The U.S. announces a nearly $2 billion contract for millions of doses of a potential vaccine aimed for December.
The Trump administration on Wednesday announced a nearly $2 billion contract with the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and a smaller German biotechnology company for up to 600 million doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine. If the vaccine proves to be safe and effective in clinical trials, the companies say they could manufacture the first 100 million doses by December.
Large-scale safety and efficacy trials are to begin this month, with regulatory review set for as early as October. Before it could be distributed, it would first need at least emergency approval by the Food and Drug Administration. The agreement is the largest contract yet for “Operation Warp Speed,” the Trump administration’s effort to hurry coronavirus vaccines to the market.
Under the arrangement, the federal government would obtain the first 100 million doses for $1.95 billion, or about $20 a dose, with the rights to acquire up to 500 million more. Americans would receive the vaccine for free.
“Depending on success in clinical trials, today’s agreement will enable the delivery of approximately 100 million doses of vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech,” Alex M. Azar II, the health secretary, said in a statement announcing the deal.
On Monday, Pfizer and AstraZeneca, a British drug company developing a potential vaccine with Oxford University, released data indicating that their vaccines could stimulate strong immune responses with only minor side effects.
But unlike AstraZeneca, which has also obtained funding from the U.S. government, Pfizer did not receive a contract for its earlier research and development efforts — only for the doses and their distribution.
The company has said that foregoing a contract while developing the vaccine was an effort to speed up the timeline for getting to clinical trials.
“We didn’t accept the federal government funding solely for the reason that we wanted to be able to move as quickly as possible with our vaccine candidate into the clinic,” John Young, Pfizer’s chief business officer, said at a congressional hearing on Tuesday with executives from five vaccine manufacturers.
In just over two months, the Northeast has gone from the America’s worst virus hot spot to its most controlled.
Along the East Coast, from Delaware through Maine, new case reports remain well below their April peak. As of Tuesday, five of the country’s nine states with flat or falling case levels are in that Northeastern corridor.
“It’s acting like Europe,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said.
Like Europe, the Northeast suffered a devastating wave of illnesses and deaths in March and April, and state leaders responded, after some hesitation, with aggressive lockdowns and big investments in testing and tracing efforts.
But it remains true that the Northeast is the corner of America that has suffered most from the virus.
New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island have reported the country’s most deaths per capita over the course of the pandemic, with more than 61,000 combined. And the economic wounds from prolonged shutdowns are deep: Massachusetts’s unemployment rate in June climbed to 17.4 percent, the worst in the country, according to federal data.
Before Republicans can offer a proposal for the next round of virus relief funding, they need to find consensus among themselves, which so far has been a challenge.
The struggle to coalesce around a final opening offer — even before Republicans try to bridge the policy divide between themselves and Democrats — comes as the coronavirus surges across the country, and tens of millions of Americans are set to lose crucial expanded unemployment insurance benefits at the end of the month without congressional action.
Several members of the Senate Republican conference made it clear on Tuesday during a private policy lunch with Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, and Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, that they had concerns about a steep price tag for another round of relief, as well as objections to several policy provisions pushed by the White House, including a payroll tax cut. Payroll taxes fund Social Security and Medicare, and critics argue cuts would mostly benefit people with jobs and not the unemployed.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, hopes to unveil his opening bid in the coming days: a roughly $1 trillion package with $105 billion set aside for schools, another round of stimulus checks and additional funds for a popular federal loan program for small businesses.
Internal negotiations continued on Wednesday about the final details of a stimulus package, about how to structure billions of dollars for states and top health agencies, and whether to include President Trump’s demand for a payroll tax cut.
Top Democrats on Capitol Hill said they would be willing to negotiate with their Republican counterparts once they put forward an opening piece of legislation. After meeting with Mr. Meadows and Mr. Mnuchin on Tuesday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said they plan to stand behind the $3 trillion stimulus law House Democrats approved in May.
When millions of Americans began losing their jobs in March, the federal government stepped in with a life preserver: $600 a week in extra unemployment benefits. That life preserver will disappear within days if Congress does not act to extend it.
The daily death total in the United States exceeded 1,000 for the first time in weeks on Tuesday, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were far more infections than have been reported.
The news came as President Trump abandoned his consistently rosy forecasts and told reporters during his first coronavirus briefing since April that the outbreak would probably “get worse before it gets better.”
Having previously described recent outbreaks around the country as just “embers” of the virus, Mr. Trump conceded that there were now “big fires,” particularly in Florida and elsewhere across the South and West. He also reversed his resistance to masks, for the first time imploring Americans to wear them and acknowledging that “they have an impact.”
Mr. Trump was notably less dismissive about the pandemic, a reflection of the dawning realization within his team that the virus not only is not going away but has badly damaged his standing with the public heading into the election in November. Approval of his handling of the pandemic has fallen to 38 percent last week from 51 percent in late March in polling by The Washington Post and ABC News.
His comments came as one of his primary arguments for optimism — what had been a descending death toll, even as overall cases sharply rose — showed more signs of crumbling. The 1,120 deaths reported on Tuesday were the highest total since May 29, excepting two days in late June when large numbers of deaths were reported from unknown dates, according to a New York Times database.
There were 65,449 new cases on Tuesday. But the number of people infected with the coronavirus in different parts of the United States has been anywhere from two to 13 times higher than the reported rates for those regions, according to data released Tuesday by the C.D.C.
“These data continue to show that the number of people who have been infected with the virus that causes Covid-19 far exceeds the number of reported cases,” Dr. Fiona Havers, the C.D.C. researcher who led the study, said in an email. “Many of these people likely had no symptoms or mild illness and may have had no idea that they were infected.”
One-third of American museums may not survive the pandemic, their directors say.
Starved of revenue by shutdowns and other measures imposed to fight the coronavirus, many American museums are not sure they have a future.
In a survey of museum directors published on Wednesday by the American Alliance of Museums, 16 percent of respondents said there was a high risk that their museums could close for good in the next 16 months. Another 17 percent said they did not know if they would survive without further financial help from governments and private donors.
“Museum revenue disappeared overnight when the pandemic closed all cultural institutions, and sadly, many will never recover,” Laura Lott, the alliance’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “Even with a partial reopening in the coming months, costs will outweigh revenue and there is no financial safety net for many museums.”
Museums in the United States tend to be more vulnerable than those in most other developed countries because they get fewer government subsidies and rely more heavily on donations and admission fees.
Even behemoths like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have suffered steep financial damage. The Met has announced that it would reopen on Aug. 29, but this depends on the virus situation in the city and is subject to state and city approval. Many other institutions have yet to say how or when they would reopen.
The survey of 760 museum directors, carried out in June, found that 39 percent had not set a target date for reopening. Half said they expected to reopen with a reduced work force, and nearly two-thirds said they expected to have to cut back on education, programming and other services.
After waging a successful court fight to let foreign students stay in the U.S. even if their classes are all held online because of the pandemic, Harvard said that newly admitted students from abroad cannot come to campus to study this fall.
Harvard, along with dozens of other universities and 20 states, bitterly fought an effort by the Trump administration to make international students go back to their home countries or to deny them re-entry if they were studying online only. That fight ended in an agreement last week that the students could stay.
But Harvard said on Tuesday that the agreement did not cover about 200 new students Harvard had accepted for the fall. It applied only to foreign students who were already studying in the United States in March, when the federal government allowed an exemption to the usual rule that they must take most classes in person to keep their visas.
Since it had already decided it could not safely hold classes in person, Harvard said, it had no alternative but to tell those students not to come to campus.
In a letter to students, Harvard’s dean, Rakesh Khurana, said the university was working with lawmakers to get the agreement extended to cover newly admitted students, but did not expect a result in time for the fall semester.
Why not hold a few classes in person to allow the students to qualify for visas? “We explored this option, and concluded that given the unpredictability of current government policies and the uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis, this path could jeopardize both our international students’ ability to enter or leave the United States in the future and our community’s health,” Mr. Khurana said in his letter.
In the meantime, Harvard said, the students had the option of taking online classes or deferring. “If you choose to defer, Harvard will guarantee all international, first-year students housing when we are able to welcome you to campus safely,” the letter said.
Elsewhere in the U.S.:
Alabama reported more than 60 new deaths on Wednesday, a single-day record.
Florida announced on Wednesday the addition of more than 9,780 cases and more than 130 deaths, neither state records.
United Airlines will require passengers to wear masks in its lounges and baggage claim areas.
United Airlines is expanding its mask policy and will begin requiring passengers to wear face coverings not only on board its planes but also in its lounges and baggage claim areas and at its gates, customer service counters and kiosks.
“A mask is about protecting the safety of others, and I’m proud of the aggressive and proactive steps United Airlines has taken to ensure people are wearing a face covering,” the airline’s chief executive, Scott Kirby, said in a statement.
The new policy will go into effect on Friday and does not apply to children under 2 years old. Passengers who need an exemption from the rule are asked to contact United ahead of time or speak to one of the airline’s representatives at the airport.
Customers who fail to abide by the requirement will receive a verbal reminder, followed by a written one. Those who still refuse to wear a face covering could be barred from flights.
On Tuesday, United said that revenue dropped 87 percent, to $1.5 billion, in the second quarter compared to last year, in line with the 88 percent decline Delta Air Lines reported last week.
Passenger travel declined dramatically in March and April, falling as much as 96 percent on some days compared to last year, according to federal data. Traffic had started to recover in May and June, but has faltered in recent weeks as infections and travel restrictions spread.
Mr. Kirby joined the chief executives of American Airlines, Lufthansa Group and International Airlines Group in asking the United States and European Union to restore trans-Atlantic travel and to test passengers for the coronavirus.
The pandemic’s economic toll threatens an iconic brand: Diane von Furstenberg.
And Diane von Furstenberg, the inventor of the wrap dress and the 13-year head of the Council of Fashion Designers of America, is at risk of becoming the most recognizable example of its crisis.
As the pandemic began to hit the retail sector, DVF’s problems grew. In January, as the virus forced a lockdown in China, the company began to postpone payments to vendors, struggling with a major loss of revenue from Chinese consumers, who accounted for 20 percent of the brand’s global sales.
As the virus crept across Europe, things worsened, and by early June, DVF reportedly owed more than $10 million in store rent and millions more to vendors.
Within four months, the British and French operations of Ms. von Furstenberg’s company had done the European equivalent of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Just over 60 percent of the corporate and retail staff in the United States, Britain and France was laid off, creditors were complaining vociferously about unpaid bills, and Ms. von Furstenberg was making plans to close 18 of her 19 remaining directly operated U.S. stores. DVF’s physical existence in the United States will be limited to the ground floor of its headquarters in the meatpacking district.
The Nobel Prizes will still be awarded in early October, but the annual banquet in Stockholm to celebrate the winners has been canceled because of the pandemic, the Nobel Foundation announced Tuesday.
The event on Dec. 10 is usually attended by Sweden’s royal family and features an elaborate menu.
Prize winners and their guests and families usually gather in Stockholm and Oslo in December for a week of events, but the celebrations this year will “take on new forms” to account for social distancing, the foundation said.
“We will pay different attention to the prize winners, their discoveries and works,” Lars Heikensten, the chief executive of the Nobel Foundation, said in a statement.
The banquet was last canceled in 1956, in a protest over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary. It was also canceled during the two world wars.
In other news from around the world:
The United States ordered China to close its diplomatic consulate in Houston within 72 hours, dealing another blow to the rapidly deteriorating relations between the two countries. China promptly vowed to retaliate, calling the move illegal. Consulates principally process visas for travelers visiting China, but travel between the two countries has been severely limited in any case because of the pandemic.
Hong Kong will require travelers from the United States and Kazakhstan to show proof that they have tested negative for the virus within 72 hours of boarding a flight to the city. The government had already introduced this regulation for travelers from seven other countries it deemed high-risk, including Bangladesh, India, South Africa and the Philippines.
The average number of daily new daily cases in Spain has more than tripled in the month since the country ended its state of emergency. Spain now has 224 local outbreaks, the health minister, Salvador Illa, told Parliament on Wednesday. Many of the cases have been traced to young people.
After four months of lockdown, Nepal is lifting most restrictions and will soon open schools, restaurants, international flights and mountain trekking. The government said the number of new coronavirus infections was decreasing, from a daily high of 700 a few weeks ago to 150 now or lower. The country of 30 million people has reported 17,994 infections and 40 deaths.
British travelers are being urged to postpone applying for a passport, as the government works to process a logjam of more than 400,000 applications, the BBC reported. The United States is experiencing similar delays: In June, there was a backlog of 1.7 million Americans waiting for passports after the State Department shut down most of its consular services.
Prince Philip, the 99-year-old husband of Queen Elizabeth II of Britain who officially retired from public life in 2017, briefly stepped back into royal duty on Wednesday to hand over a ceremonial military role. In an event reimagined to allow for social distancing, Philip transferred his role as Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles, the largest infantry regiment in the British army, to Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, who was 85 miles away.
How does the virus spread at a concert? German scientists want to find out.
Healthy Germans who are itching to be able to go to a concert again might have an opportunity to do so: Researchers at the Medical University Halle in Germany are looking for 4,200 volunteers to attend an indoor concert to find out how the virus would spread in such a setting.
The project, named Restart-19, will be an all-day event next month in the city of Leipzig and looks to simulate the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak through a large indoor event. Participants would get tracking devices that show how close they get to other people, as well as bottles of fluorescent disinfectant to see what surfaces are most often touched.
The volunteers have to be between 18 and 50 and will have to have tested negative for the coronavirus before they attend. The German singer Tim Bendzko will provide the entertainment. As of Wednesday morning, almost 1,000 people had registered, according to the project’s website.
The German researchers aren’t the only ones grappling with the question of how to safely allow large gatherings again. In Britain, the government said it would allow some spectators at a selection of sporting events as a “stress test,” Reuters reported.
CULTURE AND SPORTS ROUNDUP
Streaming concerts have evolved, but will people pay for them?
Since the concert industry shut down in mid-March, the livestream has become ubiquitous. Diplo performed from his dimly lit living room floor. John Legend took requests on Instagram Live in his bathrobe. Keith Urban played in his warehouse with his wife, Nicole Kidman, dancing in and out of the frame.
The format has evolved quickly and somewhat haphazardly, but, generally, there’s been an observable developmental timeline. At first, the streams were mostly free — with the main goal simply to ease both artists’ and fans’ nerves — or they were soliciting tips to raise money for aid groups. After a few weeks of streams with rudimentary production values, they got more ambitious, and some were embellished with better lighting and multiple camera angles.
Though artists initially gravitated toward familiar social media platforms like YouTube, Instagram Live or Facebook Live, they soon started making the leap to online stages fans may not have heard of before.
As the pandemic has stretched on, and it’s become clear that concerts full of tightly packed fans won’t be returning in a significant way until 2021, there’s new pressure on these streams, and new questions about them: Can the technology be improved? Can the streams edge closer to the experience of a real show — with fans interacting with each other, paying for better views or more access? Can artists adjust to playing to a screen, rather than a crowd of screaming fans?
And, perhaps most critically: Will people pay for them?
Here are other cultural and sports related developments:
The @NBABubbleLife Twitter account has amassed more than 100,000 followers in less than two weeks with quirky commentary on the social media posts of basketball’s biggest stars. So who’s behind the #wholesomecontent?
The Citi Open in Washington, D.C., which was scheduled to restart the men’s tennis tour next month, has been canceled for 2020. The tournament was set to begin on Aug. 14 and serve as a lead-in event for the United States Open.
The Indianapolis 500, now rescheduled to Aug. 23, will be held in front of about 75 percent fewer spectators who will all be required to wear masks.
A deadly crash of two jet skis on a bay off the Bronx underscored widespread concerns about boating safety as the pandemic has led to a boom of perilous activity on the water in New York City and across the country.
The crash occurred sometime after nightfall on Monday, a New York Police Department spokesman said on Tuesday, leading to the deaths of two men who were thrown into Eastchester Bay. The operator of a private boat pulled both men from the water and rushed them to shore, the spokesman said, and they were taken to a medical center, where they were pronounced dead.
Recreational boating accidents, including those involving personal watercraft, rose nationwide in the first six months of the year compared with the same period in 2019, according to the Coast Guard’s office for boating safety.
Nationwide, fatal boating accidents were up 19 percent in the first six months of the year, the Coast Guard said. In the Northeast region, which includes New York and the New England states, deadly boating incidents were up 400 percent.
The increases in recreational boating accidents around the country follow several years of steady declines.
Mariana O’Leary, a Coast Guard spokeswoman, said the service’s personnel started to notice a jump in recreational boating accidents this year as the weather warmed up and people who had been stuck inside could finally venture out.
“What could be a factor is the fact that people are trying to get out of their houses and their apartments, going a little stir crazy, and perhaps they don’t have the experience they need,” Ms. O’Leary said.
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Luke Broadwater, Julia Calderone, Emily Cochrane, Gillian Friedman, Vanessa Friedman, Michael Gold, Anemona Hartocollis, Apoorva Mandavilli, Iliana Magra, Sapna Maheshwari, Tiffany May, Raphael Minder, Claire Moses, Steven Lee Myers, Derek M. Norman, Bhadra Sharma, Mitch Smith, Eileen Sullivan, Daniel Victor, Noah Weiland and Graham Bowley.