Latest: President Biden tasks OSHA with vaccine mandate

WASHINGTON — The Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t often make many headlines. Now the Labor Department agency has been tossed into the national debate over federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

President Joe Biden directed OSHA to write a rule forcing employers with at least 100 workers to require staff get vaccinated or produce weekly test results showing they are virus-free.

When Congress created OSHA 50 years ago to police workplace safety, 38 workers were dying on the job every day. Now that figure is closer to 15 — even though the American workforce has more than doubled. OSHA writes rules designed to protect workers from dangers such as toxic chemicals, rickety scaffolding and cave-ins at construction sites.

“The hazard in this case is the infectious worker,” says epidemiologist David Michaels, OSHA director in the Obama administration. “This rule will tell employers: You have to take steps to make sure potentially infectious workers don’t come into the workplace.”

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 650,000 Americans.

The rule will take effect in 29 states where OSHA has jurisdiction, according to a primer by the law firm Fisher Phillips. Other states such as California and North Carolina, with their own federally approved workplace safety agencies, will have up to 30 days to adopt equivalent measures.

“Most employers in my view should greet this with relief,” says Celine McNicholas, former special counsel at the National Labor Relations Board. “This gives them a roadmap of exactly what they need to do.”

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Small agency, big job: Biden tasks OSHA with vaccine mandate

— EXPLAINER: What are current COVID-19 guidelines for schools?

— World leaders must be vaccinated to speak at U.N. General Assembly meeting

— Long weekend holiday turns into 9-week lockdown for AP Vietnam reporter

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— See AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ROME — Italian workers in both the public and private sectors must provide a health pass to access the workplace starting on Oct. 15.

That’s under a decree passed Thursday by Premier Mario Draghi’s broad-based coalition government. The Green Pass measures require proof of vaccination, a negative result on a recent rapid test or recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months.

Unions and right-wing parties are urging employers to provide free coronavirus tests to workers. Slovenia and Greece adopted similar measures this week.

Italy’s measures underscore the government’s determination that the nation won’t face another lockdown even as the numbers of new cases increase, mostly among the non-vaccinated.

The Green Pass requirement covers 14 million private sector workers and 3.4 million in state-supported jobs. Until now, only medical personnel needed to be vaccinated, while the Green Pass mandate was in place only for school employees.

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LONDON — The Scottish government has asked for military help to relieve long waits for ambulances and treatment.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense says it received a request and “we are working hard to identify where we can most effectively assist.”

Pressure on Scottish authorities grew after a 65-year-old Glasgow man died while waiting 40 hours for an ambulance. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologized “unreservedly to anyone that has suffered or is suffering unacceptably long waits.”

She says challenges to the emergency services were “mirrored in health services across the U.K. and indeed many parts of the world because of the realities of COVID.”

The military has been called in several times during the pandemic to bolster civilian health authorities. Scotland registered the highest per capital coronavirus rates in the U.K. in recent weeks, though the number of cases has started to level off.

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BEIJING — Chinese health officials say more than 1 billion people have been fully vaccinated in the world’s most populous country.

That represents 72% of its 1.4 billion people. A National Health Commission spokesperson says 2.16 billion doses have been administered and 1.01 billion people have been fully vaccinated.

The announcement comes as China faces a new outbreak of the delta variant in the southeastern province of Fujian, where 200 cases have been confirmed in the past six days.

Authorities have locked down affected neighborhoods, closed schools and entertainment venues and restricted travel out of Fujian in an effort to keep the virus from spreading.

China has largely stopped the spread by imposing restrictions and mass testing whenever new cases are found. It also limits entry to the country and requires people who arrive to quarantine in a hotel for at least two weeks.

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NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says he reached out to U.N. Secretary General António Guterres two weeks ago, letting him know the city’s vaccination requirements will apply to world leaders at next week’s General Assembly meeting.

The mayor says he understands the U.N. has its own rules and jurisdiction but it was important to have “continuity” of the city’s vaccination rules to protect the progress made against the coronavirus. He says Guterres has been cooperative and understanding.

De Blaiso also responded to objections from Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia about the requirement, saying, “If the Russian ambassador is against it, I’m for it.”

“I have no words for Vladimir Putin and everything else that’s come out of Russia but they’ve invalidated themselves in so many ways, including trying to disrupt our elections,” he said during a news conference.

Among Nebenzia’s objections is the city rule that only World Health Organization-approved vaccines will be accepted, which doesn’t include Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

Participants must show proof of vaccination to gain entry. The city will offer free, walk-in vaccinations — Johnson & Johnson’s single shot — and testing outside the U.N. during the meeting. It’s not immediately clear how the vaccination requirement will be enforced, but it will be up to the U.N.

Some 104 heads of state and government and 23 cabinet ministers plan to deliver speeches in person from the Assembly hall. Leaders of other nations will speak by video.

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TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas schools are experiencing a growing number of coronavirus outbreaks, and school-aged children are getting infected more frequently than any age group.

The state Department of Health and Environment’s latest data shows 63 active coronavirus clusters in schools across the state on Wednesday. Those clusters were responsible for 408 cases and one hospitalization.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports the number of active clusters is up from 31 with 179 cases last week. Also, 34 of this week’s reported clusters are new.

The state’s data shows 450 new cases per 100,000 children ages 5 to 17 the week of Sept. 5.

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PARIS — About 3,000 French health care workers were suspended for not meeting this week’s deadline to get mandatory coronavirus vaccinations, the health minister said Thursday.

Most of those suspended work in support positions and were not medical staff, Health Minister Olivier Veran told RTL radio. The number suspended was lower than projected ahead of the Wednesday deadline.

A few dozen of France’s 2.7 million health care workers have quit their jobs because of the vaccine mandate, he says.

France ordered all health care workers to get vaccinated or be suspended without pay. Most French people support the measure. However, it prompted weeks of protests by a vocal minority against the vaccine mandate.

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BOISE, Idaho — Idaho’s public health leaders have expanded health care rationing statewide amid a massive increase in the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare made the announcement Thursday. St. Luke’s Health System, Idaho’s largest hospital network, asked state health leaders to allow “crisis standards of care” on Wednesday because the increase in COVID-19 patients who are unvaccinated has exhausted the state’s medical resources.

Crisis standards of care means that scarce resources, such as ICU beds, will be allotted to those patients most likely to survive. Kootenai Health in the city of Coeur d’Alene was the first hospital in the state to officially enter crisis standards of care last week.

Idaho is among the least vaccinated U.S. states, with only about 40% of its residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Only Wyoming and West Virginia have lower vaccination rates.

More than 1,300 new coronavirus cases were reported to the state on Wednesday, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The mostly rural state ranks 12th in the U.S. for cases per capita.

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MADRID — Spanish health authorities have approved an additional dose of a COVID-19 vaccine for residents of nursing homes and increased the availability for people with suppressed immune systems.

The new policy includes cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Spain had only previously authorized an additional dose for people with organ transplants and certain groups with suppressed immune systems.

Spain has fully vaccinated 75% of its population, with rates at 98% among those 70 years and up.

Of the 85,000 Spaniards who have lost their lives to the coronavirus, more than 20,500 were residing in nursing homes. An additional 10,500 deaths in nursing homes are suspected from COVID-19 due to symptoms, but people weren’t tested in time to confirm the cause.

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LONDON — Britain is giving coronavirus booster shots to people over age 50 and those 16 to 49 with underlying medical conditions.

The National Health Service says the first shots were administered Thursday to health care workers.

That means more than 30 million people are due to be given a booster at least six months after their second dose of vaccine. More than 81% of British adults have received two doses.

The decision to offer booster shots is not recommended by the World Health Organization, which has asked wealthy nations to delay giving them until every country has vaccinated at least 40% of their people. So far, only a few wealthy countries have recommended the use of boosters.

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HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe officials have told all government employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or they won’t be allowed to come to work.

It wasn’t clear what would happen to those who refused to be vaccinated. State-owned newspaper The Herald reported the government would adopt a policy where unvaccinated workers wouldn’t be paid.

The government is Zimbabwe’s biggest employer and has about 500,000 workers.

Zimbabwe is one of the leading African countries in terms of vaccinations. More than 12% of the southern African nation’s 15 million people are fully vaccinated. That compares to just 3.6% of people across the continent, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Zimbabwe has received more than 11 million doses, mainly the Chinese Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines. The southern African nation announced last month it was opening COVID-19 vaccinations to children ages 14 to 17.

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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin says dozens of his staff have been infected with the coronavirus and he’ll continue his self-isolation because of the outbreak.

The Kremlin announced this week he was self-isolating after someone in his inner circle was infected. Putin tested negative for the coronavirus. He was previously fully vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V.

Putin said Thursday the infections were extensive and “now we have to observe the self-isolation regime for several days.” He was speaking by video link to a summit of the Russia-led Collective Treaty Security Organization.

Russia was the first country to roll out a coronavirus vaccine, but less than 30% of the country is fully vaccinated. The national coronavirus task force says there’s been about 7.2 million cases in the country of 145 million and 195,835 confirmed deaths.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union says it will fund its new heath preparedness and rapid response agency to the tune of 30 billion euros ($35 billion) over the next six years.

The Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority was officially launched Thursday. The aim of HERA is to make sure the EU will be ready when the next crisis strikes.

The 27-nation bloc lagged the U.S. and Britain in vaccination rates because of distribution issues before regrouping and meeting its goal of having 70% of EU adults vaccinated this summer.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who first announced plans for such a medical response agency last year, said this week that the overall total until 2027 could reach 50 billion euros ($59 billion) by 2027.

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LONDON — The World Health Organization’s Africa director says COVID-19 cases across the continent dropped 30% last week, but says it’s hardly reassuring given the dire shortage of vaccines.

WHO’s Dr. Matshidiso Moeti says only 3.6% of Africa’s population have been fully immunized, noting export bans and the hoarding of vaccines by rich countries has resulted in “a chokehold” on vaccine supplies to Africa. “As long as wealthy countries lock COVAX and the African Union out of the market, Africa will miss its vaccination goals,” Moeti said, referring to the U.N.-backed effort to share vaccines with other countries.

She says even if all planned vaccine shipments by COVAX and others arrive on the continent by the end of the year, Africa will still be at least 500 million doses short of African leaders’ initial target of vaccinating 60% of the population by the end of the year.

Dr Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, Chair of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, says some countries donated vaccines that were set to expire within about six weeks, making it difficult for African countries to immunize people before the doses expired.

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