President Biden said Thursday he expected to release the results of an intelligence report on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, even as administration officials said the inquiry was likely to extend beyond the initial 90-day deadline.
Mr. Biden on Wednesday announced that he had ordered the intelligence community to undertake a renewed examination of where the coronavirus came from and said that some intelligence agencies believe it was most likely created naturally, while at least one other favored the theory that it leaked accidentally from a lab in China.
Just before boarding Air Force One for a trip to Ohio, Mr. Biden was asked whether he planned to release the intelligence report on the origins of the coronavirus. “Yes,” Mr. Biden told reporters, “unless there’s something I’m unaware of.”
In a statement on Thursday, Amanda J. Schoch, the spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the intelligence agencies had come together around the two likely scenarios, but there are so far no high-confidence assessments of the virus’ origins.
“The U.S. intelligence community does not know exactly where, when, or how the Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially,” Ms. Schoch said.
While 18 agencies make up the intelligence community, only a handful have been major players in assessing the likely origin of the virus.
Most of the broader intelligence community, including the C.I.A. and the Defense Intelligence Agency, believe there is not yet sufficient information to draw a conclusion, even with low confidence, about the origins.
“The I.C. continues to examine all available evidence, consider different perspectives, and aggressively collect and analyze new information to identify the virus’s origins,” Ms. Schoch said.
Mr. Biden set a 90-day timeline for a report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Avril B. Haines. While her office will deliver a report by the deadline, officials said work is likely to continue after that three-month time period.
Some intelligence officials say it is scientists, not spies or analysts, who are likely to draw definitive conclusions on the origins of the virus. Collecting information from China and working with intelligence partners could help that scientific effort, but it is unlikely to uncover some sort of smoking gun.
So far, according to three officials, there has been no intercepted Chinese communications that provide any strong evidence of a lab leak. Collecting so-called signals intelligence — electronic communications or phone calls — is notoriously difficult in China.
The effort to uncover the origins of the coronavirus began more than a year ago during the Trump administration. But some officials were wary of President Donald J. Trump’s motives, arguing that his interest in the origins of the pandemic was either to deflect blame from his administration’s handling of the epidemic or to punish China.
Current officials say the central goal of the new intelligence push is improve preparations for future pandemics. Mr. Biden’s message on Wednesday was calibrated to try not to close the door on future cooperation with China.
White House frustration with China has risen after its announcement this week that Beijing would not participate in additional investigations by the World Health Organization. But the Biden administration is not trying to isolate China, and instead trying to walk a careful line between pressuring Beijing to cooperate and demonstrate that in the absence of that cooperation the United States will intensify its own investigation.
The coronavirus is now spreading faster in Manitoba than in any other province or state in Canada, the United States or Mexico, with Indigenous people and people of color hit disproportionately hard.
Figures released on Wednesday show that over the last two weeks, the prairie province in the middle of Canada reported an average of 35 new cases a day per 100,000 population. Canada as a whole is averaging about 10 a day per 100,000; the United States, 7 per 100,000; and Mexico, 2 per 100,000. The next highest states or provinces are Alberta at 16 and Colorado at 15.
Dr. Marcia Anderson, the public health lead of the Manitoba First Nation Pandemic Response Coordination Team, told reporters on Wednesday that from the beginning of the month until May 19, Indigenous people and other nonwhite people accounted for 61 percent of cases in Manitoba, even though they make up 37 percent of the province’s population.
People of Southeast Asian descent are the most disproportionately affected, with a rate of 146 per 1,000 people, 13 times the rate among white people.
The surge in Covid-19 cases has overwhelmed intensive care units in Manitoba’s hospitals, forcing some patients to be evacuated by air to other provinces. Eighteen patients have been flown to neighboring Ontario, including some to Ottawa, about 1,000 miles away. Saskatchewan, the province to the west, was expected to receive an evacuated patient from Manitoba on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, a group of doctors called on the province to follow the lead of Ontario and others by introducing a stay-at-home order and closing nonessential businesses. Those steps have allowed other provinces to rein in their most recent waves of infections.
Stores in Manitoba have been limited to 10 percent of capacity, and gyms and hair salons have been closed for several weeks. On Tuesday, the province’s premier, Brian Pallister, extended limits on outdoor gatherings that were put in place for last weekend; they now last until the end of this week.
Mr. Pallister suggested on Tuesday that the worsening situation in the province was being caused not by too few restrictions but rather by people failing to comply with restrictions already in place.
“I don’t have a lot of sympathy left for people who disobey public health orders knowingly and willingly,” he said.
Abbigail Bugenske, 22, had all but forgotten about her long-shot bid to become Ohio’s next millionaire.
As the clock inched toward 7:29 p.m. on Wednesday night, the state was preparing to announce the winner of its first lottery drawing for vaccinated Ohioans live on television. Ms. Bugenske was driving from Cincinnati to her parents’ house near Cleveland when she got a call that left her in hysterics. The governor was on the line. She had just won $1 million.
“I thought it was a prank call initially,” said Ms. Bugenske, who soon saw an explosion of messages on her phone that confirmed the news. She walked into her parents’ house in disbelief.
“I was screaming enough that my parents thought that I was crying and that something was wrong,” she recalled on Thursday. “I started yelling that I won a million dollars and I was going to be a millionaire.”
Ms. Bugenske, who graduated from college last year and recently moved to the Cincinnati area to take a job as an engineer, won the money through Ohio’s new lottery offering $1 million to people who have gotten at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine. The idea, which has drawn both enthusiasm and scrutiny, is gaining traction across the country, as states like Colorado, Maryland and Oregon offer similar incentives in an effort to boost waning vaccinations.
One criticism of such programs is that they may do little to change the minds of people who are against the vaccines. Ms. Bugenske, for example, said she got her shot as soon as she became eligible, before the lottery was announced, and later entered her name for the drawing. (Ohio residents who have gotten at least one shot are eligible to enter the lottery, no matter when they got vaccinated.)
“I would encourage anyone to get the vaccine,” she said. “If winning a million dollars isn’t incentive enough, I don’t really know what would be.”
More than 2.7 million Ohioans entered to win $1 million in the lottery, and additional drawings will take place in the coming weeks. The lottery also offers a full-ride scholarship to college for children ages 12 to 17.
Joseph Costello, a 14-year-old from Englewood, near Dayton, won the first scholarship out of more than 104,000 entries. On Thursday morning, he wore a polo shirt for a series of television interviews and sat sheepishly on his couch, in between his beaming parents.
His mother, Colleen Costello, who entered her family into the lottery, recalled how she had joked with her colleagues over lunch on Wednesday that her life could dramatically change if she or a family member won. Ms. Costello, a chemical engineer, soon forgot about the drawing and was leaving the office when she got a call from Gov. Mike DeWine.
“My first reaction was, I thought maybe I was listening to your voice and it was a taped message,” she told the governor at a news conference on Thursday. “The more we talked, the more we realized, it was really you, live. I was really thankful at that moment that there was a bench nearby because I needed to sit down.”
Her husband, Rich Costello, who works as a teacher, was at a coffee shop doing school work when his wife called and asked if he was sitting down. He hurried to pick up his son from youth group, but kept the news a secret until they got home, where the governor, his wife and members of the governor’s staff planned to visit.
“We were riding home, and I said, ‘Joe, it’s good news, but no questions,’” Mr. Costello said. “Just look out the window.”
A member of the governor’s office broke the news to Joseph in the family’s driveway, his parents recalled, and later, they visited with the governor, their family and neighbors in their front lawn in the Dayton suburbs.
Ms. Costello said that she and her husband had intended to have their children get a Covid-19 vaccine, but the lottery accelerated their plans. Joseph, who became eligible for a vaccine in the 12 to 15-year-old age group earlier this month, got his shot on Saturday, and Ms. Costello entered the family on Sunday, before a midnight deadline.
Joseph, who just finished the eighth grade and is enjoying the first days of his summer vacation, said he is still deciding what he might study. On his list of potential colleges: Ohio State University.
As for Ms. Bugenske, she said she had no plans to quit her day job. She hopes to donate some of the money and invest the rest. But there is one thing she might like to buy. When she got the call from the governor, she was on her way to Northeast Ohio, with the hopes of looking at a used car.
“I think buying a used car is still in my future,” she said.
In today’s edition of the Morning newsletter, David Leonhardt offers a guide to the newly revived debate over the idea that the coronavirus accidentally leaked from a Chinese laboratory. He writes:
What are the basics?
The origin of the virus remains unclear. Many scientists have long believed that the most likely explanation is that it jumped from an animal to a person, possibly at a food market in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Animal-to human transmission — known as zoonotic spillover — is a common origin story for viruses, including Ebola and some bird flus.
But some scientists have pointed to another possibility: that it escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. As in other laboratories, researchers there sometimes modify viruses to understand and treat them.
The subject is gaining attention because some scientists who were once skeptical of the laboratory theory have expressed new openness to it.
Two weeks ago, 18 scientists wrote a letter to the journal Science calling for a new investigation and describing both the animal-to-human theory and the lab-leak theory as “viable.” And three scientists who last year dismissed the lab-leak explanation as a conspiracy theory have told The Wall Street Journal that they now consider it plausible.
Among the reasons: Chinese officials have refused to allow an independent investigation into the lab and have failed to explain some inconsistencies in the animal-to-human hypothesis. Most of the first confirmed cases had no evident link to the food market.
In some ways, not much has changed. From the beginning, the virus’s origin has been unclear. All along, some scientists, politicians and journalists have argued that the lab-leak theory deserves consideration.
But these voices were in the minority. The World Health Organization initially dismissed the lab-leak theory as implausible.
Why all the dismissals?
It appears to be a classic example of groupthink, exacerbated by partisan polarization.
Global health officials seemed unwilling to confront Chinese officials, who insist the virus jumped from an animal to a person.
In the U.S., one of the theory’s earliest advocates was Tom Cotton, the Republican senator from Arkansas who often criticizes China — and who has a history of promoting falsehoods (like election fraud that didn’t happen). In this case, though, Cotton was making an argument with plausible supporting evidence.
The news media’s coverage of his argument was flawed, Matthew Yglesias of Substack has written. Some coverage exaggerated Mr. Cotton’s comments to suggest that he was claiming that China had deliberately released the virus as a biological weapon. (Mr. Cotton called that “very unlikely.”) And some scientists and others also seem to have decided that if Mr. Cotton believed something — and Fox News and Donald Trump echoed it — the idea had to be wrong.
The result, as Mr. Yglesias called it, was a bubble of fake consensus. Scientists who thought a lab leak was plausible received little attention. Scientists who thought the theory was wacky received widespread attention. It’s a good reminder: The world is a complicated place, where almost nobody is always right or always wrong.
Why does it matter?
The virus’s origin does not affect many parts of the fight against Covid. The best mitigation strategies — travel restrictions, testing, contact tracing, social distancing, ventilation and masking — are still the best mitigation strategies.
But there are at least three concrete ways, in addition to the inherent value of truth, in which the origin matters.
First, if the virus really did come from a lab, an immediate airing of the details might have led to even faster vaccine development and more effective treatments. Second, a leak that caused millions of deaths could lead to widespread change in laboratories’ safety precautions. Third, confirmation of a leak would affect the world’s view of China — and would put pressure on the country to bear the burden of vaccinating the world as quickly as possible.
So what’s the truth?
We don’t know. Both animal-to-human transmission and the lab leak appear plausible. And the obfuscation by Chinese officials means we may never know.
The state of Victoria, Australia, announced a seven-day lockdown beginning Thursday night to stem a coronavirus outbreak in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, the country’s second-most populous city, after Sydney.
After nearly three months without a new infection, state health officials have detected 26 cases in the Melbourne-area cluster. The outbreak is believed to have begun when a man became infected while serving a 14-day hotel quarantine in the city of Adelaide, then traveled to Melbourne, where he tested positive for the virus.
The authorities said that more than 10,000 primary and secondary contacts had been identified, as they rushed to trace contacts at dozens of sites where people may have been exposed. Officials said that the virus circulating in the Melbourne area was the variant first detected in India.
“In the last day, we’ve seen more evidence that we’re dealing with a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern which is running faster than we have ever recorded,” James Merlino, the acting premier of Victoria, told reporters on Thursday morning.
Australia has all but eliminated community transmission of the virus, but several smaller outbreaks this year have led cities and states to impose temporary lockdowns. Mr. Merlino said that this outbreak, one of the largest in recent months, was partly the result of a sluggish vaccination campaign that has left a large proportion of Australians exposed to new strains of the virus. Less than 2 percent of Australia’s 25 million people have been fully inoculated.
“If more people were vaccinated we might be facing a very different set of circumstances,” he said. “That is a fact.”
Others criticized the Australian government for failing to implement an effective quarantine system and relying on hotels to house incoming travelers.
In a report released this week, the authorities said that the man first diagnosed in Melbourne most likely contracted the virus after he and another infected guest opened their hotel room doors within minutes of each other, allowing the virus to spread by aerosol transmission between their rooms.
“This is the 17th outbreak from hotel quarantine in just the last six months,” Mark Butler, the opposition health minister, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday. “We’re dealing with these outbreaks almost every week or two at the moment.”
Mr. Butler said that Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, had failed to heed the advice of experts who called for the government to set up dedicated quarantine facilities “to take the pressure off hotels that were built for tourism.”
Last year, after an infection in a quarantine hotel led to an outbreak in the state, Melbourne’s five million residents endured one of the longest lockdowns in the world, lasting 111 days.
Under the new lockdown, Victorians are restricted from leaving their homes except to shop, work, exercise, care for others or get vaccinated.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr. Morrison warned that the lockdown was a grave reminder of how rapidly the virus could resurge.
“There are no certainties, there are no guarantees, in a global pandemic, and against a virus, an insidious virus such as this,” he said.
Facing a national decline in Covid-19 vaccination rates and an underwhelming response to vaccines in its own stores, the U.S. pharmacy chain CVS will offer a chance at money, vacations and a Super Bowl trip to persuade the unvaccinated to start going in for their shots.
CVS said in April that it could administer 25 million shots each month, but as of this week it had only administered about 17 million doses in total as mass vaccination sites ended up playing a bigger role in the nation’s early vaccination campaign.
The CVS incentives could not only help get more people vaccinated, but provide a boost to the company: The Medicare payment to administer each dose is $40.
Nationally, the average number of doses administered daily has slowed to 1.7 million, down from a peak of more than 3.3 million in April.
CVS said in a statement that in an effort to “provide a positive reminder of the activities that are possible once vaccinated,” it had joined with other companies to offer prizes to people who get a shot at one of its pharmacies.
Among the incentives: Weeklong Norwegian Cruises, $100 dates sponsored by the dating app Hinge and a trip to Super Bowl LVI next year.
CVS will give 125 people $500 and five people $5,000 to host family reunions.
People 18 and older who “received a vaccination or certify that they’ve registered to receive a vaccination from CVS Health” are eligible for the sweepstakes, which runs from June 1 to July 10, the statement said.
CVS isn’t the first to offer inducements to the unvaccinated. Ohio, Colorado and Oregon are offering residents a chance at $1 million for getting vaccinated, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York on Wednesday said that residents ages 12 to 17 who get vaccinated would be entered to win a full-ride scholarship to a public university in the state. (Other incentives include free beer in New Jersey and $50 gift cards in Detroit for driving someone to a vaccination site.)
More than 165 million Americans have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Still, only 40 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, leaving a significant portion of the country vulnerable to infection.
With the Memorial Day holiday looming, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, warned unvaccinated Americans on Tuesday that they “remain at risk of infection” and should still take precautions like distancing and wearing a mask.
When Apple and Google collaborated last year on a smartphone-based system to track the spread of the coronavirus, the news was seen as a game changer. The software uses Bluetooth signals to detect app users who come into close contact. If a user later tests positive, the person can anonymously notify other app users whom the person may have crossed paths with in restaurants, on trains or elsewhere.
Soon countries around the world and some two dozen American states introduced virus apps based on the Apple-Google software. To date, the apps have been downloaded more than 90 million times, according to an analysis by Sensor Tower, an app research firm. Public health officials say the apps have provided modest but important benefits.
But Natasha Singer of The New York Times reports that some researchers say the two companies’ product and policy choices have limited the system’s usefulness, raising questions about the power of Big Tech to set global standards for public health tools.
Computer scientists have reported accuracy problems with the Bluetooth technology. Some of the app users have complained of failed notifications, and there has been little rigorous research on whether the apps’ potential to accurately alert people of virus exposures outweighs potential drawbacks — like falsely warning unexposed people or failing to detect users exposed to the virus.
“It is still an open question whether or not these apps are assisting in real contact tracing, are simply a distraction, or whether they might even cause problems,” Stephen Farrell and Doug Leith, computer science researchers at Trinity College in Dublin, wrote in a report in April on Ireland’s virus alert app.
The Hong Kong police, citing the continuing threat of the coronavirus, rejected a request to hold a march and candlelight vigil to remember those killed in the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen protest, event organizers said on Thursday.
Pro-democracy activists said that they believe the authorities used the pandemic as a pretext to block the politically sensitive events, scheduled for May 30 and June 4, which are the only large-scale Tiananmen memorial observances held on Chinese soil. The organizers said that they would appeal the decision.
The police also blocked the march and vigil last year because of the pandemic. Thousands of people gathered anyway at Victoria Park on Hong Kong Island. Four activists, including Joshua Wong, were given prison sentences ranging from four months to 10 months for participating in the unauthorized assembly. Another 20 people are scheduled to appear in court on related charges next month.
Hong Kong has kept coronavirus cases relatively low, with just 24 infections reported over the past two weeks in the city of 7.5 million people. Public events including Art Basel and professional soccer matches have recently been held with some restrictions, such as reduced capacities, contact registration and required use of face masks.
Belgium said on Wednesday that it would pause the use of the Johnson & Johnson shots for people under 41 over clotting concerns after the death of a woman who received the vaccine.
The woman was under 40 and was admitted to the hospital with “severe” clotting and blood platelet deficiency, a statement from a group of regional health authorities said. She died on Friday and had been vaccinated by her employer outside of the country, the statement said.
Supplies of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been limited in Belgium, the group noted, adding that 80 percent of the doses administered there had been to people over 45 years old.
The group said that the short-term impact of the pause would be “very limited” because it plans to use an uptick in the supply of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines next month to vaccinate 18- to 40-year-olds.
The Johnson & Johnson shot’s single dose gives it a “significant advantage” for vaccinating older people at home and for vulnerable groups like the homeless, the group said, adding that it was awaiting a “more detailed benefit-risk analysis” by the European Medicines Agency.
The United States briefly halted the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in April, citing the risk of blood clots. After ending the pause, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration added a notice on the vaccine’s label saying that most of those who developed the rare clots were women between the ages of 18 and 49, and that the “chance of having this occur is remote.”
In other news from around the world:
In more than seven hours of testimony before Parliament, Dominic Cummings, the former top aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, described a government paralyzed by chaos, confusion and incompetence, which he said crippled Britain’s handling of the pandemic and contributed to tens of thousands of needless deaths. Mr. Johnson flatly rejected several of the assertions.
Lawyers representing the European Union said that they would seek penalties from AstraZeneca that could run into billions of euros if the pharmaceutical company fails to deliver tens of millions of vaccine doses that it is contractually required to supply.
South Korea will no longer require masks outdoors come July for people who have had at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, Reuters reported.
Amid a spike in infections, the Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives enacted a curfew from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., allowing people to leave their homes during the day only for essential supplies.
From the magazine
In this week’s Ethicist column in The New York Times Magazine, Kwame Anthony Appiah answered readers’ questions about dealing with people who have differing views on vaccination against Covid-19.
Here is one example of the queries, with the response, edited and condensed for clarity, below:
Recently, I asked my chiropractor if he had received his Covid vaccine. He said no. He and his assistant do wear masks, but they see patients in a small room with a closed door. When I asked him again several weeks later, he said: “Well, we have to talk. I am not going to get the vaccination. I don’t believe in vaccinations. My family and I are all healthy and see no need for it.”
The chiropractor later called and asked me if I would please respect his privacy and not tell anyone else about his decision not to be vaccinated. I was appalled. Isn’t this an unethical request? — Name Withheld
A number of questions have recently have recently arisen about how to negotiate a social and professional world in which vaccination against Covid-19 is both common and contested.
Many people think that getting vaccinated is simply about protecting yourself. Yet there’s also a public-spirited, altruistic reason for getting vaccinated: There’s now bountiful evidence that vaccinated people are much less likely to transmit the virus to others.
Moving from the chiropractor’s ethics to yours, I’d point out that he didn’t tell you about his decision in confidence, which means you don’t have a duty to respect a later request to stay mum. Why does your chiropractor want you to keep this to yourself?
Twitter said on Thursday that it had received a notice of noncompliance with India’s information technology laws, in connection with official requests to remove content related to the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Under Indian law, Twitter’s India executives could face up to seven years in prison if the San Francisco-based social media service fails to abide by government orders to remove content that it considers subversive or a threat to public order and national security.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has come under mounting pressure for its handling of a devastating second wave of the coronavirus, which is killing thousands of people a day and stretching the country’s social safety net beyond its capacity. Many of those complaints have been aired online, and the government has moved to reclaim the narrative by ordering Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to take down posts critical of its coronavirus response.
In its statement on Thursday, Twitter said that it planned to push leaders in India to change new regulations that have given the authorities greater say over online media and internet platforms, citing “the potential threat to freedom of expression for the people we serve.”
The company said that it was especially concerned about the government’s requirement under the new rules to appoint a “compliance officer” who would be “criminally liable” for content on the platform. It described the requirement as “dangerous overreach that is inconsistent with open, democratic principles.”
Twitter’s statement came days after antiterrorism police officers visited the company’s offices in New Delhi, which were closed because of the outbreak, to deliver a notice disputing a warning label that Twitter had assigned to some posts by senior officials in Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P.
Those officials had posted documents on Twitter that they said proved that opposition politicians were planning to use the government’s coronavirus response for political purposes. But Twitter labeled them “manipulated media” after accusations that the documents had been forged.
On Thursday, Twitter said that it was concerned about “the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global terms of service.” Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.