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Live Covid Updates: News of Vaccine, Boosters and Mandates

Credit…Robyn Beck/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court has kept its block in place against a federal mandate that all large employers require their workers to get vaccinated against the coronavirus or submit to weekly testing starting in January, declaring that the rule “grossly exceeds” the authority of the occupational safety agency that issued it.

In a 22-page ruling, a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, held that a group of challengers to the mandate issued by the Biden administration was likely to succeed in its claim that it was an unlawful overreach and barred the government from moving forward with it.

“From economic uncertainty to workplace strife, the mere specter of the mandate has contributed to untold economic upheaval in recent months,” wrote Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt.

He added: “Of course, the principles at stake when it comes to the mandate are not reducible to dollars and cents. The public interest is also served by maintaining our constitutional structure and maintaining the liberty of individuals to make intensely personal decisions according to their own convictions — even, or perhaps particularly, when those decisions frustrate government officials.”

He was joined by Judges Edith H. Jones and Kyle Duncan. All three are Republican appointees.

The Biden administration is likely to appeal, but a Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Regardless, the ruling by the panel of the Fifth Circuit is unlikely to be the final word. Some challenges to the mandate are in other circuits, and the cases will be consolidated before a randomly chosen one of those jurisdictions. The Supreme Court is expected to eventually decide the matter.

President Biden announced in September that his administration would issue a vaccine mandate as one of several steps to try to increase immunization rates and end the pandemic, which so far has killed about 750,000 Americans. Other mandates applied to federal employees and federal contractors.

Some large employers have already decided on their own to impose vaccine mandates on their workforces, including 3M, Procter & Gamble, IBM, Tyson Foods and the airlines American, Alaska, JetBlue and United. Most workers have complied, though a small number have quit.

Credit…Armando Franca/Associated Press

MADRID — Portugal is barring employers from contacting their staff outside their contracted working hours under a new law and from remotely monitoring their work, in one of the world’s boldest efforts to regulate the remote work that the pandemic forced on many in the industrialized world.

And, at a time when a surge in natural gas prices has sent electricity costs soaring, the law requires employers to pay part of the electricity and internet bills of staff who work from home.

The legislation, approved in Parliament on Friday and coming into effect this weekend, was drafted by Portugal’s Socialist-led government as an attempt to preserve work-life balance. Pandemic lockdowns kept uncountable millions of people working from home over the past two years, but Portugal is the rare country to enact laws seeking to formally protect workers’ off-clock hours and contain their work-related costs.

The legislation was presented by Portugal’s labor minister, Ana Mendes Godinho, as a way not only to protect domestic workers but to encourage more foreigners to select Portugal as a location for working remotely. Portugal has become a major destination for so-called digital nomads, in part because it is offering them special temporary resident visas to work from Portugal.

“We consider Portugal one of the best places in the world for these digital nomads and remote workers to choose to live in, we want to attract them to Portugal,” Ms. Godinho said at a conference in Lisbon this month.

Under the new law, employers can be fined for contacting staff outside regular hours except in an emergency situation. The law also requires companies to ensure that people who work remotely go to their workplace at least once every two months, to meet with their supervisors and fellow employees, in an effort to avert excessive isolation.

It also gives young parents the right to work from home without preliminary approval from their bosses, as long as their child is less than 8 years old.

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

OKLAHOMA CITY — The governor of Oklahoma this week dismissed the state’s highest ranking military official, a vocal backer of Covid vaccinations, replacing him with a general who immediately issued orders that contravene federal vaccine requirements for military personnel.

The governor, Kevin Stitt, is one of a number of Republican state officials across the country who have been fighting against President Biden’s vaccine mandates, which cover federal employees, federal contractors and the military.

The state’s newly appointed adjutant general, Brig. Gen. Thomas H. Mancino, released a memo on Thursday that read, in part, “I hereby order that no Oklahoma Guardsmen be required to take the Covid-19 vaccine, notwithstanding any other federal requirement.”

The memo also noted that the state would continue to consider applications for vaccine exemptions, though so far federal military authorities have granted very few. It also said, “no negative administrative or legal action will be taken against Guardsmen who refuse the Covid-19 vaccine.”

It remained unclear if General Mancino’s policy would run afoul of the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate. In August, the secretary of defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, said all active-duty military members must immediately get a Covid-19 vaccine. The directive covered members of the armed forces “on active duty or in the Ready Reserve, including the National Guard.”

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data. Currently hospitalized is the most recent number of patients with Covid-19 reported by hospitals in the state for the four days prior. Dips and spikes could be due to inconsistent reporting by hospitals. Hospitalization numbers early in the pandemic are undercounts due to incomplete reporting by hospitals to the federal government.

General Mancino issued the memo a day after Mr. Stitt unexpectedly dismissed Maj. Gen. Michael C. Thompson as adjutant general.

General Thompson, a 38-year military veteran and the Army state guard’s first Black general, said that Mr. Stitt had been pressuring the state’s military officials to counter the federal vaccine requirements and said that his own stance was to instead warn state troops that there “are consequences” for refusing the vaccination order.

He said the governor offered no explanation when he called Wednesday to relieve him of command.

“It’s political,” General Thompson said. “There’s not another reason for it.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

General Thompson said the lack of vaccinations would negatively affect the National Guard’s troop readiness. “I hate to see us not meet the mark when we need to,” he added.

Lt. Col. Geoff Legler, the public affairs officer for the Oklahoma National Guard, said that Mr. Stitt was operating on the principle that he had “complete control” of the force within the state.

However, the officer noted, National Guard members who attend federally funded schools in Oklahoma were still subject to the federal vaccinate mandate.

Credit…Adam Dean for The New York Times

The drug maker AstraZeneca has been selling its coronavirus vaccine at not-for-profit prices during the pandemic, as part of a promise to rollout the vaccine at cost through the crisis.

But on Friday, the Anglo-Swiss company said in reporting its third-quarter earnings that it would begin pricing its vaccine to make a “modest” profit “as new orders are received.” Countries have been paying around $3 or $4 for each shot of AstraZeneca’s two-dose vaccine under the company’s current pricing model.

To a far greater extent than the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been the workhorse of the effort to vaccinate poorer countries, many of which are facing severe vaccine shortages. About 1.1 billion AstraZeneca doses had reached low- and lower-middle income countries as of around the end of October.

The company’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, told analysts on Friday that AstraZeneca would progressively transition “to a for-profit approach” but he added the company “will ensure the vaccine is affordable for low- and middle-income countries.” He gave few details on the new pricing.

Last year, AstraZeneca pledged not to profit on its vaccine during the pandemic period, but the company retained discretion about when to declare the crisis was over. Researchers at the University of Oxford, who led the early development of the vaccine, have said they partnered with AstraZeneca in the spring of last year in part because the company had agreed to their vision of low-cost pricing for their shot.

British health officials provided early funding to the Oxford team. Nick Dearden, director of the British advocacy group Global Justice Now, said in a statement that the company’s decision to start profiting on the vaccine “shows the utter folly of giving away publicly funded science to big pharma.”

AstraZeneca and its production partners around the globe had released more than 1.7 billion doses of the vaccine by the end of October, supplying more than 170 countries, an AstraZeneca spokesman said. The vaccine is not authorized or available in the United States.

The company said its vaccine brought in $2.1 billion in revenue through the end of September. It projected that its revenue from the vaccine in the final three of months of this year would come mostly from existing not-for-profit orders, with a small contribution from new, more profitable orders.

Johnson & Johnson — which, like AstraZeneca, had vowed to sell its vaccine at a not-for-profit price — expects $2.5 billion in revenue from its vaccine this year. Moderna, which has not made such a pledge, expects up to $18 billion from its vaccine. Pfizer, which also has for-profit pricing, expects $36 billion from its vaccine; it is splitting revenue with its development partner, the German company BioNTech.

Customers around the world are lamenting airlines’ customer service wait times and the process of rebooking canceled flights. Virtually every airline’s social media account is overflowing with stories of hourslong waits to speak to someone — even on relatively normal days.

“It’s a joke all over,” said Gilles Alexandre Bussutil, a consultant who specializes in helping airlines improve customer experience.

The issues have to do with staffing, according to many airlines, reservation agents and industry analysts, but exactly who or what is to blame depends on whom you ask. Some airlines, including Southwest, have acknowledged that they’ve recently let customers down and need to hire more agents. But others have suggested the exorbitant wait times of early summer are ancient history, something that does not seem to be reflected by customers’ stories.

“Oh sure, it’s been taken care of; it’s under control,” said Omar Martinez, a longtime JetBlue loyalist, who was feeling tempted to give up on the airline. In August, Mr. Martinez spent 275 minutes on a call for a matter that a gate agent told him could only be resolved over the phone. But in talking to friends and looking to social media, he has yet to find an airline without similar issues.

Most airlines plan to hire, but passengers may not see lower wait times any time soon, several industry analysts said, citing a variety of factors, including overall labor shortages, the difficulty of hiring qualified workers at relatively low pay and the airlines’ lack of efficiency in the deployment of staff.

Across the country, employers are struggling with how, when and even if they will bring employees back to the office. In conversations with leaders at companies in a broad variety of industries — the people charged with making the ultimate call — the consensus was that there was no consensus.

C.E.O.s are struggling to balance rapidly shifting expectations with their own impulse to have the final word on how their companies run. They are eager to appear responsive to employees who are relishing their newfound autonomy, but reluctant to give up too much control. And they are constantly changing policies in response to worker demands, re-examining aspects of their business that they might not have tinkered with otherwise.

David Gelles, The New York Times’s Corner Office columnist, talked to several C.E.O.s to learn how they’re thinking about working from the office at this point in the pandemic.

  • In early October, PwC announced that remote work was a permanent option. Workers had two weeks to decide what they would do. Those who decide to change cities or remain remote may have their assignments changed, but are not at risk of being let go. “I believe what we announced will be commonplace for the mass employers in a matter of months,” said Tim Ryan, the U.S. chairman of PwC.

  • “What employees are saying they want in their work environment going forward is going to be a lot more important than a bunch of senior executives at the top of an organization determining what that will be,” said Andi Owen, the chief executive of MillerKnoll, the maker of the Aeron chair and other office furniture, which has yet to bring all of its own white-collar workers back full time.

  • As Google prepares for more employees to come back to the office next year, it is planning a makeover of many of its office spaces. Sundar Pichai, the chief executive of Google and its parent company, Alphabet, said that Google, where some workers have returned on a voluntary basis but most are still working remotely, remained productive (and profitable), but that going so long with limited in-person interactions with colleagues was getting old. “We are working on some borrowed time, in terms of working on memories of the relationships you have and the connections you have,” Mr. Pichai said. “It’s taking a toll.”

  • A full third of workers said last fall that they were putting in more hours than they had been before the pandemic, according to Pew. This was especially the case for people who used to commute. For many, the hours spent driving or taking public transportation had simply been subsumed into the workday. “I think people are working harder,” said Ms. Owen of MillerKnoll. The blurring of the lines between the workday and the rest of life has contributed to a growing sense of disaffection in the labor force, and may help explain the mass resignations that are upending the job market.

C.E.O.s are eager for employees to return — and afraid of alienating those who have grown accustomed to working from home. READ THE FULL ARTICLE →

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