WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden is toughening COVID-19 vaccine requirements for federal workers and contractors as he aims to boost vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant that is killing thousands each week and jeopardizing the nation’s economic.
That’s according to a person familiar with the plans, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Biden has signed a new executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors that do business with the federal government. The step comes in advance of a speech Thursday afternoon outlining a six-pronged plan to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots.
Biden has encouraged COVID-19 vaccine requirements in schools, workplaces and university campuses. The White House hopes the strengthened federal mandate will inspire more businesses to follow suit.
—By Zeke Miller
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— WHO: Africa’s already thin vaccine supply to drop by 25%
— President Biden to lay out plans to boost vaccine uptake
— ‘Long COVID’ can affect children and teens as well as adults
— Japan to extend virus emergency in Tokyo, other areas until end of month
— See AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NAIROBI, Kenya — The World Health Organization’s Africa director says “we will get 25% less doses than we were anticipating by the end of the year” to combat COVID-19.
While the COVAX facility has delivered over 5 million vaccine doses to African countries in the past week, Matshidiso Moeti says, “three times as many doses have been thrown away in the United States alone” since March.
Moeti’s comments to reporters came as the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said just 3% of people across the African continent have been fully vaccinated.
“Every dose is precious,” Moeti said. “If companies and countries prioritize vaccine equity, this pandemic would be over quickly.”
African health officials are dismayed by Wednesday’s announcement that the global COVAX effort to distribute vaccines to low-and middle-income countries is again cutting its delivery forecast. It projects about 1.4 billion doses will be available through the program by year’s end, down from the expected 1.8 billion.
That revision, Moeti said, is “in part because of the prioritization of bilateral deals over international solidarity.” Also, the rollout of booster shots by some richer countries has caused alarm. WHO officials say the target of vaccinating 10% of people in Africa by the end of this month is being missed. The goal is to vaccinate 40% by the end of the year.
Moeti reported a decrease of nearly 25% in new cases in Africa last week, “the steepest drop in eight weeks since the peak in July.”
AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency expects to decide on whether four more coronavirus vaccines, including ones made by China and Russia, should be recommended for authorization across Europe by the end of the year.
Dr. Marco Cavaleri, the agency’s head of vaccines strategy, says the regulator was currently reviewing results of the vaccines made by CureVac and Novavax. The agency officials plan to discuss the shots with both companies “in the coming weeks.”
Earlier this year, CureVac reported its vaccine was less than 50% effective, while Novavax said its shot was about 90% effective. Novavax said it would seek approval first in developing countries rather than focus on the EU or the U.S. markets.
Cavaleri says talks with the Chinese and Russian producers of vaccines had been “constructive,” but more data are needed.
PARIS — France has given citizenship to more than 12,000 health care workers, grocery cashiers and others who carried out essential work during the pandemic and repeated lockdowns.
A year ago, the government offered a special, accelerated citizenship procedure to front-line workers amid the virus crisis. The minister in charge of citizenship issues, Marlene Schiappa, announced the results on Thursday.
Of 16,381 people who applied, 12,012 “have become French,” she said in a statement.
“Health workers, security and cleaning workers, childcare workers, cashiers, home aid workers, garbage collectors ... the Republic is honored to welcome these new French citizens,” she said.
France imposed a strict lockdown in early 2020 and milder confinement measures later to help contain surges of the virus. Hospitalizations and infections have been subsiding in recent weeks after the government stepped up vaccination measures.
TOKYO — Japan has extended a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and 18 other areas until the end of September as health care systems remain under severe strain.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says serious cases remain high and are still overwhelming many hospitals. Despite the prolonged emergency, the largely voluntary measures have become less effective as the exhausted public increasingly ignores them.
The extension covers a period when Japan’s government is in transition. Suga has announced he is not running in a Sept. 29 race for his party’s leadership, and his successor in that race likely will be the next prime minister. His government has faced sharp criticism over its handling of the virus.
About 49% of people have completed inoculations, with the rate expected to exceed 60% by the end of September, Nishimura says.
NEW YORK — United Airlines says more than half its workers who weren’t vaccinated last month have gotten the shots since the airline announced it will require proof of vaccination.
The airline is detailing rules around its requirement that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 by late September. United officials say employees with an exemption from vaccination because of medical conditions or religious beliefs will be placed on unpaid leave in early October. Those whose exemption requests are denied, and who still refuse to get the shots, will be fired.
United is citing “dire” statistics around the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States in explaining its new policy.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will outline a six-pronged federal effort to boost COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant of the coronavirus that is killing thousands each week and jeopardizing the nation’s economic recovery.
The White House says Biden’s afternoon speech Thursday will encourage vaccinations for those who haven’t had a shot and promote new ways to protect those who are vaccinated. He’ll also push efforts to safely keep schools open, as well as new ways to boost testing and promote mask requirements. And he’ll emphasize steps to boost the economic recovery and moves to improve treatment for those with COVID-19.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki says Biden will encourage vaccine mandates for workforces and schools.
She says: “We know that increasing vaccinations will stop the spread of the pandemic, will get the pandemic under control, will return people to normal life. That’s what our objective is. So we want to be specific about what we’re trying to achieve.”
MANILA, Philippines — As COVID-19 patients fill Philippine hospitals to capacity, officials say the coronavirus has hit an orphanage and infected almost 100 children.
Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said the outbreak in the orphanage could have been prevented and “the children could have been saved from the life-threatening risks of COVID” had minimum health standards been strickly followed.
Of the 122 people infected, 99 are age 18 and younger while the rest are personnel of the Gentlehands Orphanage, the mayor said in a statement Thursday. The virus apparently spread when an adult who was infected but didn’t have symptoms visited the orphanage in the city in metropolitan Manila.
The Philippines reported 12,751 new cases and 174 deaths on Wednesday and has totaled 2.1 million cases and 34,672 confirmed deaths.
SYDNEY — Parts of Australia’s New South Wales state will come out of lockdown Saturday and the government plans to ease restrictions in Sydney once 70% of its residents aged 16 and older are fully vaccinated.
The government on Thursday outlined plans to ease restrictions in Sydney, which has been locked down since June, but it also warned that COVID-19 hospitalizations won’t plateau until next month.
Coastal areas north of Sydney, the Murrumbidgee region south of the city and the Riverina to the west will be released from the statewide lockdown Saturday.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian says Australia’s most populous state will exit lockdown in a “cautious and staged” way as vaccination rates rise. In New South Wales, 43% of the population aged 16 and older is fully vaccinated.
HONOLULU — The state of Hawaii is launching a program that will allow people to use their smart phones to prove they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The move comes shortly before Honolulu and Maui begin instituting vaccine requirements for patrons of restaurants and other businesses.
State officials say people who have been vaccinated in Hawaii will be able to upload a photo of their paper vaccination card to the Safe Travels Hawaii website to create a digital vaccination record. The website will crosscheck the information with data in the state’s vaccination database.
Diners may show the record to restaurants in lieu of their paper vaccination card.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand is buying an extra 250,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from Spain as it tries to keep a surge in vaccination rates going during an outbreak of the coronavirus in Auckland.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the doses will arrive Friday and she has also got a second, larger deal in the works with another country.
New Zealand was slow to get its vaccination rollout going but has been catching up to other developed since the outbreak of the delta variant began last month. About 55% of New Zealanders have received at least one dose.
New daily community cases have been decreasing and were down to 13 Thursday. Auckland remains in a strict lockdown and health authorities try to extinguish the outbreak entirely.
CARSON CITY, Nev. — All 17 counties in Nevada will be subject to an indoor mask mandate by the end of the week.
Rural Eureka County is the state’s only jurisdiction currently not subject to such a requirement, but its report of high transmission of coronavirus infections for the second week in a row have triggered the mandate to take effect Friday.
The reintroduction of masks and the debut of vaccine requirements in venues like sporting events, conventions and some schools has been met with resistance across the state. In the Las Vegas area, Clark County School District Board of Trustees President Linda Cavazos has received death threats since the district approved a requirement for employees to get vaccinations.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers have shelved bills aimed at requiring workers to either be vaccinated against the coronavirus or get weekly virus tests to keep their jobs.
One measure by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks would have required all workers to either get the coronavirus vaccine or submit to weekly testing. Another bill by Assemblyman Evan Low sought to make sure state law protected businesses that choose to require their workers to be vaccinated.
Neither bill will advance this year.
On Wednesday, more than a thousand people gathered at the state Capitol to protest vaccine mandates. Organizers say they wanted to let lawmakers know they oppose the bills.
ATLANTA — Atlanta’s public safety net hospital is the latest to temporarily cancel elective surgeries, saying it is overrun with COVID-19 patients.
Grady Memorial Hospital CEO John Haupert said Wednesday that the hospital was “inundated” with patients over Labor Day.
Some other Georgia hospitals have already cancelled elective procedures due to the surge in pandemic cases. More than 5,900 people are in Georgia hospitals with COVID-19.
Gov. Brian Kemp has rejected urgings from two Georgia congressmen that he order elective surgeries be postponed in all Georgia hospitals.
Kemp says the congressmen could better help by persuading the federal government to limit how much staffing companies can charge to provide nurses and other workers to supplement hospital capacity. He also says they should demand clearer federal guidance on plans to provide COVID-19 booster shots.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Some South Carolina cities are bringing back indoor mask requirements as the state’s coronavirus outbreak rivals the height of the pandemic last winter before vaccines were widely available.
The cities of Columbia, West Columbia and Cayce in central South Carolina have all adopted requirements that people wear masks in indoor public places except while eating and a few other exceptions.
South Carolina has never had a statewide mask mandate but it allowed local governments to do so in 2020. Most of the mandates faded away after Gov. Henry McMaster ended a 14-month COVID-19 state of emergency in June when the state was seeing about 150 new cases a day.
Now, South Carolina is seeing about 5,400 new coronavirus cases a day, similar to the pandemic’s peak in January.