Like millions of Americans, Megan Bauer, of Royal Oak, Mich., has been waiting patiently for her turn.
Credit...Elaine Cromie for The New York Times

When states started vaccinating people with medical conditions that may raise their risk for a severe case of Covid-19, each one set its own rules. Like millions of Americans, Megan Bauer, of Royal Oak, Mich., has been waiting patiently for her turn.

Ms. Bauer, who lives with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that can cause serious lung infections, has followed a strict self-isolation regimen recommended by her doctors. She said that she is grateful that other people with heightened risks are getting vaccinated: health care workers, teachers, her 81-year-old grandmother. If Ms. Bauer lived in Montana, New Mexico, Virginia, Washington, D.C., or at least 14 other states, she could get the vaccine now, too. But not in Michigan.

“The wait seems never-ending,’’ Ms. Bauer said. “With cystic fibrosis, every day is precious, so losing this time is difficult.’’

In the initial months of the Covid vaccine rollout, states sought to balance between prioritizing the elderly, who are most likely to die from the virus, and people in professions most likely to be exposed to it. Under recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with underlying medical conditions, like Type 2 diabetes or cancer, which have been associated with an increased risk for severe virus symptoms, were slated to come next.

But with demand still outstripping the nation’s vaccine supply, a new skirmish has emerged over which health problems to prioritize. States, which are not bound by the C.D.C.’s recommendations, have set widely varying rules amid a dearth of definitive evidence about how dozens of medical conditions may affect the severity of Covid-19. The confusing morass of rules has set off a free-for-all among people who may be among the most vulnerable to the virus as they seek to persuade health and political officials to add health conditions to an ever-evolving vaccine priority list.

At least 37 states, as well as Washington, D.C., are now allowing some residents with certain health problems to receive vaccines, according to a New York Times survey of all 50 states. But the health issues granted higher priority differ from state to state, and even county to county.

Eligible only in some counties

Some people with Down syndrome may get vaccines in at least 35 states, for instance, but some of those states are not offering shots to people with other developmental issues. At least 30 states allow some people with Type 2 diabetes to get vaccines, but only about 23 states include people with Type 1 diabetes. At least 19 states are making the vaccine available to some people with cystic fibrosis; at least 14 have included some people with liver disease; and at least 15 have deemed some smokers eligible. At least 30 states have prioritized vaccines for people who are overweight or obese, according to the Times survey, though they vary even there, some setting the bar at a body mass index of 25, others at 30 or 40.

Eligible only in some counties

Some states require a person to prove they have a medical condition, though at least 16 states and Washington, D.C., do not. And at least 12 states allow a person to get a recommendation from a health professional to get a shot, even if their medical condition has not been given priority by the state.

In the absence of large, rigorous studies of the coronavirus’s effect on people with other medical problems, medical ethicists said, there are few clear principles to apply to determine a priority sequence among many conditions. Many states are taking their cues from a list of 12 conditions that the C.D.C. has deemed to have substantial evidence for elevated Covid risks, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, smoking and Down syndrome. C.D.C. officials have said that they regularly review the scientific literature and will expand the list as warranted.

But some medical ethicists argue that the list itself is misleading, because it suggests that the risk for all diagnoses have been considered and ranked. Is a 50-year-old with Type 1 diabetes at greater risk from Covid than a 25-year-old with sickle cell disease, or a 35-year-old with intellectual disabilities?

Kensington Gardens, a 350-bed long-term care facility in Toronto. Tight restrictions at care facilities in Toronto and Montreal make it difficult for residents to have much human interaction.
Credit...Tara Walton for The New York Times

Nursing homes in Canada were prioritized for the first precious doses of coronavirus vaccines to few objections — they were ground zero for the pandemic’s cruel ravage. Around 66 percent of the country’s terminal Covid-19 victims lived in nursing homes, among the highest rates in the world.

But while the vaccines have given the majority of nursing-home residents protection from death by the virus, so far they have not offered more life. Unlike in the United States, where some restrictions at long-term care facilities have been loosened, health officials in Canada say they are waiting for scientific assurance that it is safe to ease regulations.

That has left some residents comparing their lives to those of prisoners and caged animals.

Most places around Canada have policies that allow visits from only one or two designated caregivers, but these measures aren’t evenly carried out. And in several cities, including Toronto and Montreal, residents are not allowed to leave the property to walk to a pharmacy or enjoy the simple pleasure of a stroll down the street.

All this has left some residents frustrated, baffled and wondering: What, exactly, am I being kept alive for?

Officials at provincial and territorial health care ministries around the country, which oversee health care, offer many reasons for not relaxing restrictions: concerns about emerging variants of the virus, the lack of research on the vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing transmission and, in some cases, the high infection rates in the surrounding community.

“We need to better understand the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing transmission, including variant transmission, before we can safely alter visitor policies,” said Tom McMillan, an Alberta health official.

In the United States, some states have loosened restrictions as cases have dropped, allowing nursing homes to hold group activities like game night or choir practice. And some homes have permitted indoor visits under federal guidelines put in place in September that allow them if a home has been virus-free for 14 days and county positivity rates are below 10 percent, regardless of the home’s vaccination rate.

But elsewhere, homes are about to reach a full year of being closed to visitors, despite the plummeting of coronavirus cases.

The AARP and other advocacy organizations have called on the U.S. government to ease visitation guidelines as vaccines are rolled out in nursing homes. Many note that with vaccinations, the likelihood of residents contracting and dying from Covid-19 is lower, but the harm to residents from social isolation continues unabated.

One large survey of nursing-home residents and their families in Canada found that a majority reported a marked decline in cognitive function and emotional well-being, and almost half reported that their physical functioning had worsened.

The survey also found that the proportion of residents on antipsychotic medication — traditionally prescribed to manage behaviors like agitation related to dementia — had increased by 7 percent over six months.

The question of how to care for the country’s senior population during a pandemic isn’t unique to Canada and the United States. Many nursing homes around the world banned visits as the coronavirus arrived around a year ago.

Soon after, geriatricians sounded the alarm about the rapid decline in health and well-being of residents, setting off a debate about the balance between protection and quality of life, as well as the rights and autonomy of residents. As a result, many jurisdictions reintroduced some sort of visitor policy as the first wave subsided.

Many are calling for a similar discussion to happen again in Canada.

A first-grade class at Green Mountain Elementary School in Woodland, Wash., last month.
Credit...Nathan Howard/Getty Images

As students in some parts of the United States approach nearly a year without in-person school, new research suggests that the reading skills of young children have suffered during the pandemic.

The research, a preliminary national study from the group Policy Analysis for California Education, found that as of late fall, second graders were 26 percent behind where they would have been, absent the pandemic, in their ability to read aloud accurately and quickly. Third graders were 33 percent behind.

Those differences were equivalent to being able to read seven to eight fewer words per minute accurately.

Some previous research has come to a different conclusion, suggesting that reading skills in third to eighth grade have proven more durable than many experts feared.

The new study relied on audio recordings of one to two minutes, from 98,000 children in 111 school districts across 22 states. The samples were collected by Literably, an online assessment tool. School buildings in the districts included in the study were more likely to be fully or partly closed than those in the average American district.

Crucially, the students lost the expected reading gains in the spring of 2020, when schools abruptly shut down at the outset of the pandemic. Students resumed improving their reading skills in the fall, suggesting schools and teachers improved in their ability to deliver instruction online or in hybrid learning. But those gains were insufficient to make up for the previous losses.

The researchers did not study whether students were able to make up for the spring losses in districts that were more likely to be open in the fall.

Notably, students in lower-achieving school districts included in the study lost more learning than those in higher-achieving districts, suggesting that the pandemic has widened existing achievement gaps. And 10 percent of students who were recorded in the spring were missing from the audio assessments in the fall.

While some of those children may have been enrolled in high-quality alternatives, such as private schools, others may have been absent because of difficulties with access to remote learning, suggesting that learning loss could be even greater for the most vulnerable students.

Heather J. Hough, an author of the working paper, said schools may need to provide tutoring and extra instructional time to help students catch up. But she warned against an approach that focused only on academics, saying that young children needed recess, playtime and social time — some of which have been in short supply during the pandemic — to be able to absorb new information effectively.

“That is as critical to early reading development as the technical skills,” she said.

People waiting in January to receive a vaccine at Hillcrest High School Community Health Center in Queens.
Credit...Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

New York will lower its age threshold for Covid-19 vaccine eligibility beginning on Wednesday, allowing anyone older than 60 to be inoculated, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Tuesday.

“That means people, like as old as I am, will now be eligible for the vaccine,” Mr. Cuomo, 63, said at an appearance in Syracuse.

The state will also expand its eligibility requirement the following week to open vaccination to a large number of public-facing workers, including government employees, nonprofit workers and essential building services workers. Those people can begin to get vaccinated on March 17.

New York will join a handful of other U.S. states that allow vaccinations for all people over 60; the majority have set their age eligibility requirement at 65 years old.

Eligible only in some counties

Eligible only in some counties

Eligible only in some counties

Mr. Cuomo pointed to expected increases in supply from the federal government as the reason behind expanding vaccine eligibility.

Among the workers eligible to get vaccinated next week are public works employees, social service and child service caseworkers, government inspectors, sanitation workers, election workers, Department of Motor Vehicle employees and county clerks.

Appointments will open for people over 60 years old starting at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, Mr. Cuomo said. People over 65 were made eligible for a coronavirus vaccine in January.

“We will fight with every tool we have,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday in reference to campaigns to undermine vaccines.
Credit...Doug Mills/The New York Times

Russian efforts to spread disinformation about the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are being monitored by the Biden administration, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said on Monday.

“We will fight with every tool we have,” she said. “We are aware of it, we are monitoring it and we are taking steps to address.”

Three publications run by Russian intelligence services have been identified as seeking to undermine the vaccines, a spokeswoman for the State Department said, according to Reuters, confirming an earlier report by The Wall Street Journal.

Though the publications have a small reach, they have emphasized the risk of the vaccines’ side effects and cast doubts about their efficacy, The Journal reported. (A Kremlin spokesman denied those claims to The Journal.)

Ms. Psaki reiterated on Monday that the vaccines were safe and effective, having gone through a rigorous approval process in the United States.

Late-stage trial results of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, published in the British medical journal The Lancet last month, found the vaccine to be safe and effective, but Russia began vaccinating its population in August before such trials had even begun, drawing criticism from Western medical experts.

Russian news outlets connected to election disinformation campaigns in the United States have sought to convince people in Latin American nations that the Sputnik vaccine works better than ones developed in the United States.

Ms. Psaki said the White House was “familiar with” Russian disinformation efforts and that it would “look for ways to combat misinformation.”


University students were tested for the coronavirus in Rome this month.
Credit...Angelo Carconi/EPA, via Shutterstock

Italy surpassed 100,000 coronavirus deaths on Monday, with more than 300 new victims in the last 24 hours. The bleak tally was crossed one year after former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a national lockdown, as the country became the first in the West to be severely affected by the virus. At the time, images of the army transporting coffins from overcrowded warehouses sent a warning signal to the rest of the world.

Italy is currently facing a large wave of coronavirus infections driven by new variants. Intensive care units are filling up, and the government is scaling up restrictions across the country.

“We would have never thought that one year later, we would find ourselves facing such an emergency,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in a video message on Monday. He added that the pandemic was “not defeated yet.”

Italy has the sixth-highest number of total deaths in the world for the virus, and it has the second-highest in Europe, after Britain, according to a New York Times database. More than three million Italians, or about one in 20, have been infected.

But unlike Britain, where about a third of the population has received at least one vaccine dose, Italy has inoculated only 6.2 percent of its population. The delays have been attributed to Europe’s slow rollout but also to organizational problems in distributing the doses across Italy’s regions. Scores of AstraZeneca vaccines have gone unused.

On Monday, the Italian Health Ministry approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 65.

Last week, Italy blocked 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine from being flown to Australia in an effort to clamp down on vaccine exports.

An Italian pharmaceutical company, Adienne Pharma, plans to produce the Russian vaccine Sputnik V starting this summer, the company’s president, Antonio Di Naro, told Italy’s main newspaper, Corriere Della Sera.

The announcement came after Italian politicians and leading scientific institutions expressed positive views about the Russian vaccine. Last week, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the nationalist League party which is part of the national unity government, met with officials from San Marino, a tiny country within Italy that is not part of the European Union. It has started to administer the Sputnik vaccine, and Mr. Salvini discussed the possibility of using it in Italy.

“If there are vaccines that work, given Europe’s so far disastrous handling, we must not stop and search everywhere,” Mr. Salvini wrote on Twitter. “The health of Italians comes before everything.”

  • Britain’s emergency field hospitals, set up in the early days of the pandemic last year, are expected to close starting next month. Dotted around the country, the Nightingale hospitals, as they are known, were intended to provide extra capacity to treat Covid-19 patients if hospitals became overwhelmed. But they went largely unused, even as the National Health Service was stretched to its limits. Britain’s lockdown has helped to bring coronavirus cases down to their lowest point in five months, and as the country focuses on vaccinations, two of England’s seven Nightingale sites will become mass inoculation centers.

  • The drug regulator in Indonesia said on Tuesday that it had approved the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, Reuters reported, a day after the country received its first million doses of the vaccine through the Covax initiative. The AstraZeneca vaccine is the second to be approved in Indonesia after the one developed by Sinovac, a private Chinese company, which has been used in the mass inoculation campaign that the country began in January.

  • The government of Hong Kong said on Monday that it was expanding eligibility for the coronavirus vaccine to include people working in catering, construction, education, tourism, public transport and property management, as well as at gyms and beauty salons. The expansion means that almost half of the city’s 7.5 million people can now book appointments online. Since Hong Kong’s inoculation drive began late last month, more than 100,000 people have received either the BioNTech vaccine or the Sinovac vaccine. Though Hong Kong has also agreed to buy millions of doses of the AstraZeneca shots, it has yet to approve it for emergency use.

  • The French Pacific territories of New Caledonia and Wallis and Futuna went into two-week lockdowns on Tuesday after both reported their first cases of community transmission of the coronavirus. According to Radio New Zealand, the outbreak in New Caledonia appears to be linked to travelers from Wallis and Futuna, the only place that was exempt from New Caledonia’s quarantine requirements. Officials have suspended all flights between the two territories.

  • A flight attendant in New Zealand who tested positive for the coronavirus over the weekend was found on Tuesday to have the country’s first known case of the B.1.1.317 variant, which was first detected in Russia but is not considered a variant of concern. The Ministry of Health said that 13 fellow crew members had tested negative, with one test still outstanding.

Imported pills at a mail center in New York in 2018. The pandemic has slowed the agency’s ability to inspect medications entering the United States.
Credit...Michael J. Ermarthh/U.S. Food and Drug Administration

The pandemic has forced the Food and Drug Administration to postpone hundreds of drug company inspections, creating an enormous backlog that is delaying new drug approvals and leading the industry to warn of impending shortages of existing medicines.

Pandemic-related travel restrictions and safety concerns have also hampered the F.D.A.’s ability to ensure the safety of the ever-increasing number of imported medicines, which make up more than 60 percent of the drugs sold in the United States.

“Regardless of where drugs are manufactured, domestically or overseas, the F.D.A. has the responsibility to ensure they are effective and safe,” said Mary Denigan-Macauley, the director of health care, public health and private markets for the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency. “Any drop in inspections, or backlog, is concerning.”

The numbers show a steep decline. The F.D.A. conducted 52 inspections of domestic pharmaceutical plants from March 2020, when the pandemic took hold in the United States, to Oct. 1, compared with 400 during the same months in 2019, according to the G.A.O. Inspections of foreign manufacturing facilities have been at a virtual standstill for months.

F.D.A. officials said they sharply curtailed the inspections to protect their investigators, following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which discouraged federal employees from travel during the pandemic.

But some people in both industry and public health communities say that federal drug inspections are essential, and that the agency should bypass travel restrictions.

“I think they can and they should,” said Dr. Michael Carome, the director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization. “They should be considered essential workers and they should be vaccinated as soon as possible.”

In interviews, F.D.A. officials denied that the large drop in inspections had slowed drug approvals. But a number of drug companies, including Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, Biocon Biologics and Bristol Myers Squibb, have issued statements noting deferred F.D.A. action because of the agency’s inability to conduct inspections.

The health certificate, which runs on Tencent’s WeChat messaging app, will reportedly include a user’s Covid-19 test and vaccination history.
Credit...Nicolas Asfouri/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

China on Monday introduced a digital vaccine passport to track its citizens’ medical history as they begin to travel abroad.

The health certificate, which runs on Tencent’s WeChat messaging app, will include a user’s Covid-19 test and vaccination history, and is intended to enable international travel, according to a report by the Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua. The service currently only works for Chinese citizens.

Europe and the United States have discussed their own versions of such systems in preparation for a likely boom in travel as ever more people get vaccinated. During a Group of 20 meeting last year, President Xi Jinping of China suggested that countries standardize services to facilitate movement across borders.

The Chinese pass offers an encrypted, scannable code that could allow other countries to process the data of travelers, according to the Xinhua report.

In China, health code software that tracks a user’s location and can link them to hot spots and outbreaks have become de rigueur for daily life. A green code, which indicates a clean history, is required to do everything from entering a grocery store to taking public transportation.

But privacy concerns mean that Mr. Xi’s vision for a standardized system is unlikely to occur. In China’s case, the police have built surveillance systems that closely watch WeChat, and one early version of the country’s health code software appeared to send data directly to the police.

Credit...Audra Melton for The New York Times

One full year after the start of the pandemic, there are now 8.5 million fewer employed people in the United States. While it’s a sign of how much damage was done to the economy, that number represents a huge improvement over the worst months of job loss last spring.

But neither the initial losses nor the subsequent gains have been spread evenly. Relative to their employment levels before the pandemic, significantly fewer Black and Hispanic women are working now, according to the latest government data, than any other demographic — and women are lagging behind men across race and ethnicity.

Research has shown that some of the disproportionate impact on women has been driven by the need to care for children during the pandemic, a circumstance that is often not captured in the official unemployment rate, which only accounts for people actively seeking work. Even among women, however, white women have not experienced the same changes in employment levels as women of color.

Greater share of

population is working

Greater share of

population is working

Comparing the percent change in employment totals to a year ago serves as a useful benchmark for how hard the pandemic hit the American work force. But to see how the recovery is exacerbating existing inequality in the economy, it’s important to look at where different groups started from.

One way to see disparities in employment that existed well before the pandemic is to look at the share employed among the working-age population in each demographic over time. This measure, known as the employment-population ratio, has long been lower for women and Black men.

Race and gender are not the only demographic categories across which job loss has hit workers unevenly.

Workers who are on the older and younger ends of the spectrum also experienced outsize losses. Younger people, who also tend to be overrepresented in some of the most affected industries like food service, were much more likely to lose work early in the outbreak and are still among the furthest from their pre-pandemic employment levels.

However, they have regained jobs more rapidly than older people, who may be more wary of returning to work and increasing their exposure to the coronavirus.

Administering the Moderna vaccine in Mountain View, Calif., in January.
Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times

In a study published last month, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed safety data from the first 13.7 million Covid-19 vaccine doses given to Americans. Among the side effects reported to the agency, 79.1 percent came from women, even though only 61.2 percent of the vaccines had been administered to women.

Nearly all of the rare anaphylactic reactions to Covid-19 vaccines have occurred among women, too. Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction, and C.D.C. researchers reported that all 19 of the individuals who had experienced such a reaction to the Moderna vaccine had been female. Women made up 44 of the 47 who had anaphylactic reactions to the Pfizer vaccine, they wrote.

“I am not at all surprised,” said Sabra Klein, a microbiologist and immunologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “This sex difference is completely consistent with past reports of other vaccines.”

In a 2013 study, scientists with the C.D.C. and other institutions found that four times as many women as men ages 20 to 59 reported allergic reactions after receiving the 2009 pandemic flu vaccine, even though more men than women got those shots.

The news isn’t all bad for women, though. Side effects are usually mild and short-lived. And the physical reactions are a sign that a vaccine is working — that “you are mounting a very robust immune response, and you will likely be protected as a result,” Dr. Klein said.

But why do these sex differences happen? Part of the answer could be behavioral. It’s possible that women are more likely than men to report side effects even when their symptoms are the same, said Rosemary Morgan, an international health researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. There’s no vaccine-specific research to support this claim, but men are less likely than women to see doctors when they are sick, so they may also be less likely to report side effects, she said.

Still, there’s no question that biology plays an important role.

Research has shown that, compared with their male counterparts, women and girls produce more — sometimes twice as many — infection-fighting antibodies in response to the vaccines for influenza, M.M.R., yellow fever, rabies, and hepatitis A and B. They often mount stronger responses from immune fighters called T cells, too.

Sex hormones including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone can bind to the surface of immune cells and influence how they work. Exposure to estrogen causes immune cells to produce more antibodies in response to the flu vaccine, for example.

The size of a vaccine dose may also be important. Studies have shown that women absorb and metabolize drugs differently than men do, often needing lower doses for the same effect. But until the 1990s, drug and vaccine clinical trials largely excluded women.

Families of Covid-19 victims who died in New York nursing homes gathered in October to demand Gov. Andrew Cuomo apologize.
Credit...Yuki Iwamura/Associated Press

The publisher of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s book on his leadership during the pandemic said it had stopped promoting the title because of an inquiry into the withholding of data on the deaths of nursing home residents.

Sales of the book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic,” had already slowed severely as the governor found himself embroiled in overlapping crises, including a drumbeat of accusations about his inappropriate behavior toward younger women and his aides’ manipulation of nursing home data.

Gillian Blake of Crown Publishing Group said in response to an email from The New York Times that there were “no plans to reprint or to reissue in paperback” Mr. Cuomo’s book, citing “the ongoing investigation into N.Y.S. reporting of Covid-related fatalities in nursing homes.”

The book was published by Crown, a division of Penguin Random House, which rushed to get it into print last year. The publisher celebrated its acquisition in an announcement last summer, describing how Mr. Cuomo, “in his own voice,” would write about “the decision-making that shaped his political policy.”

A spokesman for Mr. Cuomo did not immediately return a request for comment.

Mr. Cuomo and his top aides concealed the actual number of nursing home residents with Covid-19 who died, excluding those who died in hospitals out of the state’s official count for all of last year.

The Cuomo administration released the data in February, after a report by the state attorney general, Letitia James, suggested widespread undercounting. A court ordered the data to be made public after a Freedom of Information lawsuit by the Empire Center, a conservative think tank.

Mr. Cuomo had begun working on the book by early last summer as he received praise for his pandemic leadership and rode a wave of national popularity fueled by his daily news conferences.

The decision to publish a triumphant account of the state’s battle against coronavirus was questioned by some political observers at the time, especially considering the crushing death toll in New York and the second wave of the disease that was looming even as Mr. Cuomo did promotional events. Mr. Cuomo, however, said the book was not premature, arguing it was “halftime” in the pandemic and noting that the manuscript offered a “blueprint for going forward.”

Military police patrolling the streets after a lockdown in Budapest in March last year.
Credit...Zoltan Balogh/MTI, via Associated Press

The coronavirus pandemic has weakened democracy across Europe, according to a human rights group that looked into 14 countries. On Tuesday, the group warned against increasing threats to journalists, limits on freedom to protest, and the weakening independence of the judicial systems, among other developments.

Governments across the world have seized extraordinary powers to fight the pandemic, and from South America to Europe and Asia, critics have cautioned that new powers that have little to do with the public health crisis could bear consequences on the rule of law for years to come.

Fears over the misuse of such prerogatives by governments in Eastern Europe have been widely documented, and in its report, the Berlin-based Civil Liberties Union for Europe said that countries such as Hungary, Poland or Slovenia had used the pandemic to strengthen their hold on power and limit criticism of the government.

But the report also sheds a new light on threats that loom in countries with strong democratic participation such as France, Germany, Ireland and Sweden.

“People’s freedoms, including the right to protest, have been curtailed in a bid to stop the spread of the virus and lawmaking has often gone through fast-track procedures,” the report said. It added that these extraordinary measures had “limited oversight of the executive and restricted the possibility for civil society to get involved in the political process.”

The group also warned about an increasingly hostile environment for journalists in Spain and Italy, and the rising disruption of protests and arbitrary detention of protesters in France, Croatia, and Bulgaria. In Germany, the police cracked down on protests that happened despite protesters respecting social distancing rules, the report noted, and in Ireland, privacy concerns around a Covid tracking app have remained unanswered by the authorities.

“No E.U. country is immune to threats to democracy and more concrete efforts are badly needed to revert worrying trends,” the group said.

The main square in Gosol, in northeastern Spain, this month. Until last year, the town census had gone down in nearly every count since the 1960s.
Credit...Samuel Aranda for The New York Times

GÓSOL, Spain — The castle that crowns the hill above the village of Gósol used to be among the grandest along Spain’s border with France, with views of fertile farms and forests rich in timber that stretched up to the cloudy mountaintops.

But the castle is in ruins now, and until last year, Gósol had fallen on hard times, too. The town census had gone down in nearly every count since the 1960s. The school was on the verge of closing for lack of students. The mayor had even taken to television with a plea to his countrymen: Come to Gósol, he asked, or the town would disappear.

It took a pandemic for Spaniards to heed his call.

Among those who packed their bags was Gabriela Calvar, a 37-year-old who once owned a bar in a beach town near Barcelona, but watched it go under during last year’s lockdowns and decamped to the mountains for a new start.

María Otero, a web designer who found she could telecommute, brought her husband and three children to Gósol, the place where her grandparents had been born, but where she had only spent the summers milking cows on visits.

It was the rare silver lining of a troubled time: About 20 or 30 newcomers to a dwindling town of 140 souls, where even the tiny school on the town plaza got a second chance after parents started enrolling their children there.

“If it weren’t for Covid, the school would have closed,” said Josep Tomás Puig, 67, a retired mail carrier in Gósol who spent his life watching the younger generation depart to Spain’s cities. “And if the school closed, the town might as well have closed too.”

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