Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today?

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In some pockets of Europe, unvaccinated people are behind the latest wave of infections, filling overworked hospital wards and sending governments scrambling to prevent a fourth wave of the pandemic.

Some governments in Western Europe, such as France, Spain and Italy, have used both carrots and sticks to increase their vaccination rates. But my colleague Katrin Bennhold, Times Berlin bureau chief, reports that in Central and Eastern Europe – and the German-speaking countries and regions that border them – the problem is more persistent.

Germany, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland have the largest proportions of unvaccinated populations in all of Western Europe. About one in four people over 12 are not vaccinated, compared to around one in ten in France and Italy, and almost none in Portugal.

In the province of Bolzano in northern Italy, which borders Austria and Switzerland and where 70 percent of the population is German-speaking, the vaccination rate is the lowest in the country. Experts have linked a sharp increase in infections to frequent exchanges with Austria, but also to a cultural inclination of the population towards homeopathy and natural remedies.

Sociologists say vaccine resistance in some of these areas is also fueled by a strong tradition of decentralized government that tends to fuel mistrust of the rules imposed by the capital – and by a far-right ecosystem that knows how to exploit both. In some ways, vaccine resistance is the long tail of the populist nationalist movements that rocked European politics for a decade.

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As a result, in parts of Europe, “whether or not you get vaccinated has become almost a political identifier like in the United States,” said Pia Lamberty of CeMAS, a Berlin-based research organization focused on disinformation. and conspiracy theories.

In Annaberg-Buchholz, a former medieval metal mining town near the Czech border, the split is visceral. Every Monday, diehard vaccine opponents organize a noisy little rally in the city center. This week there were about 50 protesters raging against the government in Berlin, which they say is a dictatorship like communism, “and worse”.

Rolf Schmidt, the mayor, said government restrictions on unvaccinated people – such as requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter social venues and shops – was sowing division. He is pushing to allow the city’s famous Christmas market to take place, with a testing warrant for all but no restrictions for the unvaccinated.

Half of the market’s kiosks are already in place and are slated to open on November 26, but Schmidt fears it will be banned by the state government.

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“It would be the last straw,” he said. “For our region, it’s more than a Christmas fair; that’s who we are as a city and as a region. It’s a feeling, it’s an identity. Big cities don’t understand it.


Before the pandemic, overdose deaths in the United States were already one of the country’s biggest public health crises. Now, new research shows Americans have died of drug overdoses in record numbers during the pandemic.

In the 12-month period that ended in April, more than 100,000 Americans died of overdoses, up almost 30% from the 78,000 deaths the previous year, according to provisional figures from the National Center for Health Statistics.

This is the first time that the number of overdose deaths in the United States has exceeded 100,000 per year, more than the number of car and gun accidents combined. Most of the deaths have occurred in people between the ages of 25 and 55, in their prime.

The rise in deaths has been fueled by the widespread use of fentanyl, a fast-acting drug that is 100 times more potent than morphine and has been increasingly added surreptitiously to other illegally manufactured drugs.

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The ubiquity of fentanyl has compounded the effects of the pandemic. The initial blockages and subsequent unraveling of social media, as well as the increase in mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, have compounded the crisis. People with addictions and those in recovery are prone to relapses, a tendency exacerbated by stress and isolation.

And they had fewer places to turn during the pandemic. As healthcare providers nationwide struggled to care for large numbers of coronavirus patients, treatments for problems such as drug addiction were postponed, helping to create a health maelstrom.



In the height of the pandemic winter last year, I couldn’t bear to store our Christmas tree in artificial light until daylight saving time returned in March. So this year I proactively implemented our “Standard Schedule Tree” last Saturday and it makes me smile every time I see it. I should have done this years ago!

– Christina Wheeler, Holliston, Mass.

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