The Latest Covid Surge – The New York Times

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Even as Covid-19 cases and deaths have continued to decline in the United States, there are some worrisome developments around the world. Today, I’ll walk through them — and explain their implications for the US

After more than two years of mostly fighting off Covid, Hong Kong has become the world’s worst hot spot. The main problem, as in so many other places, is vaccine skepticism.

Heading into the current outbreak, nearly 40 percent of Hong Kong’s population was not vaccinated, and more than half of people over 70 — the age group most vulnerable to severe Covid — were unvaccinated.

Why? Many Hong Kong residents do not trust the government, given the increasing repression by China. Others are dubious of Western medicine or have been influenced by misinformation, as my colleagues Alexandra Stevenson and Austin Ramzy have reported. “I worry that the side effects of vaccination will kill me,” Lam Suk-haa, who’s 80 years old, told The Times last month. “I won’t get vaccinated as long as I have a choice.”

Until recently, Hong Kong — like mainland China — had been largely successful in keeping out the virus, which meant that vaccine skepticism did not bring large costs. But the Omicron variant is so contagious that it overwhelmed Hong Kong’s “zero-Covid” strategy.

Adding to the problem, many residents have received Sinovac, a Chinese-made vaccine that is less effective than the vaccines designed in the US and Europe — by Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca. Although the Pfizer vaccine is available in Hong Kong, many residents wrongly fear that it has dangerous side effects. Sinovac still provides meaningful protection against severe illness, but not as much as the Western vaccines.

The death rate in Hong Kong has soared this month, surpassing 25 per 100,000 residents in the past week. That’s not as high as New York’s peak death rate in the spring of 2020, but it is higher than in any country today. And Hong Kong’s rate will probably continue rising, because new case numbers did not start falling until about a week ago; death trends typically lag case trends by about three weeks.

“I’m not sure people appreciate quite how bad the Covid situation is in Hong Kong, nor what might be around the corner,” John Burn-Murdoch of The Financial Times wrote yesterday. “What’s driving this? Vaccines. Or more specifically: the elderly vaccination rate.”

Many elderly residents of mainland China are also unvaccinated, and it too could be on the verge of an increase in Covid deaths. Yesterday, outbreaks led to the closures of many theaters and restaurants in Shanghai, while several large factories — including a major maker of iPhones — suspended production. The shutdowns could ripple across the global economy, exacerbating goods shortages and inflation.

Covid is also spreading rapidly in New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and several other Pacific countries that had previously kept caseloads low. The death rates in those countries are far lower than in Hong Kong, because of higher vaccination rates. (You can look up any country’s data.)

Europe has often been a few weeks ahead of the US with Covid trends — and cases are now rising in Britain, Germany, Italy and some other parts of Europe. The main cause appears to be an even more contagious version of Omicron, known as BA.2.

BA.2 has already begun to spread in the US, as well. It accounted for about 12 percent of newly diagnosed cases last week, according to the CDC The variant may also be the reason that the amount of Covid virus detected in wastewater is rising in about one third of American cities that track such data. Wastewater samples tend to be a leading indicator of case counts.

If that pattern repeats, BA.2 would be about to end two months of falling case counts in the US Since mid-January, the number of new daily Covid cases has dropped more than 95 percent and is now at its lowest level since last summer , before the Delta surge.

The magnitude of any BA.2 increase may be limited by the fact that about 45 percent of Americans have already contracted Omicron. “That should be highly protective,” Andy Slavitt, a former Biden administration adviser, wrote yesterday. On the other hand, a 45 percent infection rate means that most Americans did not contract Omicron, leaving many of them susceptible to BA.2.

Even if cases rise, as seems likely, there are good reasons not to panic. Vaccination tends to turn Covid into a mild illness, especially for people who have received a booster. For the unvaccinated and unboosted, BA.2 is another reason to get a shot.

It’s also a reason for the federal government and states to expand access to both Evusheld — a drug that can help protect the immunocompromised — and Paxlovid — a post-infection treatment. Finding either is often difficult today. (If you’re looking for one of them, click on this link for Evusheld and this one for Paxlovid.)

The bottom line: Covid isn’t going away, but vaccination and other treatments can keep future increases manageable. The biggest problem remains the millions of people who remain unvaccinated, many of them by choice. That’s the case in the US, in Hong Kong and across much of Europe, Africa and the rest of the world.

Inducing more people to get shots — through persuasion or mandates — would probably save more lives than any other Covid policy.

From Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” to the TikTok dances that propel songs up the Billboard charts, choreographers help the entertainment industry earn millions. But in film, television and music videos, there is little standardization as to how the people who create dances are paid or credited.

About a year ago, more than 100 entertainment-industry choreographers began creating the Choreographers Guild, which is now in the process of becoming an official labor union, Margaret Fuhrer writes in The Times. For years, choreographers have been anomalies in Hollywood, where many jobs are unionized.

“Hearing stories about these major choreographers that I looked up to having their work being reused in commercials and reused on competition shows and reused on Broadway, without them being compensated or getting credit — it was appalling,” Kyle Hanagami, a creative director and choreographer , said.

Vincent Paterson, who created dances for Michael Jackson and Madonna in the ’80s and ’90s, said he felt optimistic about the unionization efforts because of dance’s current ubiquity in popular culture. “Can you imagine if Dalí wasn’t allowed to sign his paintings?” Paterson asked.

The pangrams from yesterday’s Spelling Bee were betiding and debiting. Here is today’s puzzle — or you can play online.

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