Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Thursday, March 17, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
Health officials and experts are on high alert for a possible wave of coronavirus infections in the U.S. following a recent surge in Western Europe of the omicron subvariant known as BA.2.
Throughout the pandemic, widespread outbreaks similar to the one Western Europe is facing have hit the U.S. weeks later, prompting many health experts to predict the same will happen now.
Meanwhile, U.K. officials announced they will ease up on COVID-19 testing and monitoring programs despite an increase in reported COVID-19 infections.
Canadian officials announced that vaccinated visitors will no longer need to provide a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country.
We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see the rest of our coronavirus coverage and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.
Local health officials report threats, vandalism and harassment during pandemic, study finds
Local health officials handling the day-to-day response to the coronavirus crisis have faced hostility like never before, according to a new study of 1,499 episodes of harassment during the first year of the pandemic.
Of 583 local health departments surveyed by Johns Hopkins University researchers, more than half, 57%, reported episodes of staff being targeted with personal threats, doxing, vandalism and other forms of harassment from 2020 to 2021.
From the early months of the pandemic, former president Donald Trump, Fox News personalities and right-wing commentators on social media unleashed a wave of criticism and specious claims against Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and many other officials who were promoting the use of face masks, vaccines, shutdown measures and social distancing.
Fauci has faced death threats and been under stepped-up security protection since 2020. But the threats and denunciations are not limited to federal and state health officials.
Cambodia drops COVID-19 testing for vaccinated visitors
Cambodia on Thursday announced new measures that significantly ease pandemic-related restrictions for foreign visitors, including dropping mandatory COVID-19 tests for travelers who have been vaccinated.
Fully vaccinated travelers no longer need to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken 72 hours before their arrival in Cambodia, according to a statement issued by Health Minister Mam Bunheng. The new regulations go into effect immediately.
Foreign visitors also no longer need to take a rapid antigen test for COVID-19 upon arrival, though they are encouraged to do so on their own, the statement said.
Visas on arrival are also being restored for entry by air, sea and land, the health minister said.
Moderna seeks FDA authorization for 4th dose of COVID shot
Drugmaker Moderna asked the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday to authorize a fourth shot of its COVID-19 vaccine as a booster dose for all adults.
The request is broader than rival pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s request earlier this week for the regulator to approve a booster shot for all seniors.
In a press release, the company said its request for approval for all adults was made “to provide flexibility” to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical providers to determine the “appropriate use” of a second booster dose of the mRNA vaccine, “including for those at higher risk of COVID-19 due to age or comorbidities.”
Italy easing COVID rules on quarantine, masks, vaccination
Italy, where the COVID-19 pandemic first erupted in the West in February 2020, is easing many restrictions over the coming weeks, including requirements for most workplace vaccination and mask-wearing.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Thursday that quarantine will no longer be required for those coming in contact with someone testing positive for the coronavirus. That’s especially good news for children, he noted, since they will be able to keep attending school in case of a positive-testing classmate.
But people testing positive will still be required to isolate.
With the easing of Italy’s rules, workers older than 50 will no longer risk suspension from work if they aren’t vaccinated. Instead, through April, unvaccinated older workers will be able to access workplaces if they test negative.
However, health care workers, and those employed in nursing homes, regardless of age, will still be required to be vaccinated through the end of 2022.
Germany to let virus restrictions expire even as cases surge
The German government on Thursday defended its decision to let many pandemic restrictions expire at the weekend, even as the country hit a new record high for newly confirmed cases.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 294,931 new cases in the past 24 hours. The Robert Koch Institute said there have been a further 278 COVID-related deaths, taking the overall toll since the start of the pandemic to 126,420.
The decision to end many pandemic restrictions on Sunday, including the requirements to wear masks in public settings and limit spectators in stadiums, was criticized by the states, who can still introduce their own restrictions in virus hotspots going forward.
Canada to drop testing requirements for vaccinated travelers on April 1
Fully vaccinated travelers soon will be able to travel to Canada without presenting a negative coronavirus test, the country’s public health agency announced Thursday. The eased policy goes into effect April 1 and applies to visitors who arrive by air, land or sea.
Until then, travelers who are 5 and older need to take a rapid antigen test within a day of their departure for Canada or a PCR test within 72 hours of their trip. A past positive test that is at least 10 days old can also be used as proof of recovery in lieu of a test. Canada requires travelers to upload the details of their trip and proof of vaccination to an online system called ArriveCAN.
Travelers who are not fully vaccinated will continue to follow those testing protocols after April 1. People who are not fully vaccinated may be denied entry to Canada and have to undergo a 14-day quarantine and additional testing.
Fauci warns of potential rise in U.S. COVID cases as funding runs dry
The U.S. could soon see COVID-19 cases rise again and vulnerable people are likely to need a fourth vaccine dose, one of President Joe Biden’s top health advisers warned as the White House calls for more money to fight the pandemic.
Anthony Fauci, the longtime head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a Biden adviser, said U.K. officials are already warning him of an increase there driven by the BA. 2 sub-variant, easing restrictions and waning protection from vaccines, and that the U.S. tends to be a few weeks behind case curves in the U.K.
“We have all three of those factors right now in this country,” Fauci said in an interview Thursday. “I would predict that we are going to see a bit of an increase, or at least a flattening out and plateauing of the diminution of cases. And the question is how do we deal with that.”
China lockdowns may delay orders from platforms like Amazon
Orders placed with global e-commerce platforms like Amazon and Walmart may be delayed by virus lockdowns and restrictions in some of China’s key manufacturing hubs, according to an industry body.
Shenzhen, home to around half of all the online retail exporters in China, was locked down for at least a week on Sunday to try to contain a spreading Covid-19 outbreak. Its 17.5 million residents were told to work from home, with all non-essential businesses and public transport shut.
In nearby Dongguan, a key Chinese hub for the manufacture of shoes, toys and textiles, factories in areas where there are virus cases have been told to close, and schools and restaurants are effectively shuttered.
The moves are creating significant disruption to the production and delivery of goods sold on major online marketplaces, including those run by Amazon.com Inc. and U.S. retail giant Walmart Inc., said Wang Xin, head of the Shenzhen Cross-Border E-Commerce Association.
“Shenzhen now has pressed the pause key, with operations halted for almost all sectors, and we are no exception,” said Wang, whose organization represents some 3,000 exporters in the city, China’s main tech hub. The association’s members include purveyors of some of the biggest-selling online products in the West, including smartphone accessory maker Shenzhen Tomtop Technology Co Ltd., and Sailvan Times Co Ltd., maker of lounge-wear apparel brand Ekouaer.
More than 30 companies to start making Pfizer’s COVID pill
Nearly three dozen companies worldwide will soon start making generic versions of Pfizer’s coronavirus pill, the U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool that negotiated the deal said Thursday.
The Medicines Patent Pool said in a statement that agreements signed with 35 companies should help make Pfizer’s antiviral nirmatrelvir, or Paxlovoid, available to more than half of the world’s population.
Generic drugmakers across a dozen countries in Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East and Eastern Europe will begin producing either the raw ingredients for the Pfizer drug or the pill itself. Among the companies offered a license was one in Ukraine, which has not yet been able to confirm it can participate.
WHO: Evaluation of Russia’s COVID shot has been postponed
The World Health Organization said Wednesday its evaluation of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has been postponed for the time being, due to the “uneven situation.”
WHO vaccines expert Dr. Mariangela Simao said at a press briefing that the U.N. health agency’s officials had originally been scheduled to visit Russia on March 7 to assess the facilities where Sputnik V is produced — just weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The WHO has been evaluating Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for an emergency use authorization since last year. The authorization would allow Sputnik V to be purchased as part of the U.N.-backed COVAX effort to distribute vaccines worldwide, and would lend credibility to a shot that has been often maligned.
A late-stage study published in the journal Lancet in 2020 in more than 20,000 participants found that Sputnik V was safe and about 91% effective against infection and highly effective at preventing people from becoming severely ill with COVID-19.
St. Patrick’s Day parades turn pandemic blues Irish green
St. Patrick’s Day celebrations across the country are back after a two-year hiatus, including the nation’s largest in New York City, in a sign of growing hope that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic may be over.
The holiday served as a key marker in the outbreak’s progression, with parades celebrating Irish heritage among the first big public events to be called off in 2020. An ominous acceleration in infections quickly cascaded into broad shutdowns.
The full-fledged return of New York’s parade on Thursday coincides with the city’s wider reopening. Major mask and vaccination rules were recently lifted.
“Psychologically, it means a lot,” said Sean Lane, the chair of the parade’s organizing group. “New York really needs this.”
China’s Shenzhen to reopen, still trying to contain virus
Companies in Shenzhen, a major Chinese business center, will be allowed to reopen while efforts to contain coronavirus outbreaks progress, the government said Thursday, following a citywide shutdown that rattled financial markets.
Testing of everyone in the city of 17.5 million people is “progressing smoothly,” said a deputy mayor, Huang Qiang, at a news conference. He said 71 new cases were found in the 24 hours through midnight Wednesday.
China’s case numbers in its latest wave of outbreaks in areas throughout the country are relatively low. But authorities are enforcing a “zero tolerance” strategy that has temporarily shut down major cities to find isolate every infected person.
“We will organize enterprises to return to work,” Huang said, according to a transcript released by the government. He gave no timetable but said businesses are required to step up strengthen anti-disease measures and monitor employees for the virus’s telltale fever.
South Korea’s omicron deaths surge amid faltering response
Officials in South Korea tried to calm public fears amid concerns about a faltering pandemic response as daily cases and deaths reached record highs Thursday.
The 429 deaths reported in the latest 24 hours were nearly 140 more than the previous one-day record set on Tuesday. Fatalities may further rise in coming weeks considering the intervals between infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
The 621,266 new coronavirus cases diagnosed by health workers were also a record daily jump, shattering Wednesday’s previous high of 400,624. That pushed the national caseload to over 8.2 million, with more than 7.4 million cases added since the start of February.
The outbreak has been significantly bigger than what had been forecast by government health authorities, who maintain that omicron is nearing its peak. Still, South Korea has a much lower rate of COVID-19 deaths in relation to population size than the United States or many European nations, which officials attribute to high vaccinations with more than 68% of the population having received booster shots.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
How Washington plans to live with COVID-19 in the coming months: State health officials this morning will unveil a plan to boost your access to treatments and prepare for the next wave … while focusing on "hope on the horizon." Yesterday, they laid out signs for that hope.
Masks are off, and Seattle educators are angry. Union members say the district shut them out of the decision to make masks optional. And with a student walkout planned next week, this is shaping up to be the first test for the district's permanent leader.
How should the show go on? Here's how Seattle theaters are confronting big questions about COVID safety — and how to pay for it — as they venture back on stage.
Heads up if you're heading to Canada: The rules are changing for vaccinated travelers.
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