COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 digest: U.S. mandates COVID vaccines for millions of workers

Published : September 10, 2021 19:23 IST

As the U.S. battles a surge in cases among the unvaccinated, U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled new vaccine and testing rules for workers. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled a new COVID-19 vaccine plan that will affect around 100 million workers as cases spike.

U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled a raft of new measures on September 9 mandating vaccines for both federal workers and issuing new rules for private companies, as COVID-19 cases surge among the unvaccinated. The president outlined a six-pronged plan to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases, driven by the delta variant.

Under a new executive order, all federal workers and contractors working for the U.S. government will be required to be fully vaccinated. The order will affect around 2.5 million people.

In a surprise move, the Biden administration will also issue a rule requiring private companies with 100 or more employees to ensure their staff are vaccinated — or that they present a negative test once a week. The rules would apply to an estimated 80 million workers. "A distinct minority of Americans supported by a distinct minority of elected officials are keeping us from turning the corner," Biden said in a speech.

The measures have not gone down well with Republican lawmakers. House Republicans’ official Twitter handle compared the Biden administration with an "authoritarian" regime. The Republican party later issued a statement saying they would sue the Democrat-led administration should it move to enforce the new rules.

Despite a campaign by the Biden administration urging all eligible Americans to get the free vaccines, just over 53 per cent of Americans are fully vaccinated and the vaccination uptake has stalled. Just two months ago, Biden prematurely declared the nation's "independence" from the virus.

Here are some more coronavirus headlines from around the world:

Europe

In North Macedonia, an explosion rocked a hospital for coronavirus patients in the town of Tetovo late on Wednesday. The ensuing fire killed 14 people. "A huge tragedy has occurred in the Tetovo COVID-19 center," Prime Minister Zoran Zaev wrote on Twitter, before traveling to the affected area on September 9.

While officials were still trying to determine the exact cause of the disaster, deputy fire chief Saso Trajcevski said that because the hospital was modular, all of the plastic in the building materials had contributed to the rapid spread of the fire. The hospital was newly built last December as the small country struggled to find enough beds for coronavirus patients.

Police in Italy warned on September 9 that anti-vaccine protesters were planning violent attacks, possibly against the government and police. They said they had placed eight individuals from around the country under observation after reading threats and plans they had posted in a Telegram messaging group called "the warriors."

Some of those under surveillance had their homes searched and evidence seized. A demonstration is set to take place in Rome on September 11. Protesters are angry about a new rule that will see vaccine requirements to enter many entertainment and cultural venues.

Germany's finance and economy ministries have announced that aid to businesses struggling due to the pandemic will be extended by a further three months, lasting until the end of the year. The country's seven-day incidence rate of hospitalizations, which is now being used as a metric instead of case numbers, has risen to 1.89 up from 1.79 the previous day. A total of 15,431 new cases were also registered by Germany's disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

The European Union's drugs regulator has approved an increase in manufacturing capacity for the BioNTech-Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The European Medicines Agency said the sites, both in Germany, would help produce up to 50 million additional doses this year. One of the sites is operated by Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland Gmb and the other is operated by Siegfried Hameln GmbH.

Spain's coronavirus incidence has slipped below 150 cases per 100,000 people - the Spanish Health Ministry's threshold for a "high risk" of contagion - for the first time in more than two months. The indicator, measured over the past 14 days, fell to around 140 cases from 150 the previous day.

Asia

In Japan, the government announced that restrictions in Tokyo and other regions will be extended to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed as the country fights its fifth wave of the pandemic. The lockdowns affect about 80 per cent of Japan's 126 million inhabitants. Japan has recently been dropped from a number of countries' lists of safe travel destinations.

The government of Singapore has said that it will finally be relaxing restrictions for migrant workers who live in dormitories, more than a year after imposing strict curbs on their movements as cases surged in the often cramped quarters. Some 90 per cent of those workers are now vaccinated, but will still be required to present a negative COVID test when visiting public spaces.

Nearly 100 children have come down with COVID-19 at an orphanage in the Philippines, after an asymptomatic adult visited the facility in Quezon city. Of the 122 people infected, 99 were children, Quezon Mayor Joy Belmonte said. Belmonte chastised the organization for not following legal safety protocols, saying that "the children could have been saved from the life-threatening risks of COVID" if the orphanage had adhered to standard procedures.

Oceania

Officials in Australia have announced an end to Sydney's strict, months-long lockdown. Cafes, shops, gyms, and other businesses will reopen in the second half of October, the government of New South Wales said. In the same announcement, New South Wales said stay-at-home orders for fully vaccinated individuals would be lifted once its target of a 70 per cent vaccination rate among adults was attained.

rs, es/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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