Former Australia Post chief executive, Christine Holgate, has lodged an explosive submission to the Senate inquiry into her sacking for the decision to award executives Cartier watches as bonuses.
“It is almost five months since the events of October 22nd, 2020, when, for no justified reason, I was humiliated in Parliament and then unlawfully stood down by the Australia Post Chair from a role I was passionately committed to,” the submission begins.
”Time after time he has made statements that I had agreed to stand down when I had done no such thing.”
Holgate said she offered to resign, but alleged Australia Post then leaked the letter to the media, before sending a counter-offer which is “itself confirmation that no agreement had been reached”.
Holgate said the gift of Cartier watches was “legal, within Australia Post’s policies, within my own signing authority limits, approved by the previous chairman, expensed appropriately, signed off by auditors and the CFO, [and] widely celebrated within the organisation”.
Holgate accused Di Bartolomeo of “seriously misleading” evidence to the Senate on 9 November, including about his knowledge of a BCG report into the incident.
Travel agents and hotel operators have welcomed details of the two way travel bubble with New Zealand, but have warned “there will be very little real benefit” for the sector in the short term.
This is because most of the initial travellers from 19 April are expected to be low-spending tourists visiting family and friends, as Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive, Margy Osmond, told the Guardian.
Accommodation Association of Australia has backed that prediction up, with its chief executive Dean Long reigniting calls for post-jobkeeper wage support for CBD hotels in Melbourne and Sydney that are still reeling from a drop off in international tourism and business travel.
The Association said Sydney is currently the worst performing city market in Australia with revenue declines of 67% and forward booking rates of less than 10% for the next 90 days and that Melbourne is similarly decimated.
The opening of the trans-Tasman corridor is a very welcome step in the right direction but the reality is while it’s good news for the travel sector, given most travellers will be catching up with friends and families there’s very little immediate benefit for our tourism sector or our hotels and motels. With the end of jobkeeper and given the massive holes in the market especially in Australia’s international hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the flow on benefits for our hotels and motels, and the many small businesses who supply them is negligible. There’s no doubt it will be a big kick along for consumer confidence but it doesn’t erase the need for tailored support for our accommodation sector. The reality is it’s great news for our travel sector but not so good for tourism.
Australian Federation of Travel Agents chair Tom Manwaring said many of his members were already seeing “increased interest in booking NZ albeit primarily to visit friends and family”.
It’s not a massive increase in business and our sector still desperately needs support but it is a much needed step in the right direction.” However, we urge both the Australian and the New Zealand governments to do all they can to ensure now the corridor is open that it stays open. This is important both in terms of consumer confidence in booking travel and from a workload perspective for travel agents who are still working hard on repatriating the outstanding $4bn still owed to Australians by airlines, hotels and tour operators on Covid-impacted travel and managing re-bookings and cancellations as a result of state restrictions.
PNG man dies of Covid in Queensland hospital
Queensland Health has confirmed a 77-year-old Papua New Guinea/UK man died at Redcliffe hospital yesterday from complications due to Covid-19.
It says in a statement:
He was a dual Papua New Guinea/UK national who was transported by Medivac from PNG to Queensland on 28 March, as his condition was worsening.
Since that day, he has been in ICU at Redcliffe hospital and unfortunately passed away yesterday.
Queensland Health offers its sincere condolences to his family during this time.
Queensland recorded no new cases of Covid-19 over the past 24 hours.
Here is a market’s update courtesy of AAP.
Technology and travel stocks have helped the Australian share market post a solid start to the holiday shortened week.
The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index closed up 57.2 points, or 0.84%, to 6885.9 on Tuesday, the first trading session after the Easter break.
The All Ordinaries closed 69.7 points, or 0.99% higher, at 7133.90.
Technology shares led the broad-based gains, while travel-focused stocks also jumped on news of a travel bubble between Australia and New Zealand.
The Australian dollar was buying 76.55 US cents at 1615 AEST, sharply higher from 75.47 US cents at last Thursday’s close.
Rounding out the press conference, Morrison returns to the vaccine rollout, saying:
Australia is not experiencing the dire, fatal consequences so many other countries are experiencing, and neither is New Zealand whose vaccination program is, I would say, at a lower level than Australia’s is now.It is not a criticism, it is just that they do not have access to domestic vaccine production.
Morrison is asked if he’d support a minimum global tax rate, as proposed by US treasury secretary Janet Yellen.
He doesn’t answer directly, but says “Australia’s overall [corporate tax] system is proving to be incredibly competitive and a lot more competitive” than some analysis suggests.
Question: Given the hold ups [with the CSL vaccines], how many people would you expect to be vaccinated by the end of April?
A couple of things – there is no hold up. The release of vaccines has always been based on them completing those processes, so the fact that they actually have to get approved by the relevant authorities and do the batch testing, is not a hold up, it is a necessary part of the process to guarantee Australian safety, so to describe it as a hold up would be incorrect.
On not meeting the four million target, he says:
The simple explanation of that is three million – 3.1m vaccines – that never came to Australia. That is the reason. In early January, we anticipated we would have the 3.1m vaccines. Those vaccines were not supplied to Australia, and that explains the difference between the numbers you are referring to, and we made that very clear back in February.
Morrison says a lack of supply is the reason why chemists are not more involved in the rollout, though he says it was never the plan that they would be “involved in vaccination program at this point”.
So there has been no slippage, there has been no delay, and the medical advice is it is not the time for pharmacists be involved at this point. There has always been a plan to involve them at the later point with a more general population, and that is still the plan.
Morrison is asked about the possibility of international travel to other countries beyond New Zealand.
“I can’t really speculate on it. I don’t think that’s fair,” he says.
At this point, the evidence is not strong enough to give us a good pointer about when we will arrive at that point.
Morrison says he can’t outline what’s next as far as travel bubbles go.
“We have looked at places like Singapore and Japan and South Korea, and countries like this, but at this stage we are not in a position to move forward on any of those at this point,” he says.
Morrison expects travel to Australia to increase with the travel bubble because New Zealanders will not have to submit to quarantine when they return.
Asked what he’d say to Australians disappointed with the speed of the rollout, Morrison says:
And it is true that at this stage of our rollout, it is actually better than where Germany was, better than where New Zealand was, better than where South Korea and Japan was, and so I think there will be some important context in the weeks ahead as we see the significant ramp up of the distribution network.
Morrison says “the challenges Australia have had has been a supply problem”, “pure and simple”.
There were three million doses that never arrived, he adds.
Morrison is asked for some vaccination data. He says:
The figures I have of the 5 April is 854,983. Of that, there are some 280,943 that have been done through the GP clinics and the GP respiratory clinics and other federal agencies.
That is in addition to those that have been done through age and disability facilities, which is around the 112,830.
Morrison supports data being provided more regularly, he says, and will discuss that with state and territory leaders at national cabinet.
The first injections may be given as early as Dec. 21 if the process goes smoothly and approval is granted, Stéphane Bancel, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview.
Moderna’s application is based on data that it also announced on Monday, showing that its vaccine is 94.1 percent effective, and that its study of 30,000 people has met the scientific criteria needed to determine whether the vaccine works. The finding from the complete set of data is in line with an analysis of earlier data released on Nov. 16 that found the vaccine to be 94.5 percent effective.
The new data also showed that the vaccine was 100 percent effective at preventing severe disease from the coronavirus. The product was developed in collaboration with government researchers from the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Mr. Bancel said the company was “on track” to produce 20 million doses by the end of December, and 500 million to a billion in 2021. Each person requires two doses, administered a month apart, so 20 million doses will be enough for 10 million people.
Shares of Moderna surged nearly 18 percent, to $149.50, by early afternoon, after the company’s announcement Monday.
Moderna is the second vaccine maker to apply for emergency use authorization; Pfizer submitted its application on Nov. 20. Pfizer has said it can produce up to 50 million doses this year, with about half going to the United States. Its vaccine also requires two doses per person.
Speaking on “CBS This Morning” on Monday, Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, reiterated that distribution would begin quickly after the expected approvals of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“We could be seeing both of these vaccines out and getting into people’s arms before Christmas,” he said.
Asked about the role of states in the distribution process, Mr. Azar said that doses would be shipped out through normal vaccine distribution systems, and governors would be “like air traffic controllers” determining which hospitals or pharmacies receive shipments. While governors will determine which groups are prioritized, he said he hoped that they would follow the federal recommendations. He added that he would speak to governors on Monday afternoon with Vice President Mike Pence.
Mr. Azar said that C.D.C. experts will base their recommendations on the latest data on virus cases around the country.
But generally, “Be thinking people in nursing homes, the most vulnerable, be thinking health care workers who are on the front lines,” he said.
The White House moved quickly on Monday to take credit for the Moderna vaccine’s development.
“President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed is rapidly advancing on a trajectory of success to save millions of American lives — five times faster than any other vaccine in history,” Michael Bars, a spokesman for President Trump, said in an emailed statement.
The hopeful news arrives at a particularly grim moment in the U.S. health crisis. Virus cases have surged and overwhelmed hospitals in some regions, and health officials have warned that the numbers may grow even worse in the coming weeks because of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings. In November alone, there have been more than four million new cases and 25,500 deaths.
Moderna’s application for emergency use authorization will include data from its Phase 3 study of 30,000 people. F.D.A. scientists will examine the information, and the application is likely to undergo a final review on Dec. 17 by a panel of expert advisers to the agency, Mr. Bancel said, adding that he expected the advisers to make a decision within 24 to 72 hours. The F.D.A. usually follows the recommendations of its advisory panels.
Officials at Operation Warp Speed, the government’s program to accelerate vaccine development, have said vaccinations could begin within 24 hours after the F.D.A. grants authorization.
Mr. Bancel said that Moderna had not yet begun shipping vaccines across the country, and would not do so until the emergency authorization is granted.
The government has arranged to buy vaccines from both Moderna and Pfizer and to provide it to the public free of charge. Moderna has received a commitment of $955 million from the U.S. government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for research and development of its vaccine, and the United States has committed up to $1.525 billion to buy 100 million doses.
The federal government will also begin a publicity campaign to encourage vaccinations, with ads on radio this week and on TV soon, he said.
In response to a question about how officials can guard against people using money or connections to jump the proverbial line, Mr. Azar vowed to “call out any inequities or injustices that we see.”
While many in the United States celebrated a muted Thanksgiving over Zoom, millions of people traveled instead, rejecting the advice of public officials.
According to Transportation Safety Administration data, about 800,000 to one million people passed through T.S.A. checkpoints each day in the days before and after the holiday — far lower than the same period last year, but likely far higher than epidemiologists had hoped to see.
A United Airlines spokeswoman, Annabelle Cottee, said the week of Thanksgiving was “the busiest since March” for the carrier.
Americans also took to the roads. AAA predicted significant declines in bus, train and cruise travel, but predicted only a modest drop in car travel.
For several days leading up to Thanksgiving, as case numbers and hospitalizations across the country grew exponentially, political leaders and medical experts warned of the dangers of compounding the virus spread by being with others. In November alone, there have been more than 4.1 million cases and more than 25,500 deaths.
There were 91,635 current hospitalizations as of Nov. 28, according to the Covid Tracking Project, almost twice as many as there were on Nov. 1, and triple the number on Oct. 1.
Aware of the emotional resonance of the holiday, experts tried to thread a narrative from these numbers that would convince people of the danger. Their warnings were direct — sometimes stern, sometimes impassioned pleas.
“Keep the gatherings, the indoor gatherings as small as you possibly can,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on “Good Morning America” last week. By making that sacrifice, he said, “you’re going to prevent people from getting infected.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was also urging people not to travel. “All Americans want to do what they can to protect their loved ones,” Dr. Henry Walke, a Covid-19 incident manager at the C.D.C., said at a news briefing.
And though it would have been unrealistic to expect a public that is restive from months of restrictions to universally abide by such recommendations, the aftermath of those decisions will begin to unfold in the weeks ahead.
Dr. Fauci, during an appearance on the Sunday news program “This Week,” said the best course for Thanksgiving travelers might be “to quarantine yourself for a period of time.”
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said that travelers “have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected and you really need to get tested in the next week.” She urged that travelers avoid anyone in their family over 65 or with underlying illnesses.
On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City urged residents who had ignored official guidance and attended Thanksgiving gatherings to get tested.
In anticipation of a renewed demand, the city has opened 25 new testing locations in the last week. It will also now post online the wait times at its testing sites, which had seen growing lines as New Yorkers scrambled to get tests before their holiday plans.
The city’s seven-day average positive test rate was at 4.03 percent, Mr. de Blasio said, but he warned that the data may be skewed because fewer tests were conducted during Thanksgiving weekend.
“Some of our numbers may be skewed by that,” he said.
The U.S. map shows a country where almost every region is a hot spot. States that were once spared, like Montana and Wyoming, have reported record deaths and infections, while states that were pummeled in the first wave are straining anew.
On Sunday, California became the first state to report more than 100,000 cases in a week, according to a New York Times database.
And in New Jersey, hospitalizations have increased 60 percent in the last two weeks and deaths have increased by 78 percent. Over three days in November, the positivity rate in Newark, the largest city in the state, was 19 percent.
“We begged people to have a somber, respectful, small Thanksgiving,” Gov. Philip D. Murphy said on Fox News Sunday. “And I want to give a shout out to New Jerseyans because I think overwhelmingly that’s what happened, but there’s a lot of fatigue out there.”
Mr. Murphy called the next few months “the fight of our lives,” while also citing the progress of vaccines and noting that there was “light at the end of the tunnel.”
And there was something to celebrate on Sunday in New York City, at least for some parents, when Mr. de Blasio announced that he would reopen the city’s public elementary schools, abruptly shifting policy after an outcry from critics who questioned why gyms and bars remained open while schools were shut.
As he warned that New York State had entered a new phase in fighting the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Monday a new series of emergency measures to combat rising hospitalizations and case numbers statewide.
Among other steps, Mr. Cuomo urged hospitals to identify retired nurses and doctors in case of staff shortages, develop emergency field plans and prepare to add 50 percent of bed capacity. In Erie County in western New York, all elective surgeries will be stopped on Friday and similar protocols could be enacted in other areas of the state.
“It’s a new phase in the war against Covid,” Mr. Cuomo said at his news conference in New York City. “It’s a war in terms of preparation and mobilization.”
The number of New Yorkers hospitalized with the virus has more than tripled over November, from 1,125 on Nov. 1 to 3,532 on Sunday, he said.
“We are not going to live through the nightmare of overwhelmed hospitals again,” he says. “If a hospital does get overwhelmed there will be a state investigation.”
Mr. Cuomo has warned that the holidays and indoor social gatherings during the winter season could trigger a further resurgence of the virus. Still, instead of regional or statewide shutdowns, Mr. Cuomo had opted for a “micro-cluster” approach to targeting communities where rates of positive test results are particularly high.
On Monday, the governor said new metrics — including hospitalization rates, death rates and available hospital beds — would be used to determine lockdown levels under the state’s color-coded restriction system. Mr. Cuomo also called on hospital networks across the state to better prepare for a surge in patients than they did in the spring, and plan to spread patients out between individual sites.
“We lived this nightmare, we learned from this nightmare, we are going to correct for the lessons we learned during this nightmare,” he said.
The traditional Christmas markets that dot European cities, drawing thousands of festive revelers into plazas to enjoy mulled wine, colorful lights and public art, have largely been canceled this year.
But on Advent Sunday, the official start of the holiday season, celebrations continued in different forms. In partially locked-down Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, the mayor, Matus Vallo, led viewers of a Facebook livestream on a walk through the city’s historic center.
Wearing a cheerful Christmas sweater, Mr. Vallo met musicians and artists along the way, received soothing words from a local priest, eyed winter-themed paintings from art galleries and lit up a Christmas tree in the main square.
“We know what the situation is, but we decided that we won’t let Advent be ruined anyway,” he said to the camera.
Locals and visitors in Bratislava will still be able to gawk at the Christmas lights on a stroll, but officials wanted to avoid the large holiday crowds. Moving traditional events online was part of that effort; a series of holiday concerts and events will be streamed throughout December.
It’s just one of several creative solutions as markets were canceled across the continent. In Landshut, Germany, visitors must experience the Christmas markets as a drive-through, according to Agence France-Presse. They can observe the spectacle from inside their cars as mask-wearing employees hand them menus offering typical treats like roasted chestnuts and gingerbread hearts.
And in the United States, New York City will require reservations to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, in a bid to fight the holiday crowds that usually pack the surrounding plazas and sidewalks. The city will keep the viewing time to 5 minutes, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Groups will be limited to four people.
Still, the mayor, who has expressed concern that cases of the virus could surge during the holiday, encouraged people to watch the annual tree-lighting ceremony — scheduled for Wednesday — at home instead of flocking to Midtown Manhattan. “Please, if you can make a decision to watch it on TV, that’s so much better,” he said.
Hong Kong will limit gatherings in public to two people, including two per table at restaurants, as it battles a surge in cases. Playgrounds, swimming pools and karaoke rooms will close, while gyms will remain open but be limited to two mask-wearing participants, the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said at a news conference on Monday. Hong Kong has reported an average of 85 new daily cases in the past week, far above the near-zero tallies it had reported after a summer surge.
Italy approved a stimulus package worth $9.6 billion, or 8 billion euros, on Sunday to support struggling businesses. The deal will postpone or suspend tax deadlines for some businesses, subsidize amateur sports associations and send checks of 1,000 euros to seasonal workers in the tourism, spa and entertainment industries. Italy is currently under a nationwide 10 p.m. curfew with bars and restaurants closing at 6 p.m., and some regions have further restrictions.
In Russia, a hospital near Moscow reported on Monday that it had administered the first known batch of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine to civilians. The Domodedovo Central City Hospital confirmed in a phone interview that the vaccine had been delivered and that the first shipment available for general use had already run out. Russia’s government backed efforts to develop a vaccine before other countries has been widely criticized for cutting corners. The rush to deliver a vaccine to the general public has also been spurred by the growing number of new cases and deaths in the country, with the total number of cases in Russia nearing 2.3 million.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un “harshly criticized” his government agencies for mishandling the economy, the country’s state media reported on Monday, as new data revealed just how much the pandemic had slashed the country’s already dwindling trade with China.
Signs had already emerged earlier this month that North Korea’s economic trouble was deepening, driven by long-standing international sanctions and the impact of the pandemic. According to customs data released by Beijing last week, North Korea’s imports from China from January to October plummeted by 76 percent to $487 million, while its exports shrank 74 percent to $45 million in the same period.
China is North Korea’s only major trading partner, accounting for more than 90 percent of its external trade. In October, the North’s import from China amounted to a mere $253,000, nearly a 99-percent drop from the previous month. South Korean officials and analysts have warned that a sharp decline in imports from China in recent months could drive up domestic prices in the North.
The Chinese government only records official trade and does not cover smuggling that takes place across the borders between the two neighbors. Still, the figures provided fresh evidence that the coronavirus was squeezing the North Korean economy more effectively than international sanctions ever have.
During a meeting of the Workers’ Party that Mr. Kim presided over on Sunday, the government agencies responsible for the economy were harshly criticized for “failing to provide scientific guidance” and “failing to overcome subjectivism and formalism in their work,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.
But this was not the first time Mr. Kim has admitted to his country’s deepening economic woes, acknowledging in August that his five-year plan for economic growth had failed. Mr. Kim all but sealed North Korea’s borders with China earlier this year over fears of the potentially catastrophic consequences the pandemic could inflict on the country’s poor health system.
North Korea insists that it has registered no coronavirus cases, but outside experts remain skeptical.
With New York City’s unemployment rate at 13.2 percent, many people have turned to working for food delivery apps like DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub, which have seen huge demand from customers.
While delivery drivers have been essential to feeding New Yorkers and keeping them safe, their working conditions, already precarious before the pandemic, have gotten worse.
Even as the food delivery companies have seen sales surge, the workers’ pay has remained erratic. Because the drivers are independent workers, they are not entitled to a minimum wage, overtime or any other benefits, like health insurance. Undocumented immigrants, who are not eligible for unemployment or federal coronavirus assistance, make up the bulk of the work force in New York.
The added competition from the surge in new workers has compounded the financial challenges. Advocacy groups estimate that there were roughly 50,000 delivery workers before the pandemic — a number they say has grown exponentially. Uber alone said it had added 36,000 couriers in New York since March.
DoorDash and Uber said they had provided extra help to delivery drivers during the pandemic, including offering sick pay to those who were infected. DoorDash, the nation’s largest food delivery app, said it provided access to low-cost telemedicine appointments.
DoorDash also said it had changed its pay model, which came under fire last year after it was revealed that tips were being used to subsidize its payments to workers. The company recently reached a $2.5 million settlement with prosecutors in Washington, D.C., after being accused of misleading consumers over how it tipped its workers.
Drivers for food delivery apps are typically paid per delivery depending on the estimated duration and distance of a trip, plus tips. The work can be convenient for people supplementing a main source of income, but a struggle for those who depend on it as a primary job, advocates for the workers said.
While some in the creative community on TikTok joke about the coronavirus vaccine or tease people who are part of the anti-vaccine movement, scientists and coronavirus vaccine participants are hoping to be a source to fight misinformation on the app.
In February, a scientist who goes by Dr. Noc on TikTok started noticing a need for science-based videos about the coronavirus that his expertise in working to develop an antibody treatment for Covid-19 could help provide.
Lately, Dr. Noc has found himself answering questions reflecting the fears andmisconceptions about coronavirus vaccines that are sometimes perpetuated on the platform by jokes about side effects or forays into fictional narrative, like a sci-fi scenario in which the government kills those who refuse a vaccine.
“While people may appreciate them, they’re not going to go viral,” he said about his videos. “It’s a game of catch-up.”
So, no, nanoparticles can’t send people’s biometric data to a cloud, as he has posted, and no, mRNA can’t change people’s D.N.A.
Vaccine trial participants have also been describing their experiences and answering questions about the process for viewers.
Ashley Locke, 29, from Nashville, said she posted about her experience as a participant in AstraZeneca’s trial to document a journey in her life, but didn’t expect the more than two million views it has gotten, or the thousands of questions and comments.
Since that post, she’s been creating videos and answering questions from her comment section about side effects and wearing masks after being a part of the trial. She even brought in a friend, also a part of a trial, to talk.
But with all that, she said, she isn’t always successful in demystifying the vaccine.
“There are some people that are really out there that are convinced that it’s a microchip,” she said. “They’re a little too far gone to convince.”
A cohort of 63 international students on Monday arrived in Australia under a pilot program that allows them to resume their studies, even as the country’s borders remain closed because of the pandemic.
The students, the first group of international students allowed in since March, arrived at Darwin International Airport in the Northern Territory from Singapore. They are from mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia.
All of them tested negative for the coronavirus 72 hours before boarding the charter flight. They will be required to quarantine at a former workers’ camp outside the city of Darwin for 14 days before being allowed to re-enter the campus at Charles Darwin University.
In September, Charles Darwin University made a deal with the state and the federal government that would enable students to return from overseas to study. The success of the program could influence whether more international students can return to study in other states, including South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.
Speaking to the local news media, the students — some of who had become stranded while visiting family overseas — said they felt lucky to return to Australia, which is beginning to reopen as states eliminate, or come close to eliminating, the spread of the coronavirus.
Xitao Jiang, a 23-year-old student from China returning to Australia, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday that was “very lucky” to have the opportunity to return to the country and study at the university in Darwin.
But Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, warned that the data, while promising, showed the country could not “take our foot off the pedal just yet,” according to the BBC. In a post on Twitter late Sunday, Mr. Hancock cautioned that “we mustn’t waste our progress now we can see light at the end of the tunnel” with mass testing and promising coronavirus vaccine candidates on the horizon.
England’s current lockdown is set to end just after midnight Wednesday. But the lifting of restrictions will be different across the country, as regions move into one of three tiers based on their current rate of infection. Britain is still grappling with the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in Europe and its deepest recession on record, with experts warning that the knock-on effects of the pandemic could last for years.
All through the fall, teachers have been at the center of vehement debates over whether to reopen schools for in-person instruction — often vilified for challenging it, sometimes praised for trying to make it work.
But these debates have often missed just how thoroughly the coronavirus has upended learning in the 130,000 schools in the United States, and glossed over how emotionally and physically draining pandemic teaching has become.
In more than a dozen interviews with The New York Times, educators described the immense challenges, and exhaustion, they have faced. Some recounted whiplash experiences of having their schools abruptly open and close, sometimes more than once.
Others described the stress of having to lead back-to-back group video lessons for remote learners, even as they continued to teach students in person in their classrooms. Some educators said their workloads had doubled.
Many teachers said they had also become impromptu social workers for their students, directing them to food banks, acting as grief counselors for those who had family members die of Covid-19 and helping pupils work through their anxiety, depression and isolation. Often, the teachers said, their concern for their students came at a cost to themselves.
“Teachers are not OK right now,” said Evin Shinn, a literacy coach at a public middle school in Seattle, noting that many teachers were putting students’ pandemic needs above their own well-being.
Experts and teachers’ unions are warning of a looming burnout crisis among educators that could lead to a wave of retirements, undermining the fitful effort to resume normal public schooling. In a recent survey by the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, 28 percent of educators said the coronavirus had made them more likely to leave teaching or retire early.
Those We’ve Lost
Iris Meda, 70, didn’t feel right sitting on the sidelines when the pandemic hit. She’d been retired only a few months, and still had a lifetime of nursing experience in hospitals, prisons, schools and long-term care facilities to share.
So she went back to work in August, teaching nursing skills to high school students through Collin College, north of Dallas. But within weeks, she had come down with Covid-19 herself. After nearly a month in the hospital, most of it on a ventilator, she died on Nov. 14.
Her daughter, Selene Meda-Schlamel, said her mother was exposed to the virus on Oct. 2 while teaching a laboratory class, despite the precautions she was taking.
“I wasn’t worried, because I knew she was wearing an N95, and that she was some distance from the students,” Ms. Meda-Schlamel recalled, in an interview.
“I said to myself, ‘If something happens to her, it happens to her doing something she loves, fulfilling her calling and benefiting the world,’” she said. “But that’s a very different outlook from, ‘My best friend is gone, my kids don’t have a grandmother. Everything that we planned on doing will never occur.’”
Ms. Meda grew up in New York, the oldest of nine siblings, and was a natural caretaker from childhood, her daughter said. She married at 20, expecting to be a stay-at-home mother, but at her husband’s urging, she went back to school and earned a nursing degree from City College.
“She had a very personal touch,” Ms. Meda-Schlamel said. “You never felt like she was rushing you.”
Ms. Meda worked as a nurse at the jail on Rikers Island before moving to Texas in 1993, where she spent the rest of her career before retiring in January. When she took up teaching, she wanted to pass along to her students the kind of encouragement she had gotten to pursue an education. After class, she often returned home “lit up” from the thrill she got from teaching, her daughter said.
When her Covid-19 symptoms worsened in mid-October and she began struggling to breathe, Ms. Meda called her daughter for a ride to the hospital. Ms. Meda-Schlamel recalled that in the car, her mother handed her an envelope containing her medical documents and a handwritten card that she forgot about in the hectic days that followed.
When she finally opened it, she said, she found a note her mother had written after their phone call, telling her how proud she was of her and what a wonderful life she had before her. And two signed checks fell out, meant to help her daughter cover the hospital bills. On one, the amount was left blank.
“That was kind of symbolic of how she was as a person,” Ms. Meda-Schlamel said. “She was always giving people blank checks, blank emotional checks: ‘Whatever you need from me, if I have it, I’ll provide it.’”
When Lisa Bloor heard that her daughter Abby’s elite-level soccer club was being shut down in England’s latest coronavirus lockdown, she faced a tough problem: how to explain that boys at the same level were allowed to keep playing.
“How do I tell my daughter it’s because she’s a girl?” Ms. Bloor asked. “It’s disheartening. There’s no logic in it at all.”
In early November, after Britain’s government reluctantly admitted the need for a second lockdown of all but England’s most essential services to stop the number of Covid-19 cases spiraling out of control, the restrictions — and exceptions to the rules — laid bare yet another gender gap: the one between women and men’s sports.
When the British government granted “elite sport” special dispensations for the duration of a four-week lockdown, the top six tiers of men’s soccer could carry on training and competing. But only the top two women’s soccer leagues were permitted to continue.
The Football Association, which governs the sport in England, ruled that the men’s F.A. Cup tournament would not stop, but postponed the women’s F.A. Cup until the national lockdown lifts in early December.
Nowhere was the gender divide more transparent than in the decision surrounding the soccer clubs’ academies, which sharpen the skills of the most promising school-age players and prepare them to turn professional.
Boys’ training at more than 80 English Football League and Premier League clubs’ academies could remain open under “elite” protocols, but the F.A. decided that girls’ academies at clubs such as Everton — where Abby Clarke, Ms. Bloor’s 16-year-old daughter, trains at least four times a week as part of the development squad — were “nonelite” and would have to suspend all activity throughout the lockdown.