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Covid live updates: Fauci pushes back on Trump claims, first Oxford-AstraZeneca shots given in U.K.

"The numbers are real," Fauci, one of the nation’s foremost infectious disease experts, said during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Image: Kenyan school children wear face masks while walking to school as they resume in-class learning after a nine-month disruption caused by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Nairobi
Children wear masks in Nairobi on Monday as they resume in-class learning after a nine-month disruption caused by the pandemic.Simon Maina / AFP - Getty Images

Live coverage of this blog has ended, please click here for NBC News' latest coverage of Covid-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has pushed back on President Donald Trump's false claims that the U.S. coronavirus death toll is "exaggerated."

"The numbers are real," Fauci, one of the nation’s foremost infectious disease experts, said during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "We have well over 300,000 deaths. We are averaging two to three thousand deaths per day."

'It can be done': Fauci on Biden vaccination plan of 100M doses in first 100 days

Flights delayed in Dallas after controller tests positive

Airspace around the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, one of the nation's busiest, was closed Monday after a controller tested positive for Covid-19.

The airport's Terminal Radar Approach Control Facility was cleaned after a controller tested positive, the Federal Aviation Administration said. The center handles inbound and outbound air traffic at the airport and others, and controllers there were working out of DFW's center tower, the agency said.

The FAA's website had listed a ground stop around 6:30 p.m., and it was lifted about an hour and a half later, the airport said.

Earlier Monday, flights were delayed at some Florida airports after an FAA facility near Jacksonville needed to be cleaned after an employee tested positive for Covid, an agency spokesperson said.

Read the full story here. 

'Health care system will collapse' with another surge, LA doctor warns

Erin McLaughlin

Health officials remind people to get their second vaccine doses

Two top American health officials reminded people Monday to get the second dose of their coronavirus vaccines, a message that comes days after Britain announced it was delaying the second round of shots to make them more widely available.

“We have been following the discussions and news reports about reducing the number of doses, extending the length of time between doses, changing the dose (half-dose), or mixing and matching vaccines in order to immunize more people against COVID-19,” two top officials at the Food and Drug Administration said. “These are all reasonable questions to consider and evaluate in clinical trials.”

But changing doses and schedules was a move “not rooted solidly in the available evidence,” said the officials, department Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn and Peter Marks, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

The vaccines have been shown to prevent Covid-19 infection in roughly 95 percent of adults. The one developed by Pfizer-BioNTech requires 21 days between doses, while Moderna's requires 28 days.

“Without appropriate data supporting such changes in vaccine administration, we run a significant risk of placing public health at risk, undermining the historic vaccination efforts to protect the population from COVID-19,” they said.

Dozens of cases linked to Christmas Eve services at Massachusetts church

The Associated Press

Authorities say dozens of positive coronavirus cases have been traced back to Christmas services at a Massachusetts church.

The Woburn Board of Health has been working with the state to notify people who attended one of four services Dec. 23 and 24 at Genesis Community Church in Woburn, Mayor Scott Galvin told The Boston Globe. Officials say at least 44 cases have been traced to the church.

Genesis in a statement said it is encouraging anyone who attended to get tested. Services are now being held online.

The church statement says: “We are deeply saddened to learn that people within Genesis tested positive for COVID-19 and we are doing all we can to make sure this does not spread any further.”

Under state guidelines, houses of worship are limited to 25 percent of capacity. The church said it took proper precautions, including preregistration to attend and requiring masks and social distancing.

States across the country brace for post-holiday surge

Authorities bust large New Year's Eve parties as coronavirus cases rise across U.S.

Authorities busted massive New Year's Eve parties in multiple cities and the Transportation Security Administration announced a record for air travel even as coronavirus case counts have soared across the U.S.

Local law enforcement authorities in New York and Los Angeles reported breaking up large crowds of people gathered at New Year's Eve parties to ring in 2021.

An hour after the ball dropped over a deserted Times Square, the New York City Sheriff raided an "illegal bottle club" in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, ejecting 145 attendees and charging four, and an hour later, they shut down another in Queens, where over 300 people were found gathered in apparent violation of emergency orders, charging five people with multiple offenses.

The Los Angeles Sheriff said in a Facebook post that 90 people were arrested and over 900 people were warned for breaking California's coronavirus rules at large gatherings they shut down in Hawthorne, LA, Malibu and Pomona on the last night of 2020.

The sheriff said his office would "seek out and take law enforcement action against all super spreader events occurring anywhere within Los Angeles County."

Click here to read the full story.

Wisconsin pharmacist who tried to destroy Covid vaccine is 'conspiracy theorist,' authorities say

Samira Puskar

David K. Li and Samira Puskar

pharmacist accused of trying to destroy hundreds of doses of coronavirus vaccine is allegedly a conspiracy theorist who believed the medication wasn't safe, Wisconsin authorities said Monday.

Steven Brandenburg, 46, was ordered held in lieu of $10,000 bond by Ozaukee County Circuit Court Judge Paul Malloy during a brief appearance.

Police in Grafton, about 20 miles north of Milwaukee, arrested the Advocate Aurora Health pharmacist on Thursday after 57 vials of the Moderna vaccine were apparently spoiled. Brandenburg took the vaccine doses from a refrigerator and left them out for 12 hours, possibly rendering them useless, police said.

Each vial contained 10 doses and was all together worth between $8,550 to $11,400, according to a probable cause statement by Grafton Police Det.-Sgt. Eric Sutherland.

Brandenburg is an "admitted conspiracy theorist" and he "told investigators that he believed that Covid-19 vaccine was not safe for people and could harm them and change their DNA," Sutherland wrote.

"He admitted this was an intentional act," the probable cause statement added.

Click here to read the full story.

9 nuns died of Covid-19 at a New York convent in December

Coronavirus tore through an upstate New York convent in December, with dozens testing positive and at least nine nuns dying of Covid-19.

The outbreak occurred at St. Joseph's Provincial House — a convent for retired and infirm nuns run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet — in Latham, New York, just outside of Albany.

A spokesperson for the order confirmed that 47 sisters tested positive and at least nine have died of Covid-19 in the final month of 2020, saying the convent had largely been spared throughout the year.

"At this time, three of our sisters living at the Provincial House are receiving treatment for the virus, and are under the care of their personal physicians," Sr. Mary Rose Noonan wrote in an email to NBC News, adding that most of the nuns who tested positive have recovered. Twenty-one convent employees tested positive and recovered, while five remain in isolation, Noonan said.

"Like all members of our global community, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have been struggling with the tragic consequences of COVID-19," Noonan wrote, saying that they have been following all CDC and New York state safety guidelines.

Click here to read the full story.

N.Y. reports first known case of U.K. variant of the coronavirus

The first known case in New York state of someone infected with the coronavirus variant spreading in the United Kingdom was confirmed in a man from Saratoga County, north of Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

The man, who is in his 60s and works in a jewelry store, had not recently traveled outside of the country, Cuomo said during a conference call. Three other people in the store also have Covid-19, and they are being checked for the same strain, the governor added.

The new variant of the coronavirus has been found in more than a dozen countries and at least three other states: California, Colorado and Florida. Scientists have said the variant appears to spread more easily, but does not make people sicker.

Still, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday moved to curb the spread of Covid-19, and announced a new national lockdown in England, including the most stringent level of restrictions since the start of the pandemic.

Faced with mounting cases, England announces new lockdown

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday announced a new national lockdown in England, including the most stringent level of restrictions since the start of the pandemic, to slow down the spiral in new cases of Covid-19 on the same day the U.K. started the rollout of AstraZeneca's vaccine.

The measures are similar to the lockdown imposed last March, and include asking the public to stay at home and only leave for limited reasons. Trips outside will only be allowed for essential shopping, exercise, Covid-19 testing, medical help, escaping domestic abuse and work for those who can't work from home.

Primary and secondary schools will also have to switch to remote learning starting Tuesday.

Speaking in a late night televised address, Johnson warned that the weeks ahead will be the hardest yet, but the new lockdown was a pivotal moment.

"I know how tough this is and I know how frustrated you are," Johnson said. "But now more than ever, we must pull together."

Click here to read the full story.

Photo: Hospital at the breaking point in California

Apu Gomes / AFP - Getty Images

Registered nurse Yeni Sandoval wears personal protective equipment as she cares for a Covid-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center in Tarzana, Calif. on Jan. 3.

About four weeks ago, the hospital had very few patients in the ICU, but now 80 percent of the hospital is filled with Covid patients and 90 percent of the ICU.

Georgia woman makes miraculous recovery from Covid-19

A Georgia woman was discharged from the hospital on New Year’s Eve after battling Covid-19 for three months. 

Lisa Martin first went to Memorial Satilla Health’s emergency room on Sept. 27 after developing a fever and painful breathing, according to a press release from the hospital. Her husband Jeff had earlier tested positive for Covid-19, but had been on the path to recovery. 

Martin, who is in her 40s and has no known underlying health conditions, was soon placed on a ventilator because of the severity of her breathing problems, one of the most dangerous symptoms of Covid-19. From there, her condition worsened and she was placed in a medically induced coma. 

When the hospital called the family to say goodbye, Martin’s family held a meeting to decide the next steps in her care. They were not ready to say goodbye and instead decided to make a decision within the 11 days. 

“We are not pulling that plug,” Martin’s son Jack said according to the hospital’s press release. “I’m not ready to be without mama.” 

On the 11th day, the family was overjoyed when Martin broke through the sedatives, began moving her hand and tracking Jeff with her eyes. She was transported to the hospital’s sister facility, Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia to begin her recovery. 

As part of her recovery, Martin spent the next two months relearning how to speak, eat and walk. On Dec. 31, she was finally discharged from Memorial Satilla Rehabilitation after spending 59 days on a ventilator and 40 days in an induced coma, a recovery the hospital called miraculous. 

U.S. air travel hits new peak after the holidays

More than 1.3 million people in the United States boarded planes Sunday — the most nationwide since the pandemic began — according to data compiled by the Transportation Security Administration. 

The TSA screened 1,327,289 passengers across the country on Sunday, despite pleas from public health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to avoid unnecessary travel this holiday season.

“Yesterday would typically be one of the busiest travel days of the year as families return from what is often a two-week school vacation surrounding Christmas and the start of the new year,” TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein tweeted Monday.

Although air travel overall remains lower than in previous years, the TSA recorded increases around Thanksgiving and Christmas, which suggests that some Americans are continuing to ignore guidelines from the CDC. Nearly 1.2 million passengers passed through airport checkpoints in the U.S. on Dec. 23 and more than 1 million people boarded planes the day before Thanksgiving, according to TSA data.

Some Chicago teachers returning to classrooms Monday

Some teachers in Chicago returned to the classroom Monday for the first time since a statewide shutdown in March, a move met with criticism from the Chicago Teachers Union as some members said they did not feel safe going back into their buildings in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Roughly 5,000 teachers in the Chicago Public Schools district serving preschoolers and special education students were ordered to return to their classrooms on Monday, with students expected to return next Monday, Jan. 11.

 "I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen tomorrow," Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey told NBC Chicago on Sunday. "Certainly what I’m hearing is that a number of teachers are going to not be showing up at work tomorrow, at least not in person."

Sharkey told the station that about 1,800 members asked for special accommodations, but only about 600 received them. It was not immediately clear Monday morning how many teachers did not report to work. 

Chicago Public Schools said in a statement to NBC Chicago that the “overwhelming scientific evidence, expert guidance and experiences of districts across Illinois are clear: Schools can safely reopen with a comprehensive plan in place.”

Teachers for kindergarten through eighth grade will return to school starting Jan. 25, with those students expected to return on Feb.1. 

College basketball's 'March Madness' will be an all-Indiana affair

College basketball's top-fight post-season tournament, known as "March Madness," will be played entirely in Indiana, in hopes of keeping participants safe from coronavirus, officials said Monday.

The NCAA said in November it was planning to centralize the tournament which is normally staged at 13 arenas across America, not including the play-in games in Dayton, Ohio.

All of the 2021 games will now be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse at Ball State University, Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler University, Indiana Farmers Coliseum at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, Mackey Arena at  Purdue University, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall at Indiana University in Bloomington, and Lucas Oil Stadium, the NCAA said.

The cancellation of March Madness in 2020 was one of the first, major cultural events lost to the pandemic.

NYC to open first pop-up vaccination hubs

New York City will launch its first pop-up vaccination sites beginning Sunday as city officials prepare to ramp up the number of people and types of workers getting vaccinated against Covid-19.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday that he wants the hardest hit communities in the city to have access to vaccines, and hubs will be coming to three locations: the Bushwick Educational Campus in Brooklyn, Hillcrest High School in Queens and the South Bronx Educational Campus.

"Getting it right in the first few weeks was the trendsetter. Now it's time to sprint," de Blasio told reporters. "This has got to be a seven-day-a-week, 24/7 reality going forward."

Ultimately, the mayor said, he wants to see 100,000 vaccine shots administered this week and at least 250 hubs open citywide by the end of January. He added that he wants other types of health care providers to begin getting vaccinated Monday, including NYPD medical staff, physical therapists, contact tracers, dentists and workers at clinics. Home care and hospice workers can begin getting vaccinated next week.

The push to increase vaccinations in New York City, which was an early hot spot for the coronavirus last spring, comes as public health officials nationwide grapple with ensuring enough Americans get vaccinated in the face of rising Covid-19 cases.

New York nurse who was among first to get vaccine receives second dose

A nurse in Queens, New York, who was among the first people in the country to receive the Covid-19 vaccine has gotten her second dose.

Sandra Lindsay, whose first dose was broadcast live by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Dec. 14, got her booster shot Monday, making her one of the first individuals in the United States to be fully vaccinated against the disease. Asked how she was feeling ahead of being injected, the critical care manager at Long Island Jewish Medical Center answered that she was "feeling great." 

Lindsay got the initial dose of a Covid-19 vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer days after the Food and Drug Administration gave it emergency use authorization. The vaccine has been shown to be 95 percent effective, according to its manufacturers, when administered in two doses three weeks apart. 

After receiving her shot Monday, Lindsay applauded and told reporters, "I know that we're not out of the woods yet. We don't have that herd immunity yet. But the burden feels definitely much lighter today, and I'm very, very grateful to just receive this vaccine in the first place."

As she did with the first one, Lindsay received her second shot at the hospital where she works, which is a part of the Northwell Health system. The health system says Lindsay was the first nurse in America to receive the vaccine. 

Lindsay said that she did not have a fever or any other side effects after receiving her initial dose, and she was not worried about side effects after the second.

"Even if I do get those symptoms, that pales in comparison to getting Covid-19, possibly ending up in one of my ICU beds here, and potentially death," she said. 

Northwell Health has inoculated more than 22,000 health care workers with Covid-19 vaccines manufactured by both Pfizer and Moderna since mid-December.

As Mexico closes migrant shelters due to coronavirus, those seeking refuge face more dangers

The Associated Press

SALTILLO, Mexico—Dozens of migrant shelters in Mexico have closed their doors or scaled back operations in recent weeks to curb the ravages of coronavirus, exposing people to greater peril just as migration from Central America to the United States is on the rise again.

Reuters spoke to people responsible for over 40 shelters that had offered refuge to thousands on a route where immigrants without legal documentation often face assaults, robberies and kidnappings—before the pandemic forced them to shut or limit capacity.

The closures are a fresh headache for migrants already coping with reductions to the southern routes of a Mexican cargo train known as "La Bestia" (The Beast) that has long helped them get north.

Fewer shelters mean fewer safe places for Central Americans to take cover, even as many walk hundreds more miles than before, over a dozen migrants told Reuters.

Click here to read the full story.

The U.S. records more than 210,000 new coronavirus cases Sunday

The United States recorded 215,867 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, along with 1,522 new deaths.

The country has logged at least 1,000 deaths a day every day since November 29.

The following states set new single-day case records Sunday:

  • Arizona, 17,234 cases
  • New Hampshire, 1,266 cases
  • Oklahoma, 8,017 cases
  • South Carolina, 8,951 cases

Overall, there have been 20,711,482 recorded cases and 352,340 deaths in the United States as of 10 a.m. Monday.

Azar shoots down idea of giving just one dose instead of two

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The U.S. health and human services secretary is shooting down the idea of expanding the number of Americans getting a Covid-19 vaccine by giving them only one dose instead of the two being administered now.

Alex Azar says the U.S. is “holding in reserve that second dose” because that’s what the science says to do.

Some health experts have suggested that, with vaccine supplies short, people might get partial protection from a single dose and that should be considered as a way to reach far more people faster. But Azar says “the data just isn’t there to support that and we’re not going to do that.”

The two vaccines approved in the U.S. so far, one by Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech and the other by Moderna, each require double doses.

Azar spoke Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Azar says the U.S. has reported 1.5 million vaccinations in the last 72 hours, a “very rapid uptick” that he predicts will continue.

Austria extends lockdown, Germany prepares to

Andy Eckardt

Austria has scrapped plans to allow anyone with a negative coronavirus test to exit lockdown a week early, Austrian health minister Rudolf Anschober said Monday morning.

The closure of nonessential shops as well as hospitality venues is set to be extended by one week until Jan. 24, along with the mandatory stay-at-home order for people in all of Austria’s states.

In neighboring Germany, several media outlets, including the country’s BILD newspaper, have reported that  state leaders are generally in agreement to extend the Covid-19 lockdown until the end of January.

Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet with the 16 state leaders on Tuesday to discuss the situation in the country and the lockdown extension. 

Austria has reported 6,324 Covid-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic and more than 365,000 cases, while Germany's death toll stands at 34,574, with nearly 1.8 million cases reported so far.

Texas teacher behind heartwarming viral video dies at 35

Kerry Breen

Zelene Blancas, an El Paso, Texas, teacher whose sweet classroom routine went viral in 2018, has died from Covid-19, Sunset Funeral Homes-West confirmed to "TODAY." A verified GoFundMe organized by her family also announced the news on Saturday.

Blancas, 35, taught first grade at Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary. According to the GoFundMe, Blancas first tested positive for the virus on Oct. 20 and was hospitalized in the intensive care unit on Oct. 24.

According to the GoFundMe, Blancas took "all precautions possible" to avoid the virus. According to the Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary website, the school has been conducting classes virtually since March.

In 2018, Blancas went viral after sharing a video of her first-grade students hugging and high-fiving each other. Students were given the option of choosing between a hug, handshake, high-five or fist bump to show kindness to their classmates.

Click here for the full story.

Russia says new cases are at 6-week low

The Associated Press

MOSCOW — Russia reported Monday that its number of new coronavirus cases hit a six-week low, continuing a steady decline that began in late December.

The national coronavirus taskforce said 23,551 cases were recorded in the previous day, the lowest daily toll since Nov. 18 and substantially lower than the high of 29,335 reported on Dec. 24.

The taskforce reported 482 new deaths from Covid-19, down from 635 on Dec. 24. More than 3.26 million coronavirus infections have been recorded in Russia throughout the pandemic and 58,988 deaths.

Despite a surge in new infections this fall, Russian officials have shied away from imposing a national lockdown in an effort to protect the economy, relying instead on local restrictions. Russia has been inoculating medical workers and other key groups with its own Russian-made coronavirus vaccine called Sputnik V.

France has vaccinated just hundreds in first week

The Associated Press

PARIS — France's cautious approach to its virus vaccine rollout appears to have backfired, leaving just a few hundred people vaccinated after the first week and rekindling anger over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

President Emmanuel Macron is holding a special meeting with top government officials Monday afternoon to address the vaccine strategy and other virus developments.

In France, a country of 67 million people, just 516 people were vaccinated in the first six days while Germany’s first-week total surpassed 200,000 and Italy’s was over 100,000. Millions, meanwhile, have been vaccinated in the U.S. and China.

The slow vaccine rollout is being blamed on mismanagement and staffing shortages during end-of-year vacations – as well as a complex consent policy designed to accommodate broad vaccine skepticism among the French public.

New Covid-19 fears follow travel by millions of Americans over holidays

With eye toward Olympics, Japan to speed up vaccine approval

The Associated Press

TOKYO — Japan’s prime minister said vaccine approval was being speeded up as the coronavirus spreads in the nation scheduled to hold the already-delayed 2020 Olympics this summer.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga stressed his determination to hold the Olympics and said preparations were moving ahead. The Games are scheduled to be held in July, which will mean the arrival of tens of thousands of athletes, officials and media.

Suga said holding the Olympics will be “proof that people have overcome the coronavirus,” giving “hope and courage.”

The vaccine timetable will advance by a month, meaning the approvals will start this month and vaccinations will be administered to people beginning in February, instead of March or later.

Cases have been growing in Japan in recent weeks, with more than 3,400 deaths so far related to the coronavirus.

Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group receives the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

NBC News

Image: Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, and a professor of pediatric infection and immunity receives the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine from nurse Sam Foster at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, southwest England
Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, and a professor of pediatric infection and immunity receives the Oxford University-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine from nurse Sam Foster at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, southwest England on Monday.Steve Parsons / AFP - Getty Images

Fauci pushes back on Trump, says Covid death numbers are 'real'

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday pushed back on President Donald Trump's false claims that the U.S. coronavirus death toll is "exaggerated."

"The numbers are real," Fauci, one of the nation’s foremost infectious disease experts, said during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We have well over 300,000 deaths. We are averaging two to three thousand deaths per day."

He told host Chuck Todd: "All you need to do, Chuck, is to go into the trenches, go into the hospitals, go into the intensive care units and see what is happening. Those are real numbers, real people and real deaths."

Fauci’s interview came in response to Trump tweeting, "The number of cases and deaths of the China Virus is far exaggerated in the United States because of the CDC's ridiculous method of determination compared to other countries, many of whom report, purposely, very inaccurately and low."

Trump responded to Fauci by tweeting: "Something how Dr. Fauci is revered by the LameStream Media as such a great professional, having done, they say, such an incredible job, yet he works for me and the Trump Administration, and I am in no way given any credit for my work. Gee, could this just be more Fake News?"

Fresh hope as infection-ravaged U.K. rolls out new vaccine

LONDON — The United Kingdom on Monday became the first country to roll out a newly approved vaccine, made by Oxford University and the drugmaker AstraZeneca, which experts believe could have a big impact globally because it can be kept at regular refrigerator temperature.

Last month the U.K. became the first country to administer the approved BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine. But these vaccines are expensive and difficult to handle because they need to be kept at super-cold temperatures.

The United States has pledged more than $1 billion toward the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, ordering 300 million doses. But a mistake in its clinical trial that raised questions surrounding its exact level of efficacy — but not its safety — has led to delays in approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

Its developers say those questions have now been put to rest, with results clearly showing strong protection against the virus. Brian Pinker, 82, a dialysis patient, received the first of 100 million doses ordered by the British government. "I am so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford," he said at a hospital in Oxford near to where the vaccine was developed.

However, even the swiftest vaccination program will not dig the U.K. out of its current dire situation. It has one of the fast infection rates on the planet, higher than the U.S., and its publicly funded National Health Service is at risk of being overwhelmed. Its heavily criticized government has not ruled out tightening the already severe restrictions that are imposed across much of the country.