The Latest: Australian cities move closer to ending lockdown
SYDNEY — Australia’s two largest cities are moving closer to ending lockdowns as vaccination rates climb, but leaders are warning that people should remain cautious with their newfound freedoms and that coronavirus case numbers will inevitably rise.
In New South Wales state, where an outbreak continues to grow in Sydney, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has set a target of reopening on Oct. 11 once vaccination milestones are reached.
But she said Friday it would need to be done “with a degree of caution and responsibility” because otherwise too many people would end up in hospitals. Meanwhile in Victoria State, where there is an outbreak in Melbourne,
Health Minister Martin Foley said there had been a “tremendous” increase in vaccinations and there was “no shortage of enthusiasm” among people wanting to get jabs.
Health officials in New South Wales reported 1,043 new cases and 11 deaths on Friday, while officials in Victoria reported 733 new cases and one death.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— ″Vaccine apartheid’: Africans tells UN they need vaccines
— New York state health commissioner resigns, backed Cuomo
— CDC advisers try to work out details on booster shots
— Some Argentines turn to unusual pandemic pets for comfort
See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea has reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus since the start of the pandemic as people returned from the country’s biggest holiday of the year.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said more than 1,750 of the 2,434 new cases reported Friday were from the greater capital area, where officials have raised concern over an erosion in citizen vigilance despite the enforcement of the strongest social distancing rules short of a lockdown since July.
It was expected that transmissions would worsen beyond the capital region during the Chuseok holidays, the Korean version of Thanksgiving which began on the weekend and continued through Wednesday, a period when millions usually travel across the country to meet relatives.
“It will be crucial to maintain the effectiveness of our anti-virus campaign throughout next week, when the effect of increased travel during the holidays will manifest more clearly,” Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said during a virus briefing.
The restrictions in the Seoul metropolitan area prevents gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m. unless the participants are fully vaccinated. Officials have said people’s exhaustion and frustration with social distancing are becoming an increasing challenge in the country’s fight against COVID-19.
The country has now reported a daily increase of more than 1,000 for 80 straight days. It’s previous one-day record was 2,221 reported on Aug. 11.
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Indiana State University will require that all students and staff show proof of vaccination by Jan. 1 or be tested each week for COVID-19, the school’s president said Thursday.
The announcement by Deborah Curtis is a shift in policy. The university has been encouraging vaccinations this fall but has not made them mandatory. Masks are required indoors.
Some students whose school work takes them off campus must be regularly tested or get the vaccine, starting Oct. 1.
“As the pandemic has evolved locally, statewide and across the country, we have remained committed to making decisions based upon guidance” from federal, state and local health officials, Curtis said.
More details about the vaccination plan will be released before the end of fall term, she said.
Indiana State has 9,400 students.
SEATTLE – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Thursday the state’s eviction protections will remain in place through the end of October because counties aren’t getting federal and state COVID-19 relief funds intended for rental assistance out fast enough ahead of the current moratorium that was set to expire Sept. 30.
Under an eviction moratorium “bridge” that Inslee announced in June, landlords were prevented from evicting tenants for any past-due rent owed from Feb. 29, 2020 through July 31, 2021.
Since Aug. 1, renters have been expected to pay full rent unless they negotiate a lesser amount with their landlord or are actively seek rental assistance. Tenants must also be provided in writing what services and support are available to them and landlords must offer them a reasonable repayment plan before starting the eviction process.
Those protections will now remain in place until Oct. 31.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Florida school district has received cash from President Joe Biden’s administration to make up for state pay cuts imposed over a board’s vote for a student anti-coronavirus mask mandate.
Alachua County school Superintendent Carlee Simon said in a news release Thursday the district has received $148,000 through a U.S. Department of Education program.
Simon says Alachua, where Gainesville and the University of Florida are located, is the first district in the nation to receive such a grant.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and state education officials have begun cutting salaries paid to school board members in Florida who voted to require masks for students. DeSantis favors allowing parents to decide whether their children wear face coverings and is in the midst of court battles over this broader issue.
About a dozen school boards in Florida, representing more than half the state’s students, have voted to defy the state ban on mask mandates despite Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to withhold some of their funding.
RALEIGH, N.C. — More than one-third of the 56,000 North Carolina government employees included in Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order compelling them to get a COVID-19 shot or face weekly testing have not been fully vaccinated, according to new state data.
Law enforcement officials are getting vaccinated at the lowest rates, though the state said it is still processing a large set of data from the Department of Public Safety. Less than 53% of the 21,804 employees within that department who are subject to Cooper’s directive have been fully vaccinated.
This is substantially lower than the 63% of North Carolina adults who have gotten one Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two Pfizer or Moderna shots, as of Thursday.
Cooper said in a news conference Tuesday that he is particularly concerned by the number of prison officials who have thus far refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“It’s probably the most concerning because we know there’s close quarters and congregated populations there, so we really want to work on those percentages,” Cooper said. “Right now, we’re setting up discipline procedures for people who do not do the vaccination or the testing, and there are some employees who are beginning to fall in that category.”
The Department of Public Safety is the largest agency covered under Cooper’s order, followed by the state Department of Health and Human Services, which has three-fourths of its more than 15,000 employees subject to Cooper’s directive fully vaccinated.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Alabama has averaged more than 100 deaths a day from COVID-19 over the last week, statistics showed Thursday, giving it the nation’s highest death rate over the period even as hospitalizations linked to the coronavirus pandemic continue to decline.
Statistics from Johns Hopkins University show 106 deaths were reported statewide daily over the last seven days, although some of those could have occurred earlier because of a lag in reporting. Alabama’s rate of 18 deaths for every 100,000 people over the last week is far above second-place West Virginia, which had 10 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The increase in deaths come as hospitalizations in the state fell below 1,800 patients for the first time in a month, a change health officials said likely was due to both people getting well and dying.
While more people are getting vaccinated than before the highly contagious delta strain took hold, the state still has one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates, and its chief health officer said still more people need to get shots because the risk of getting infected remains high.
“Increasing vaccine rates remains critical to reduce cases of COVID-19,” Dr. Scott Harris, head of the Alabama Department of Public Health, said in a statement Thursday.
NEW YORK — The inequity of COVID-19 vaccine distribution is coming into sharper focus as many of the African countries whose populations have little to no access to the life-saving shots stepped to the podium to speak at the U.N.’s annual meeting of world leaders.
South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa pointed to vaccines as “the greatest defense that humanity has against the ravages of this pandemic.”
Ramaphosa, speaking by video link, urged U.N. member states to support a proposal to temporarily waive certain intellectual property rights established by the World Trade Organization to allow more countries, particularly low- and middle-income countries, to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
“It is an indictment on humanity that more than 82% of the world’s vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than 1% has gone to low-income countries,” he says.
Angola president João Lourenço says: “These disparities allow for third doses to be given, in some cases. While in other cases, as in Africa, the vast majority of the population has not even received the first dose.”
The U.S., Britain, France, Germany and Israel are among the countries administering boosters or have announced plans to do so. Namibia president Hage Geingob called it “vaccine apartheid.”
OAKLAND, Calif. — The Oakland Board of Education has voted to require students 12 and older to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend in-person school.
The move late Wednesday makes Oakland Unified the first school district in Northern California to adopt a vaccine requirement. The vote comes after Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district, and the smaller Southern California district of Culver City imposed similar policies for their students this month.
Several other school boards in the San Francisco Bay Area are considering similar measures as schools try to navigate in-person instruction during the pandemic.
ISTANBUL — A Turkish school official is using traditional shadow puppet shows to teach children how to follow COVID-19 restrictions in class, the state-run news agency reported Thursday.
Mehmet Saylan, based in the central Anatolian city of Kirsehir, has been staging Karagoz plays to educate kindergarten and primary school pupils. Karagoz was popularized during the Ottoman period and often contains a moral message.
“I cover the issues of masks, distance and hygiene,” Saylan, 39, told Anadolu Agency. “The children do what they see and hear in the play with more enjoyment and willingness. The feedback we get from schools is also very positive. The children learn the rules of the pandemic while having fun.”
NEW YORK — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul says state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has submitted his resignation. Hochul said Thursday that Zucker has agreed to stay on until the state names a new commissioner.
Zucker was appointed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo as state health commissioner in 2015. He has faced heated criticism over the state’s COVID-19 response, particularly in nursing homes.
Data released by the state earlier this year show 15,800 people living in nursing homes and other long-term care homes in New York have died of COVID-19.
Zucker has defended a since-rescinded March 2020 directive that said nursing homes couldn’t refuse to admit patients solely because they had COVID-19.
Zucker also faced criticism from health care workers who said the state failed to ensure hospitals and nursing homes had adequate personal protective gear and staffing during the peak of the pandemic in New York.
FOND DU LAC, Wis. — A 26-year-old Fond du Lac police officer has died of COVID-19 complications, according to his department.
The death of Officer Joseph Kurer on Wednesday came a day after his second child was born, according to a statement from Chief Aaron Goldstein.
Kurer joined the Fond du Lac Police Department in August 2018 and was a member of the Tactical Field Force Team, the Honor Guard Unit, Domestic Violence Intervention Team and was certified as a field training officer.
Kurer also was a member of the Wisconsin National Guard, according to his department.
HELENA, Mont. — Medical providers and Montana residents with compromised immune systems are challenging a state law that prevents employers from mandating vaccines for employees.
They argue the law passed by the 2021 Legislature violates federal requirements for safe workplaces and reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities and want a federal judge to rule it doesn’t apply to hospitals and other medical providers.
The Montana Medical Association, private physician groups, a Missoula hospital and seven individuals filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Missoula on Wednesday. The complaint names Attorney General Austin Knudsen and Commissioner of Labor and Industry Laurie Esau as defendants.
Montana’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law that said requiring vaccines as a condition of employment is discriminatory and violates the state’s human rights laws. Montana is the only state with such a law.
Knudsen’s office says he’ll defend the law, and is committed to protecting Montanans’ right to privacy and their ability to make their own healthcare decisions.
The complaint argues the new law prevents medical providers from taking steps to protect employees and patients who have compromised immune systems and violates Occupational Safety and Health Act provisions that require employers to provide workplaces free from hazards.
LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is scrapping many of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions, after becoming the world leader in the vaccination rollout.
Portugal has fully vaccinated nearly 85% of the population, according to Our World in Data.
The government says starting Oct. 1, it will remove limits on how many people can be in cafes and restaurants, weddings and baptisms, shopping malls, concerts and cinemas. Bars and discos will reopen, although only for vaccinated people and people with negative coronavirus tests.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa said some restrictions need to stay in place. The wearing of face masks will still be mandatory on public transportation, in hospitals and care homes, and shopping malls. People arriving from abroad by air or sea must still show a vaccine certificate or a negative virus test.
“The pandemic isn’t over,” he said. “The risk is still there.”
Naval Rear Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo, with his team from the three branches of the armed forces, took charge of the vaccine rollout in February.
Tiago Correia, an associate professor in international public health at Lisbon’s New University Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, credits the traditional consenting attitude in Portugal toward national vaccination programs. Its vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella is 95% —one of the EU’s highest — and there’s no significant anti-vaccination movement.