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Covid-19 Live Updates: Trump Suggests Vaccine Approval Plans Are Driven by Politics

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Trump suggests that the F.D.A.’s new vaccine approval plans may be driven by politics.
  • Israel will tighten its national lockdown as infection rates soar.
  • Fears of the virus appear to fuel a killing in North Korea.
  • Indonesia surpasses 10,000 deaths as its caseload surges.
  • Virus cases are reported in 100 New York City school buildings.
  • Helsinki’s airport enlists dogs to sniff out the virus on passengers.

transcript

‘It Won’t Be Politics,’ F.D.A. Chief Says of Vaccine Approval Process

Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told lawmakers he was confident that the development of a coronavirus vaccine would be safe from political interference.

“We have not made a commitment to the timeline per se because we haven’t seen the veri, and we don’t know the complexity of the veri or the amount of veri that will come our way. What I can tell you, sir, is we do feel the urgency of the moment. We do take very much — very seriously our responsibility to protect American lives. We will not delay, but we will not cut corners in our process.” “Dr. Hahn, you said that you have every confidence in the scientists and staff at F.D.A. And I appreciate that and I do too, by the way — is there some kind of deep state that you have seen in the F.D.A. that is any way trying to do anything other than quickly get a vaccine, get therapeutics to the American public?” “Senator, I will answer your question this way. I have 100 percent confidence in the outstanding scientists, doctors, nurses, pharmacists at F.D.A. who have remarkably stood up during this pandemic to help expedite getting medical products to the American people. I have complete confidence in their decisions. And I have complete confidence in the actions that have been taken to date.” “And that confidence is based on following the science not any political pressure, and that’s what we’re expecting with a vaccine approval.” “Yes, sir. And I’ve said that several times today, and I appreciate the opportunity to say it again, our career scientists for any medical products, and particularly vaccines, will follow the science and veri and our rigorous standards. And it won’t be politics that make any part of that decision, sir.”

Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told lawmakers he was confident that the development of a coronavirus vaccine would be safe from political interference.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Graeme Jennings

Trump suggests that the F.D.A.’s new vaccine approval plans may be driven by politics.

President Trump said on Wednesday that the White House “may or may not” approve new Food and Drug Administration guidelines that would toughen the process for approving a coronavirus vaccine, and suggested the plan “sounds like a political move.”

The pronouncement evvel again undercut government scientists who had spent the day trying to bolster public faith in the promised vaccine. Just hours earlier, four senior physicians leading the federal coronavirus response strongly endorsed the tighter safety procedures, which would involve getting outside expert approval before a vaccine could be declared safe and effective by the F.D.A.

Last week, Mr. Trump said that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had “made a mistake” when he said that most Americans would not complete the vaccination process until next summer and that masks were at least as important as a vaccine to control the virus’s spread.

The F.D.A. had planned to issue stricter guidelines for the emergency authorization of any new coronavirus vaccine, which would add a new layer of caution to the vetting process, even as the president has insisted a vaccine will be ready as early as next month. Mr. Trump, though, cast doubt on the F.D.A. plan.

“That has to be approved by the White House,” he said, adding, “We may or may not approve it.” Raising questions about why vaccine makers would want to delay the process, he said, “We are looking at that, but I think that was a political move more than anything else.”

He pointedly said he had “tremendous trust in these massive companies” that are testing the vaccines, adding, “I don’t know that a government as big as” the federal government could do as well.

At Wednesday’s Senate hearing, the doctors — Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Stephen M. Hahn, the commissioner of the F.D.A.; Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the C.D.C. director; and Admiral Brett P. Giroir, the coronavirus testing czar — defended their scientific integrity amid mounting evidence that Mr. Trump and his administration have interfered with their agencies’ decision-making and growing public doubts about a vaccine.

transcript

C.D.C. Director Projects 700 Million Covid-19 Doses by April

In his Senate testimony, Dr. Robert R. Redfield said that some Americans will not be able to access a coronavirus vaccine until July 2021.

Ultimately, it’s going to be the vaccines that are going to get us back to the way of life — as we get an effective vaccine. What I was trying to comment, as Senator Kaine alluded to, if the vaccine only induces an immune response in half the people, then it’s exceptional that half the people may not get protection from the vaccine. And what really I was trying to say maybe was just to re-emphasize how important this mask is. And we should have, if projected, about 700 million doses by April, late March, and that should be enough to vaccinate 350 million people because you require two doses. When I was alluding to late second quarter, early third quarter, I was alluding to how long I felt it would take to get those 700 million doses into the American public and complete the vaccine process. And you, know, I can defer to Dr. Fauci for his opinion, but I think that’s going to take us to April, May, June, you know possibly July, to get the entire American public completely vaccinated. But we will have the 700 million doses based on projection by late March, early April.

In his Senate testimony, Dr. Robert R. Redfield said that some Americans will not be able to access a coronavirus vaccine until July 2021.

All four officials pledged to take any vaccine approved by the F.D.A. and said they would encourage their families to do the same.

Polls show a troubling drop in the number of Americans who would be willing to take a coronavirus vaccine. A survey published last week by the Pew Research Center found that 51 percent of Americans would either probably or definitely take a vaccine, down from 72 percent in May.

Israel will tighten its national lockdown as infection rates soar.

The Israeli government said on Thursday that it was tightening its second national lockdown after coronavirus infection rates soared this week to about 7,000 new cases a day, among the highest in the world.

The new measures, which go into effect on Friday, will remain in place at least until the end of the Jewish High Holy Days in mid-October. Most businesses will have to close, and all gatherings, including protests and communal prayers, will be restricted to groups of up to 20 people outdoors within about 1,100 yards of home.

An exception has been made for Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, which begins at sundown on Sunday. Limited numbers of worshipers will be allowed to pray inside synagogues as they did during last week’s Rosh Hashana, or New Year, holiday.

Ultra-Orthodox cabinet ministers had argued that for many Jews, praying outdoors in the heat on Monday would be unbearable, especially for those observing the 25-hour fast of the sacred day of atonement.

The government was still mulling whether to halt outbound flights allowing Israelis to travel abroad from Ben-Gurion International Airport.

The new restrictions were largely meant to address a heated dispute roiling Israel. On one side are those who say they have the right to hold mass protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which have been taking place weekly in the streets near his official residence in Jerusalem. On the other are Orthodox politicians who oppose restrictions on prayer as long as the protests are allowed to continue.

The Israeli Parliament must approve any measures limiting the freedom to protest, which is anchored in law.

Fears of the virus appear to fuel a killing in North Korea.

A South Korean government official apparently trying to defect to North Korea was shot and killed by troops in the North who set his body on fire for fear he might be carrying the coronavirus, South Korean officials said on Thursday.

The violent episode threatens to further derail diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The official who was killed was a first mate on a government ship​ monitoring fishing boats ​near a disputed sea border ​with North Korea early Monday. After he went missing, South Korean ships and planes conducted an extensive search but could not find him before he drifted into North Korean waters.

A North Korean fishing patrol boat found the man wearing a life jacket and clinging to a floatable device on Tuesday afternoon, South Korean officials said. Hours later, they said, a North Korean Navy ship approached the man and opened fire under orders from higher-ups, although it was clear he was trying to defect.

North Korean soldiers wearing gas masks and other protective gear then poured oil on his body and set it on fire, they said.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry called the killing a stunning and “atrocious” act and demanded that the North punish those responsible.

North Korea has yet to comment on the shooting. If confirmed by the North, it would be the first time ​that the country’s government has killed a South Korean citizen in its territory since 2008.

In July, North Korea locked down a city near its border with South Korea after a ​​North Korean man who had defected to the South three years ago ​swam across the western border to return to the city. The North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, declared a “maximum” national emergency for fear the man may “have been infected with the vicious virus​.”​

But South Korean officials have said there is no proof the man carried the coronavirus. Experts are also skeptical of North Korea’s persistent claim that it has no confirmed Covid-19 cases.

Indonesia surpasses 10,000 deaths as its caseload surges.

Indonesia’s coronavirus death toll soared past 10,000 on Thursday, as new cases continued to surge across the nation and within the president’s cabinet.

The world’s fourth-most-populous country already has the second-highest death toll from the coronavirus in the Asia-Pacific region, after India. Experts believe that many more deaths have gone unreported in Indonesia because many patients suspected of having the disease died before their test results were returned.

Cases are still climbing, too: Indonesia, which until last week had never reached 4,000 new cases in a single day, has now passed that mark fivetimes in the past six days. Over the past week it has reported nearly 30,000 new cases, on par with Britain, Israel and Mexico.

On Thursday afternoon, Indonesia reported 4,634 new cases, a daily record, and 128 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 10,105.

The minister of religious affairs, Fachrul Razi, 73, became the third member of President Joko Widodo’s cabinet to test positive, his office said Monday. The ministers of transportation and fisheries have both recovered, but a top Jakarta government official died last week.

Indonesia was slow to adopt coronavirus restrictions earlier this year, then quick to lift them in the hope of reviving the economy. Jakarta, the capital, recently imposed a partial shutdown for the second time. But the government’s overall approach appears to have backfired as cases keep rising and the economy sputters.

The country’s economy is expected to contract this year for the first time since the Asian economic crisis of 1998, the finance minister, Sri Mulyani Indrawati, said Tuesday. She forecast a decline in the gross domestic product of as much as 1.7 percent this year.

The government is urging members of the public to wear masks and is imposing fines of up to $16.75 for those not wearing one. A few people have been told to lie in a coffin as punishment. Others have chosen to dig graves for Covid-19 victims rather than hisse a fine.

Health experts are concerned that campaign events for regional elections planned for December could cause new incidents of superspreading. And they worry that seasonal flooding could soon displace thousands from their homes and cause more contagion as people crowd into shelters.

They also fear that the country’s beleaguered medical system could be overwhelmed by a surge of patients. Some hospitals are nearing capacity and more than 4,300 patients with moderate or no symptoms are being housed at an athletic village in Jakarta.

“We really need the public’s assistance to carry out health protocols, because if we continue like this, all our existing systems will collapse,” the national medical volunteer coordinator, Jossep William, told reporters on Monday.

Virus cases are reported in 100 New York City school buildings.

At least one coronavirus case had been reported in more than 100 school buildings and early childhood centers in the New York City school system by the first day of in-person instruction on Monday, according to the Department of Education.

Nearly all the buildings remained open, though six were closed temporarily, in accordance with city guidelines that only those schools that report at least two cases in different classrooms will be shut.

The cases occurred between Sept. 8, when teachers and staff members reported to schools, and Monday, when the first students entered classrooms.

In dozens of cases, the infected individuals got the positive test results and did not report to work, the department said. Others did report to school, and their close contacts in the buildings were told to quarantine for two weeks.

Avery Cohen, a spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said that the cases included a “handful” of students, but that “the vast majority were among staff before schools reopened for students.”

Some public health experts said the statistics reflect a new reality.

With in-person learning taking place in a system with 1.1 million schoolchildren, 75,000 teachers, and 2,500 school buildings and early childhood centers, new cases will most likely be a daily occurrence, they said. Individual building closings will also be common, they said.

Dr. Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said New York City families should be prepared for a constant game of Whac-a-Mole. The virus is likely to re-emerge repeatedly in school buildings until there is either a vaccine or very frequent testing, he said.

Ideally, Dr. Mina said, 50 percent of all students and staff members should be tested three times a week.

Helsinki’s airport enlists dogs to sniff out the virus on passengers.

When air travelers arrive at Helsinki’s airport and collect their luggage, they are now invited to wipe their necks for a 10-second coronavirus test that does not involve an uncomfortable nasal swab. After placing the sweaty wipe in a box, it is taken behind a wall to be sniffed. By a dog.

A couple of these coronavirus-sniffing canines began work at the Finnish airport on Wednesday as part of a pilot program that aims to detect the virus from an arriving passenger’s sweat.

And they seem to be doing the job, a top researcher from the University of Helsinki who is monitoring the trial said.

In the first stage of the trial, the dogs could sniff out the virus in a person who is asymptomatic, or before symptoms appear, the researcher, Anna Hielm-Bjorkman, said.

International airports have used various methods to detect the virus in travelers, including saliva screenings, temperature checks and nasal swabs. But researchers in Finland say that using dogs could prove cheaper, faster and more effective.

Dogs have long been used to sniff out contraband, and they have also been trained to detect illnesses such as cancer and malaria.

In July, researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover in Germany found that after a week of training, dogs could distinguish saliva samples of people infected with the coronavirus from noninfected samples with a 94 percent success rate.

What does the virus smells like? You would have to ask the dog, because it is so far a scent undetectable by humans.

Reporting was contributed by Mike Ives, Choe Sang-hun, Isabel Kershner, Richard C. Paddock, Elian Peltier, Dera Menra Sijabat and Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

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