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The White House announced Friday that it will allocate $1.7 billion to fight coronavirus variants as the nation races to vaccinate people before the pathogen can mutate in new and concerning ways.

The funding, which will come from the most recent federal stimulus package, will target the detection, surveillance and mitigation of the variants. The original strain of the coronavirus now makes up only about half of infections in the United States.

Here are significant developments:
  • The number of new global coronavirus cases has almost doubled over the past two months, an alarming increase that the World Health Organization said Friday was nearing the pandemic’s peak infection rate.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she received AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine Friday, despite concerns about a possible connection between that vaccine and rare blood clots.
  • Vaccinated people may need booster shots and annual inoculations to maintain protection against covid-19 and emerging coronavirus variants, according to a White House scientific adviser and the chief executive of Pfizer.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that 5,800 cases of post-vaccination “breakthrough infections” have been reported nationwide. That’s fewer than 1 in every 13,000 vaccinations.
  • A spring wave of coronavirus cases has crashed across 38 states as hospitalizations increase, turning the pandemic in the United States into a patchwork of regional hot spots.
2:00 a.m.
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Despite vaccines, many international travelers are postponing vacations — again

A year ago, as George Griffith watched his plans for a July 2020 African safari fade in the fog of a worldwide pandemic, an extra 12 months didn’t seem long to wait.

When George and his wife, Ginny, received their coronavirus vaccinations in recent weeks, their summer 2021 safari departure appeared all that much closer. That was until March 26, when Kenya’s president announced a crackdown that includes restrictions on travel in and out of Nairobi for an undetermined period of time.

Like many Americans, the Griffiths are discovering that the newfound optimism that vaccine progress would speedily reopen the world to air and cruise travel appears to be, well, a little too optimistic. U.S. vaccinations are proceeding apace, but emerging variants, infection numbers and vaccination rates vary by country and region.

12:30 a.m.
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The pandemic changed the workday, but will transit riders return?

Public transit demand during the pandemic has shifted to neighborhoods with high numbers of Black, Hispanic and lower-income workers, flattening peak travel periods and forcing transit agencies to respond to new patterns before more workers return to offices this fall, a Washington Post analysis of national transit data shows.

No longer does the 9-to-5 work schedule hold as much sway, with telework on the rise and office workers less bound to rigid daily commutes. Waves of commuters have dwindled to a trickle in the morning and evening hours — the commuting tides that transit schedules were built around.

Transit agencies are watching the emerging trends as they seek to lure riders after Labor Day, when offices are calling back workers who will decide whether to stick with early 2020 commuting habits or find new ways to get to work. Schedules are modified and studies on lower fares are underway — the first steps as agencies brace for years of reduced ridership.

11:15 p.m.
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Vaccinated travelers should still avoid eating and drinking on planes, experts say

With America’s vaccine rollout progressing at breakneck speeds, we have watched the number of travelers rise rapidly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people may travel safely, and many health experts say they feel safe traveling again. But although airlines are bringing back food and drink services, experts still warn against eating and drinking on planes.

10:15 p.m.
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Chile, leading the Western Hemisphere in vaccinations, is experiencing a coronavirus surge

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chile might have celebrated too soon.

This South American nation of 19 million, which secured enough potential coronavirus vaccine doses to inoculate its population twice over, leads the Western Hemisphere in vaccinations per capita. More than 7.5 million Chileans have received at least one dose, and 5 million are now fully vaccinated. Only Israel and Britain have performed better.

At the same time, new cases of covid-19 are surging. The country has reported more than 7,000 daily cases nine times this month, outstripping its first-wave peak of 6,938 last July, and sounding an alarm for the United States and other countries that have raced out ahead on the vaccination curve.

Analysts here blame a mix of factors: Fatigue with strict and lengthy lockdowns, vacation travel during the Southern Hemisphere summer, the arrival of new and more transmissible variants and reliance on a Chinese vaccine that’s proved less effective than Western inoculants.

9:15 p.m.
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Biden administration issues first government-wide guidance about how to test federal employees for the coronavirus

The Biden administration has set the first government-wide standards for testing federal employees for the coronavirus at the workplace, telling agencies to be transparent about how the process will work and what might be done with the results.

Guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month authorizes agencies to implement testing both to screen employees and diagnose possible infections among those who have symptoms consistent with covid-19, as well as to identify those who may have been exposed to the virus.

The guidance leaves room for agencies to adopt different practices, telling them to apply the standards “according to the situation in their workplace or workforce” and consider factors such as whether an employee has been fully vaccinated.

8:15 p.m.
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What to do if you’ve gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Federal health officials warned doctors and patients Tuesday to watch for symptoms that could indicate an extremely rare but serious form of blood clot in the brain suffered by six women who received Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine. So what should you look for if you are one of the more than 7 million people who have received the company’s one-dose vaccine or are scheduled to receive it soon?

7:26 p.m.
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New global coronavirus cases nearly double in two months

The number of new coronavirus cases around the globe has almost doubled over the past two months, an alarming increase that the World Health Organization said Friday was nearing the pandemic’s peak infection rate.

Around the world, “covid-19 cases and deaths are continuing to increase at worrying rates,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing Friday.

“This is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far during the pandemic,” he said. “Some countries that had previously avoided widespread covid-19 transmission are now seeing steep increases in infections.”

Case numbers have spiked in nearly all regions, with larger outbreaks gripping Brazil, India, Poland, Turkey and other countries. In the seven days ending April 11, global cases rose by 11 percent compared with the previous week, according to the WHO.

7:15 p.m.
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The tourism industry is recovering, but 3 million workers have been left behind

Business is rebounding quickly across the country at hotels, restaurants and airlines, but millions of employees have been left behind as companies seek to lock in pandemic changes to their models and slash labor costs in the future.

For a year, hotels, airlines, casinos and restaurants — at least those that remained in business — have made do with far fewer workers, often well under half of the number they employed before the pandemic. Customers have adjusted, with hotel guests checking themselves in on mobile apps and restaurant patrons content with picking up takeout.

Employment has begun to recover, with 13.8 million people employed in leisure and hospitality jobs this March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that’s still 3 million jobs short of where the industry was before the pandemic, and it remains to be seen how many of the industry’s still out-of-work employees will get a call back with business and international travel to the United States still nearly nonexistent. And some large employers are signaling they plan to make do with fewer employees as they experiment with new business models that allow them to cut labor costs.

6:12 p.m.
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Brazil’s hospitals are running out of sedatives for covid-19 patients

Hospitals in Brazil are running dangerously low on medicine to sedate a surge of increasingly ill coronavirus patients, health-care workers and officials said.

The already hard-hit South American nation is suffering from a new wave of infections driven by a more transmissible variant known as P.1 that was first identified in the city of Manaus.

Brazil’s health minister said Thursday that authorities were in talks with Spain and other countries to secure the drugs, Reuters reported. At hospitals in Rio de Janeiro, reports surfaced of health-care workers being forced to intubate patients without sedatives, according to the Associated Press.

Staff at the Albert Schweitzer municipal hospital have been using neuromuscular blockers and tying patients to their beds, the AP quoted a local doctor as saying.

“Some try to talk, resist. They’re conscious,” the doctor, who agreed to discuss the sensitive situation only if not quoted by name, told the AP.

Another ICU doctor in Rio de Janeiro told Reuters that he had never experienced another situation like this in his 20-year career.

“Using mechanical restraints without sedatives is bad practice,” said the doctor, Aureo do Carmo Filho. “The patient is submitted to a form of torture.”

The alarming reports came as the Paris-based organization Doctors Without Borders on Thursday released a statement about the Brazilian government’s response to the pandemic. The country has reported more than 361,000 deaths out of some 13.6 million confirmed infections.

“More than 12 months into Brazil’s covid-19 emergency, there is still no effective, centralized and coordinated public health response to the outbreak,” Doctors Without Borders said. “The lack of political will to adequately respond to the pandemic is killing Brazilians in their thousands.”

5:03 p.m.
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Biden administration unveils plan to spend $1.7 billion on fighting variants

The Biden administration announced Friday it is allocating $1.7 billion to fight coronavirus variants, as the virus continues to mutate in more deadly and infectious ways.

The money is aimed at improving detection, monitoring and mitigation of the variants, as the original strain of the coronavirus now makes up only about half of all cases in the country.

The funding, which comes from the American Rescue Plan, has $1 billion to expand genomic sequencing; $400 million to support innovation, including establishing six Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology; and $300 million to build and support a National Bioinformatics Infrastructure.

4:35 p.m.
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Pandemic nerves are causing U.S. mortgage rates to decline

For seven weeks in a row, mortgage rates steadily moved higher. Then they started pulling back last week. But despite this week’s decline, experts don’t expect the downturn to be long-lasting.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average sank to 3.04 percent with an average 0.7 point. It was 3.13 percent a week ago and 3.31 percent a year ago.

“Rising covid-19 cases across the country and the pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine introduced fresh uncertainty to the market and placed renewed downward pressure on rates, helping drive them to their lowest level in a month,” Matthew Speakman, a Zillow economist, wrote in an email.

3:28 p.m.
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Michigan GOP official blasts maskless colleagues for his covid-19

Last month, Michigan GOP official Jason A. Watts was one of the few wearing a mask at an indoor party meeting with about 70 others. He said he was ordered to attend and threatened with being ousted from his role after criticizing former president Donald Trump in an interview.

About two weeks later, he was in a hospital bed gasping for air.

“I wore two masks” at the event, said Watts, 44, who ended up spending five days in the hospital. “I found out later that four people at my table — not including me — came down with covid.”

The experience has left Watts, the Republican Party treasurer for the 6th Congressional District, blasting other party members for being careless about the pandemic and for not holding the meeting virtually.

2:27 p.m.
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German chancellor gets AstraZeneca vaccine amid worry over blood clots

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel got her first shot of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine Friday, despite ongoing concerns about its possible connection to blood clots.

“I am happy that I have received the first vaccination with AstraZeneca today,” Merkel said in a statement. “Vaccination is key to overcoming the pandemic.”

Merkel had said that she would wait her turn for a vaccine, and Berlin is now offering AstraZeneca vaccinations to people age 60 and older. Merkel is 66.

In Germany, the vaccine is not advised for people younger than 60 because of the blood clots, which regulators say are a possible rare side effect. Both Germany’s regulator and the European Medicines Agency put the chance of the occasional but dangerous clots at around 1 in every 100,000 immunizations.

Scientists are still trying to establish whether younger people face a higher risk, but they say the benefits of the vaccine clearly outweigh the risks of the coronavirus for the elderly. Fifty-five people have developed serious clots that block blood from draining from the brain, known as cerebral venous thrombosis, after vaccination with AstraZeneca, data from Germany’s regulator show.

The biggest group of those who developed the clots were women between 20 and 66 years old, accounting for 42 of the cases. Thirteen were men between ages 20 and 70. A total of 11 cases were fatal.

Around 4.2 million people in Germany have been vaccinated with the Swedish-British firm’s vaccine. The regulator says it has only seen complications following the first dose.

Germany’s stuttering vaccination program has sped up significantly in recent weeks, with shots now given out in doctors’ offices. Just over 658,000 people were vaccinated Thursday.

1:30 p.m.
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AstraZeneca is the ‘workhorse’ for vaccinating the world. Now, the world is uneasy over clot risks.

DAKAR, Senegal — She had seen the conspiracy theories on Facebook, the endless anti-vaccine videos. Aminata Gueye shrugged it all off as silly chatter and signed up for an AstraZeneca shot courtesy of a World Health Organization-backed vaccine push called Covax.

Then came some news on the radio in Dakar: Some European countries had suspended use of the vaccine after regulators found apparent links to rare, but potentially fatal, blood clots. Gueye never went to the clinic.

“I was impatient to get vaccinated,” said Gueye, 38. “Now I have doubts.”

Lingering hesitation about the two-dose AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine may shape the next phase of the effort to vaccinate the world.