysis.
The disparity in the death tolls underscores the lasting and painful difficulties of accounting for the full scope of coronavirus fatalities, even as much of the government’s response has turned toward expanding the vaccine rollout and the nation’s reopening and recovery.
The wide variance in New York also comes as Mr. Cuomo is facing a series of state and federal investigations into his administration’s efforts to obscure the toll of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
Indonesia reported more than 54,500 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, its third record daily rise in a row as the country has surpassed India’s current daily caseload.
A seven-day rolling average of daily cases in the two countries showed them running neck and neck, but India’s caseload has been steadily declining while Indonesia’s has been skyrocketing, according to data collected by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Over the past few weeks, hospitals on Java island have overflowed with patients and residents have scrambled to buy medical oxygen to treat family members at home. Hundreds of people have been reported to have died of the virus at home because of a lack of oxygen and as a result of an overwhelmed health care system.
“Based on the last three days’ data, I can say clearly that Indonesia has become the new epicenter in the world,” said Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist at Griffith University in Australia, who has long urged the Indonesian authorities to implement firmer measures to control the spread of the virus.
Over the past two weeks, the daily numbers of infections have nearly doubled, and on Wednesday, Indonesia reported 991 new deaths.
Experts believe that the Delta variant is behind the surge in cases in Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populated country. By contrast, India’s daily case count, which peaked at more than 414,000 in early May, has fallen to about 40,000.
The outbreak in Indonesia is the latest example of the widening gap between Western countries and other nations during the pandemic. Countries like Britain and the United States have reopened their economies and so far have been able to absorb a surge in cases with limited hospitalizations and deaths thanks to successful vaccine rollouts. Others, like India and now Indonesia, have lagged behind in vaccinations and face devastating consequences from Delta’s spread.
Studies suggest that vaccines remain effective against the Delta variant, but only 13 percent of Indonesia’s population of 270 million has received one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, while less than 6 percent has been fully vaccinated, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.
By comparison, nearly half of the U.S. population has been fully inoculated, and on Wednesday Britain passed the threshold of having vaccinated two thirds of its population.
In Indonesia, most injections came from the Sinovac Biotech vaccine; at least 20 Indonesian doctors who were fully vaccinated with Sinovac have died from the virus.
The neighboring Philippines, which also has struggled to contain the virus, has banned arrivals from Indonesia, and other countries, including Japan and Saudi Arabia, have begun evacuating their citizens from Indonesia.
On Sunday, Indonesia received three million doses of the Moderna vaccine donated by the United States. Indonesian officials said that the first priority for these doses would be to give booster shots to nearly 1.5 million health workers.
The continuing political unrest in Haiti and the recent wave of street protests in Cuba risk making already tenuous efforts to contain the Covid-19 pandemic even more difficult, officials from the World Health Organization warned.
“We are concerned about Haiti, which, in the midst of considerable political turmoil, has seen thousands of people displaced by ongoing violence and instability,” Carissa Etienne, the director of the Pan American Health Organization, which is part of the W.H.O., said, warning that “crowded shelters could become active hot spots for Covid transmission.”
A shortage of medical supplies across the country and the violence sparked by the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti last week are also hindering the ability “to safely care for patients in need,” Dr. Etienne said, adding that “in some cases, patients may be avoiding seeking care due to safety concerns.”
Haiti is one of the few countries in the world that has yet to administer any Covid vaccines. On Wednesday, Haiti received 500,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine donated by the United States through the Covax vaccine-sharing initiative, the first doses to reach the country, PAHO said.
Cuba is the latest country in the region, after others including Brazil and Colombia, to experience “waves of protests due in part to the impact of this pandemic,” Dr. Etienne said.
Protesters in Cuba took to the streets in droves this past weekend in demonstrations that have been described as the largest in decades, leading to a stringent crackdown.
“Covid-19 has not just ravaged our health systems, it has fractured social protection programs and destabilized our economies,” Dr. Etienne said.
More than a third of people in the Latin American and Caribbean region are living in poverty and countries must “continue prioritizing health and social safety nets as part of their Covid response,” she added.
In Cuba, which recently reported its highest number of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic, the protests are raising fears that they will exacerbate exposure to the virus.
“The agglomeration of people due to protests for political, religious, cultural or sporting reasons increases the risk of transmission, particularly if, as is the case in Cuba, there is active transmission in many parts of the country,” Ciro Ugarte, PAHO’s director of health emergencies, said.
Throughout Cuba, “all the municipalities are in community transmission” and health authorities have confirmed the presence of the highly contagious Delta variant in several locations across the island, Dr. Ugarte said.
Cuba reported that 27 percent of its population had received at least one dose of either of its two homegrown vaccines as of July 10.
Cases of Covid-19 have also spiked in other Caribbean nations, including the British Virgin Islands, which has seen cases triple weeks after it opened the country to cruise ships.
The region accounts for more than a third of Covid-19 cases and more than 40 percent of deaths reported worldwide this past week, Dr. Etienne said.
The region continues to suffer from a lack of vaccines and only one in seven people in Latin America and the Caribbean have been fully vaccinated.
“Money, more than public health, has determined how quickly countries can secure the tools that they need to combat this virus,” Dr. Etienne said.
Face masks will continue to be mandatory on London’s subways and buses even after the government lifts the legal requirement to wear them on July 19, the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said on Wednesday.
Mr. Khan’s announcement puts the London rules at odds with those announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is pushing ahead with a plan to lift almost all Covid restrictions in England, even as coronavirus infections surge and hospital admissions begin to mount.
Adding to the messaging confusion, Mr. Johnson has encouraged people to continue wearing masks in crowded and confined places even though, under the relaxed rules he announced, it will no longer be a legal requirement.
Mr. Khan, who is in the opposition Labour Party, said that wearing a face mask would be a condition of using London’s sprawling public transportation system, which includes the Tube, buses, overground trains, and light rail networks. Passengers who refuse to put one on will be ordered to leave the system.
“The wearing of face coverings helps reduce the spread of Covid, and crucially gives Londoners confidence to travel — vital to our economic recovery,” Mr. Khan said on Twitter. “My mask protects you, your mask protects me.”
Mr. Khan said that masks would also remain mandatory in taxis and ride-hailing services.
Mr. Khan expressed optimism in television interviews that people would abide by the rules. Most riders on the subway and buses wear masks, but some public-health officials worry that behavior could change quickly if they were no longer compulsory.
Officials in other cities have expressed fears that the government’s relaxed rules will contribute to a further surge in infection rates. In Manchester, the city’s Labour mayor, Andy Burnham, is also weighing a legal requirement to continue wearing masks on the public transportation system.
Mr. Johnson has argued that, with vaccines widely deployed in the adult population, England must stick with plans to reopen its economy fully and shift the emphasis from legal restrictions to personal responsibility.
Nonetheless, the British health minister, Sajid Javid, acknowledged that infections could soar to more than 100,000 a day later in the summer. On Tuesday, Britain reported 36,660 new cases, a 27 percent increase over the same day last week.
Nixon and Elvis. Trump and Kanye. Biden and Olivia.
On Wednesday, Olivia Rodrigo, the 18-year-old pop star with the No. 1 album in the country, visited the White House and joined the Biden administration’s efforts to use the young and influential to reach the young and unvaccinated.
“It’s important to have conversations with friends and family members,” Ms. Rodrigo said, reading from prepared remarks during a short appearance in the White House briefing room, “and actually get to a vaccination site, which you can do more easily than ever before.”
The White House could not have scripted it better. (In fact, White House officials helped her craft her remarks, according to an administration official.) The “Good 4 U” singer has millions of followers on social media who hang on her every word, and she is part of a growing list of creators, celebrities and influential people who are interested in working with the White House to deliver a pro-vaccine message directly to their respective communities.
Rob Flaherty, the White House director of digital strategy, has been organizing an effort to reach out to people like Ms. Rodrigo and invite them to Washington to create content. The plans for bringing her to the White House, Mr. Flaherty said in an interview, began in June. After she arrived, Ms. Rodrigo wandered the halls of the West Wing with Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, stopping by desks and chatting with officials before it was time to film a series of educational videos with President Biden.
“Not every 18-year-old uses their time to come do this,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said from the lectern.
Administration officials are hoping the time investment pays off. In recent weeks, as the federal strategy has shifted to more personalized efforts to reach unvaccinated people, the White House has recruited YouTube stars, social media influencers and celebrities who can send the messaging to their own channels. It has also highlighted efforts by popular dating apps to encourage young singles to promote their vaccination status.
Healthy young adults — or “young invincibles” — are historically hard to reach, and the White House has been upfront about the difficulties that officials have faced in convincing them to receive a vaccine. Those hurdles can include an overlapping mix of inertia, fear, busy schedules and misinformation.
Young people under the age of 27 are vaccinated at a lower rate than older people, according to the White House, and were part of the reason the administration said it fell short of reaching Mr. Biden’s goal of partly vaccinating 70 percent of American adults by July 4. Younger people became eligible for immunization later in the vaccine rollout after other high-priority risk groups. Those aged 12 to 15 only became eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in mid-May.
Across the country overall, providers were administering about 0.55 million doses per day on average, as of Wednesday, about an 84 percent decrease from the peak of 3.38 million reported on April 13. its from here and they updated for the day.
The White House is still facing significant barriers to reaching reluctant Americans, particularly in conservative states where officials say they face pressure against evangelizing for a vaccine.
After Ms. Rodrigo left the podium, Ms. Psaki was asked about Dr. Michelle Fiscus, a pediatrician who was Tennessee’s top vaccination official until recently.
Dr. Fiscus has said she was fired from her job after she distributed a memo that suggested some teenagers might be eligible for vaccinations without their parents’ consent. The memo repeated information that had been publicly available on the health department’s website for years.
“And we’ve been crystal clear that we stand against any effort that would politicize our country’s pandemic response and recovery from Covid-19,” Ms. Psaki said.
Fueled by the Delta variant, daily coronavirus case counts in New York City have climbed in recent days, even as the city seems determined to turn the page on the pandemic.
Just a few weeks ago, there were only 200 new cases a day across the city on average, the lowest level since the early days of the pandemic. But in the past week, the city had a stretch of several days of 400 or more cases. And the test positivity rate has doubled: from below 0.6 percent on average to about 1.3 percent.
Those numbers are still low, but the increase has been swift, surprising some epidemiologists and public health officials who had not expected to see cases jump so quickly after remaining level through June.
With some 64 percent of adults in the city fully vaccinated, epidemiologists say it remains unlikely that the Delta variant will create conditions as devastating as the past two waves of Covid-19. Still, Denis Nash, an epidemiologist at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, calls the recent uptick “concerning.”
The Delta variant is far more contagious than the original form of the virus that swept across the city in March 2020. It was detected in a few cases in New York City in February during the second wave, but it really made inroads over the past two months. By the end of May, it accounted for about 8 percent of the cases sequenced by the city, and by mid-June, more than 40 percent.
Countries around the world — and many U.S. states — are experiencing a surge as a result of the spread of the Delta variant. In Britain, where vaccinations surpass the U.S. rate, cases have soared but hospitalizations have risen more slowly.
“The metrics to keep a close eye on are hospitalizations and deaths,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University.
Those numbers have remained stable in New York City. The seven-day average number of daily hospitalizations this week has stayed under 20. The city has recently seen four or five Covid-related deaths a day on average.
Other U.S. cities areas have seen similar surges in infections. On Tuesday, Los Angeles County recorded its fifth day in a row with more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases, with health officials attributing the rise to the Delta variant’s spread among the unvaccinated.
Health officials in New York City have tended to focus on Staten Island, where vaccination rates are below the city average, wearing masks is unpopular and positivity rates tend to exceed the city average. Four ZIP codes in Staten Island have had more than 100 cases combined in the past week.
But case counts have climbed significantly in every borough. In Brooklyn, average daily case counts nearly doubled in recent weeks from under 60 to more than 100. On Tuesday, the ZIP code that had the highest average positive test rate in the city was in Harlem.
Health officials have said that the vast majority of those testing positive have not been fully vaccinated.
So far, the Delta variant has not led the city to drastically change its public health guidance or virus-related restrictions. Nor has it affected the plans of many large companies to get workers back to their desks in Manhattan, according to Kathryn Wylde, president of the Partnership for New York City, a leading business association.
Vaccines offered powerful protection against the coronavirus in New York City, blunting the second wave of the virus and saving an estimated 8,300 lives between December of last year and July of this year, according to a new study by Yale University epidemiologists released by the city on Wednesday.
The study underscored that the real-world performance of the vaccines can meet and even exceed trial results in preventing virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the city said. Only 1.1 percent of the 500,300 virus cases during the first six months of this year were among people who were fully vaccinated, according to data from the city’s health department also released Wednesday in support of the study.
Yet the data was also a reminder the protection was not perfect. A total of 94 fully vaccinated New Yorkers died from the virus between January and mid-June, compared with 8,069 deaths among the unvaccinated, the city reported, though it did not include specific demographic information.
“Vaccines are safe and astonishingly effective at protecting you and your loved ones,” said the city’s health commissioner Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, in a statement accompanying the release of the study. “The stakes are so high, and we simply cannot emphasize enough how urgent it is for New Yorkers to get vaccinated.”
One important caveat is that most of the period of the study was before the Delta variant became the predominant variant in the city, according to the limited amount of genetic analysis of cases being done by the city each week. Studies suggest that vaccines remain effective against the Delta variant, though cases among those who are vaccinated tend to be mild or asymptomatic, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said this week. Because of vaccines, health experts don’t expect the recent increase in cases to reach the levels seen in New York City’s first and second waves.
The protection of vaccines remains powerful. A Public Health England analysis, which has not yet been peer reviewed, showed that Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 88 percent effective against symptomatic disease and 96 percent effective against hospitalization from Delta, just slightly lower than against older variants. Moderna also reported on early studies showing only a “modest reduction” of antibody protection against the Delta variant.
The data released Wednesday represented the most comprehensive look yet at breakthrough infections in New York City. In all, the city reported that about 5,300 fully vaccinated people were infected and 583 fully vaccinated people were hospitalized in New York with Covid-19 between January and June.
The picture is more complete than what is being released nationally, as it included mild cases, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is only tracking serious breakthrough infections that result in hospitalizations or deaths.
Far more vaccinated people, however, avoided the illness. The Yale study, which was done independently of the city’s researchers, used statistical modeling to estimate that the city’s vaccination campaign prevented about 250,000 cases in New York City, and 44,000 people from being hospitalized. The study is not yet published, and has just been submitted for peer review, the city said.
New coronavirus cases in the Netherlands skyrocketed by more than 500 percent last week, according to the health authorities, a surge in cases that forced the country’s prime minister, Mark Rutte, to publicly apologize on Monday for having lifted restrictions too hastily.
As new daily cases increased from 500 on June 25, a day before restrictions were dropped, to over 10,000 on Saturday, Mr. Rutte’s government reimposed several measures, including ordering clubs and bars to close at midnight and reinstating a policy to serve only seated and spaced customers.
On Monday, Mr. Rutte said he was sorry about the previous lifting of the measures. “We thought it was possible, but it wasn’t,” he said.
Mr. Rutte’s government had reopened most of the country’s economy on June 26, pushing forward a projected date for easing restrictions by three weeks. Clubs, bars and restaurants reopened under a government-sponsored testing plan that in many cases failed to work because some bouncers and other staff members had not been properly trained. Mask mandates were also lifted except on public transport, in high schools and airports.
In the weeks that followed, the health authorities reported more than 100 superspreader events, including in clubs, on party boats and in student societies. More than 1,000 people were infected at a festival that gathered 20,000 people in the city of Utrecht this month.
As of Wednesday, around 65 percent of the population in the Netherlands has received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and 39 percent have been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times tracker.
In other news from around the world:
In Australia, the authorities in Sydney said that the city’s strict lockdown would be extended until at least the end of the month after another 97 infections were reported on Wednesday. The restrictions had been scheduled to end on Friday, but an outbreak driven by the Delta variant has yet to subside, leading to an extension of stay-at-home orders and remote schooling for the city of five million people and nearby areas. Gladys Berejiklian, the top official for the state of New South Wales, which includes Sydney, said that at least 24 of the 97 cases were infectious and still circulating in the community. Until that number gets close to zero, she said, the restrictions would have to remain in place.
A cruise ship returned to Singapore on Wednesday after a 40-year-old passenger tested positive for the virus, The Straits Times, a Singaporean newspaper, reported. Nearly 3,000 passengers and crew members were isolating in their cabins as the health authorities conducted contact tracing. The infected passenger, who was fully vaccinated, was identified as a close contact of a coronavirus case in Singapore and tested positive during the four-day “cruise to nowhere,” which had departed on Sunday, the newspaper reported.
Spain’s health ministry has decided to allow pharmacies to sell self-testing kits for coronavirus to individuals without clearance from health clinics, in a bid to better trace the spread of the disease as the country’s virus infection rate has soared in recent weeks.The authorization follows a long political battle over whether pharmacies should be enlisted into Spain’s testing efforts. The central government had opposed the idea until recently, arguing that pharmacists were ill-equipped to handle tests and that encouraging sick people to go to stores to buy test kits might create new infection clusters.The main doctors’ associations of Spain had also long rejected demands that tests be offered outside health clinics or carried out at home.
A Covid vaccination center in Malaysia was closed on Tuesday after nearly half of its health workers tested positive for the coronavirus.
The center is in the western state of Selangor, north of the capital, Kuala Lumpur. Khairy Jamaluddin, the minister of science, technology and innovation, said on Tuesday that 204 of the clinic’s 453 workers had tested positive after taking tests over the weekend, according to the Singaporean news outlet Channel News Asia. He said that 400 of the workers had been vaccinated.
The center was scheduled to reopen on Wednesday after closing for a day of deep cleaning, and its regular staff members were isolating, The Associated Press reported. Local news reports did not say whether any of the workers who tested positive had displayed symptoms or needed to be hospitalized.
The government’s Covid-19 immunization program said in a Twitter thread on Tuesday that it was difficult to tell whether the infections had occurred at the center and noted that the risk of the workers infecting others was low based on the viral loads of their test samples.
Even though vaccines are good at preventing serious disease and death from Covid-19, it is less clear how well they prevent vaccinated people from transmitting the virus to others.
Malaysia is reporting about 9,000 coronavirus cases per day, and its per capita rate of new infections — 28 people per 100,000 — was the highest in Southeast Asia as of Wednesday. It is one of several countries in the Asia-Pacific region where the pace of vaccination has been too slow to contain outbreaks driven by the highly infectious Delta variant.
Selangor and other parts of Malaysia have been under punishing lockdowns for months, and the restrictions were tightened further across several regions in early July.
Malaysia has approved several Covid-19 vaccines for emergency use, and more than 400,000 doses were administered on Tuesday. Yet only about a quarter of the country’s nearly 33 million people had received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine as of Wednesday, according to a New York Times tracker, and only 12 percent have been fully vaccinated.
Beckwourth Complex Fire, the largest wildfire raging in U.S. state of California, extended dramatically to 83,926 acres (339.7 square kilometers) Sunday noon with only 8 percent containment, according to the the latest information from Inciweb, an interstate incident information system, Trend reports citing Xinhua.
The blaze showed no sign of slowing its rush northeast from the Sierra Nevada forest region after doubling in size between Friday and Saturday. Late Saturday, flames jumped U.S. Route 395, a main route linking Northern California and Central Valley in rural Sierra Nevada mountain region, and forced closures.
Doyle, a small town in Lassen County of California standing on highway 395, was reported being damaged by the wildfire Sunday after the fire spread northeast for about three miles in 24 hours. Photos posted by Craig Philpott, an independent fire reporter based in Northern California, showed that multiple structures were burning in the small town with about 600 residents.
Residents in Doyle received evacuation order on Thursday, local ABC 8 news channel reported that many people had fled their homes with concerns that what happened in November last year will happen again. Last year, the Laura 2 fire destroyed more than 40 homes and outbuildings in the town.
SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio police officer who has a history of publishing inappropriate social media posts was disciplined again by the department, according to suspension records recently obtained by KSAT 12 News.
Detective Rudy Guzman received a 20-day suspension in May for his social media activity on Jan. 20, according to suspension records obtained through open record laws.
That day, Guzman posted a photo of guards stationed at the U.S. Capitol “with a related caption about the inauguration,” according to the suspension document. The records do not specify what Guzman wrote in the caption.
“A citizen negatively responded to Detective Guzman’s Facebook post and Detective Guzman posted a derogatory comment in response,” according to the suspension documents.
The citizen then filed a complaint against Guzman, the records showed.
Internal investigators determined Guzman had posted “inappropriate” TikTok videos and memes.
He also posted two videos — one showing a protester standing in front of the military and another showing the Venezuelan military using a water cannon on a protester. He added offensive comments on both videos, according to suspension records.
Afghan National Army cadets dressed as Taliban walk back to base following a Taliban capture military exercise in Kabul, Afghanistan. | Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
The situation in Afghanistan is grim. An occupying army is withdrawing its last troops, bombs are besieging Kabul and the country appears on the verge of a civil war. U.S. diplomats believe they can’t count on the shaky Afghan government to survive, much less protect them.
It’s Jan. 30, 1989, two weeks until the last Soviet forces leave,and U.S. officials have just closed the American Embassy in Kabul, while promising “the United States will return.” But they wouldn’t reopen the diplomatic mission until January 2002, after the U.S. came back to Afghanistan with its own troops to topple the Taliban regime.
Today, the future of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul is once again in doubt. The last U.S. troops have left Bagram air base, the sprawling compound that has been the epicenter of the U.S. military presence there for the last two decades. And by the standards of an embassy “Emergency Action Plan,” parts of which were seen by POLITICO, U.S. diplomats already face a dire situation likely to worsen as a resurgent Taliban takes on a weak Afghan government.
Some U.S. intelligence estimates reportedly project that the government in Kabul could fall in as little as six months after the U.S. withdrawal, which could be finished in days. On a visit to Washington last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said his country faces an “1861 moment,” a reference to the dawn of the U.S. Civil War.
“Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualized if it continues on the trajectory it is on,” Gen. Austin Miller, the commander of the U.S.-led mission in Afghanistan, warned Tuesday in a news conference. “That should be a concern for the world.”
This time, how long the U.S. keeps its diplomats in Afghanistan is a more complicated question than in the past.
Three decades ago, Americans lost interest in Afghanistan once the occupying Soviet military left, pushed out in part by U.S.-backed militias. Now, there’s a recognition that America can’t ignore a country whose chaos in the 1990s spawned the plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and where more than 2,000 U.S. troops have lost their lives in the 20 years since.
The State Department remains highly risk averse given the U.S. political battles that erupted over the 2012 tragedy in Benghazi, Libya, but it’s also accustomed to running embassies in violence-ridden places such as Iraq. U.S. officials know that a diplomatic withdrawal from Kabul would send a terrible signal to other countries that have worked alongside Washington to try to stabilize Afghanistan over the past two decades. That includes other members of the NATO military alliance, which is in the latter stages of unconditionally withdrawing roughly 10,000 troops from the country by President Joe Biden’s Sept. 11 deadline.
“This decision is a dynamic — constantly changing,” said Ron Neumann, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007. “As long as the Afghans are not losing the war ultimately, there’s a real reluctance to pull out [of] the embassy, because it will trigger a stampede.”
Biden insists that although he’s withdrawing the last U.S. combat troops, America is not abandoning Afghanistan economically or diplomatically, and that it will still fund the Afghan military and help the country on a humanitarian level.
However, once the troop withdrawal is done, the U.S. military mission will shift from training the Afghan security forces to protecting U.S. diplomats and building a new relationship with Kabul, Pentagon officials say.
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul at the moment does not have an official ambassador; it is led by Ross Wilson, a veteran U.S. diplomat who carries the title of chargé d’affaires.
Biden plans to leave roughly 650 troops behind to provide security for diplomats at the U.S. Embassy, a facility that has been expanded and fortified significantly since 1989. The embassy compound covers some 36 acres in a central part of the Afghan capital, and it includes a mix of various-sized office and residential buildings, some of which stand out with their yellow and rust-colored exteriors. Access to the site is heavily restricted.
The Biden administration also is working on plans to temporarily relocate thousands of Afghan interpreters who worked for the United States to one or more other countries as they await American visas. Those Afghans face threats from the Taliban.
Scott Weinhold, the assistant chief of mission at the embassy, pointed out that many of the people working there are accustomed to operating in difficult conditions.
“I think people in a way are almost redoubled in their energy to try to help partners and the people that they work with, because you see the concern among our Afghan contacts, and especially a lot of our women contacts, about what’s coming,” he said. “People are really focused on how do we help them, how do we try to assist the key people that may be at risk.”
Every U.S. embassy is supposed to have an Emergency Action Plan, which typically contain a set of “decision points” that lay out scenarios in which U.S. officials should consider moves to increase protection of America’s diplomats.
POLITICO obtained a version of the Kabul embassy’s decision points that appears to be about three years old; the current ones are classified. The decision points seen by POLITICO nonetheless remain relevant to conditions today, covering an array of dangerous situations, both man-made and natural.
Some are relatively obvious, such as “a terrorist attack within Kabul or the surrounding environs and/or violent confrontations that threaten the security perimeter of the Embassy” — risks that the diplomatic mission has prepared for and faced for a long time.
Others, though, lay out conditions likely to arise or be exacerbated in the event of a civil war or a Taliban strangulation of Kabul.
For instance, one decision point comes if there are “anticipated long-term or actual disruption of utilities, fuel, water, goods, and services (including means of communications), which eliminates [the embassy’s] ability to maintain safe and healthy conditions for staff.”
Another comes if “the security situation in Afghanistan deteriorates such that security forces in Kabul are diminished or otherwise unavailable, weakening the host government’s ability to respond to … requests for security support.”
Some of the decision points POLITICO viewed seem downright prescient. One warns of “an outbreak of disease with pandemic potential” as a scenario for which to prepare.
Just because a situation described by a decision point becomes a reality, it does not mean that U.S. diplomats will be sent home or that the embassy will be shut down. Not even the collapse of the Afghan government would necessarily trigger an embassy closure. But top embassy officials are expected to use moments described by the decision points to evaluate the overall situation and take mitigating measures. Those can include everything from reducing staff to holding a town hall for employees.
James Cunningham, who served as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 2012 to 2014, recalls how one day a rocket flew into a room above him at the embassy. He downplays it now: “It was only one rocket, and it didn’t do anything except burn up some old computers.” The embassy was in lockdown but resumed business after the attack ended, he said.
Cunningham also cautioned against assuming that the Taliban will immediately try to seize Kabul and overthrow the Afghan government once U.S. troops are gone.
“They may well decide it’s not in their interest to do that,” Cunningham said, noting that’s especially the case if the militant group wants to “have a relationship with the international community.” Besides, he added, many Afghans resent the Taliban and will fight against their return to power.
According to the embassy’s Emergency Action Plan, one key decision point comes if “ground and/or air access” to the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul is “disrupted and/or commercial flights become limited or stopped.”
If the airport cannot be secured, a major point of access to the land-locked country by diplomats, contractors and aid groups could be cut off. The U.S. military on Friday quietly handed over Bagram air base to the Afghan security forces, eliminating most of the U.S. ability to provide air support to and leaving the coalition headquarters at Kabul as the only remaining U.S. military presence in the country.
Officials are still working out the details of a potential security arrangement between the United States and Turkey for the Hamid Karzai International Airport, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday.
Under the agreement, Turkish forces, which currently number about 600, would remain in place to secure the Kabul airport. However, the negotiations are complicated by tensions between Washington and Ankara over issues such as the U.S. support to the Syrian Kurds and Turkey’s purchase of Russian antiaircraft systems.
Turkey is looking for other nations to contribute forces to the mission to secure the airport. A few hundred American troops will reportedly remain temporarily to help Turkish forces provide security.
Taliban fighters have made significant gains in recent weeks, overrunning the demoralized Afghan security forces in many areas, often without a fight. Surrendering Afghan forces have abandoned large caches of U.S.-supplied weapons, including ammunition and armored Humvees, as well as night-vision devices and other equipment, according to an analysis by Bill Roggio, editor of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Long War Journal.
Since Biden announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the Taliban have taken over 80 of Afghanistan’s 407 districts, and now control 157, according to Roggio. Many of the gains are in Afghanistan’s north, threatening multiple provincial capitals. The Taliban have historically been strongest in Afghanistan’s south.
In the years since 1989, the United States has waxed and waned when it comes to the risks it is willing to take with its diplomats.
The United States reestablished an embassy in Baghdad in 2004, more than a year after invading Iraq and overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein. As in Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad — which is now a massive compound roughly the size of Vatican City — has faced constant security threats, particularly in the chaotic years after the invasion. In early 2005, two Americans died when insurgents successfully targeted the embassy with a rocket.
Under the presidency of Donald Trump, the United States shut down its consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra, citing Iranian security threats. It warned it might close the embassy last year, too, unless the Iraqi government did more to fend off rocket attacks targeting the facility. But the embassy has stayed open.
One incident likely to have factored into the Trump-era moves was the 2012 death of four Americans, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, in an attack by militants in the city of Benghazi. That tragedy became political fodder for Republican attacks on Hillary Clinton, who was then secretary of State and expected to run for president.
The political fighting over Benghazi rattled the State Department; it’s one of, though not the only, reason many U.S. diplomats today operate in strict, almost isolated conditions in certain countries considered hardship posts, veterans of the Foreign Service say. (U.S. diplomats assigned to Libya work out of Tunisia.) There have been calls in recent years, including from lawmakers, to reverse that bunker mentality.
When it comes to Afghanistan, a collapse of the government may take longer than observers expect.
Three decades ago, the Soviet-backed Afghan government, led by Mohammad Najibullah, held out for a few years after the Soviet military withdrawal, thanks in large part to continued economic and military aid from Moscow. But the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 meant an end to that assistance, and Najibullah was out of power by April 1992.
Afghan rebel groups, however, fought one another, bringing about years of chaos that largely ended when the ultraconservative Islamists of the Taliban managed to take over much of the country.
The Taliban in 1996 tracked down Najibullah, who had been in staying in a U.N. compound in Kabul. They killed him and hung his beaten body from a traffic control tower near the presidential palace, a warning to Afghans and foreigners of the dark days to come.