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ImageA flu shot being administered in Brattleboro, Vt., last month.
Credit…Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer, via Associated Press

Last year, fear of simultaneous coronavirus and influenza pandemics drove more Americans than usual to get their flu shots. That, combined with distancing and masking measures, made the 2020-21 flu season remarkably tame.

This year, the numbers look less promising.

As of Oct. 29, 158.7 million flu vaccine doses had been distributed in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is down roughly 8 percent from the 172.3 million doses that had been distributed at the same time last year, and health officials across the country — in Michigan, in San Diego, in Ventura County, Calif., and elsewhere — have been sounding alarms.

“I think any indication that we’re going to have lower flu vaccination rates is of concern,” said Dr. Richard Webby, a faculty member of the Infectious Diseases Department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Dr. Webby said that because of the highly abnormal flu season last year, scientists don’t have a good grasp on how severe the coming season is likely to be. Since flu hasn’t been circulating for a season and a half, he said, fewer people may have lingering immunity to the virus than in a normal year.

“We’re just headed into, really, an unknown,” he said. “We’re certainly not the best at predicting flu seasons in a typical year, and this is anything but a typical year.”

Even without the coronavirus also circulating, a bad flu season could strain health care systems. And the United States has seen many times over how quickly a surge in Covid-19 cases can overwhelm hospitals entirely, making it impossible for them to properly care for patients with other medical emergencies, like severe influenza. The prospect of both viruses surging at the same time has horrified doctors from the start.

With coronavirus case rates plateauing at a high level nationally — and rising in some states — and with coronavirus vaccination rates still lagging behind the rates in most other wealthy countries, American hospitals are hardly in a position to handle more stress.

But Dr. Webby said that the good news is that the flu season has not yet begun in earnest — which means there is still time for people to get their shot.

Credit…Georg Hochmuth/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Austria on Monday began a targeted lockdown against unvaccinated people, confining adults and minors ages 12 and older to their homes.

The move, which is aimed at calming the worst surge in infections the country has faced since the pandemic started, is believed to be one of the first national lockdowns directed at the unvaccinated, and is initially expected to last 10 days.

“We do not take this step lightly,” Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg said at a news conference on Sunday.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

Starting Monday, those who cannot prove that they are either fully vaccinated or immune from a past infection can only leave their dwellings for essential reasons, such as going to the doctor or for essential grocery shopping. Officials warned that they would increase police patrols to enforce the rules, and that those found to be violating them could be fined up to 1,450 euros, or $1,660, The Associated Press reported.

Karl Nehammer, the country’s interior minister, announced wide-ranging police measures, such as checking vaccination records, and laid out some of the fines people would face if caught breaking the rules.

Austria is currently averaging 10,395 cases a day, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Less than 65 percent of the country is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in the European Union.

The new lockdown, which comes a week after an announcement that most businesses were required to check customers for proof of vaccination or immunity, essentially aims to keep the estimated two million unvaccinated Austrians off the streets as cases are surging.

Outside the chancellery in Vienna on Sunday, where Mr. Schallenberg, his interior and health minister were announcing the new restrictions, a crowd gathered to protest them.

Several lawmakers had called for a general lockdown to bring down the numbers, but the country’s health minister pointed out on Sunday that while the overall infections were going up, the infections among the immunized were actually decreasing.

Credit…Carl Court/Getty Images

Japan’s economy continued to wobble in the third quarter of 2021, tipping back into contraction, but the success of its coronavirus vaccination campaign suggests that brighter days may be ahead, at least in the near term.

In the July-to-September period, the country’s economy, the third largest after the United States and China, shrank by an annualized rate of 3 percent, government data showed on Monday. The result, a quarterly drop of 0.8 percent, indicated an economy struggling to find its footing in the face of coronavirus restrictions and a supply chain crunch that hit its biggest manufacturers. The previous three-month period saw a slight expansion.

But Japan now has one of the highest vaccination rates among major nations, and it has lifted virtually all restrictions on its economy as its virus caseload has fallen in recent weeks to one of the lowest levels in the world.

Seventy-five percent of the country is fully vaccinated. And coronavirus case counts have hovered in the low hundreds since mid-October, a decline of about 99 percent since their August peak, heralding the return of long-suppressed consumer spending.

Bolstering the positive outlook, policymakers, fresh off an election, are preparing a new round of stimulus that would provide support to ailing businesses and put cash in the hands of people nationwide.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The country started the July-to-September period on the back foot because of a clunky vaccine rollout that left it far behind its peer countries. The Delta variant caused cases to surge just as Tokyo prepared to kick off the Summer Olympics, which were conducted without spectators and failed to deliver the economic boost that had been promised when the country was chosen as host.

As the virus spread, Japan entered a new state of emergency. Restaurants and bars closed early and travel dried up, with many people deciding to stay home rather than brave record-high case counts.

Since the country ended its state of emergency last month, however, foot traffic has nearly returned to prepandemic levels, said Tomohiko Kozawa, a researcher at the Japan Research Institute.

“There’s a risk that infections could begin to spread again, but for the moment, the outlook points to recovery,” he said, adding that “we can expect high growth” in domestic consumption in the coming months.



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