The Latest: Biden to announce sweeping new vaccine rules

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is announcing sweeping new federal vaccine requirements affecting as many as 100 million Americans in an all-out effort to increase COVID-19 vaccinations and curb the surging delta variant that is killing thousands each week and jeopardizing the nation’s economic recovery.

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Biden is also signing an executive order to require vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.

Biden is to announce the new requirements in a Thursday afternoon address from the White House as part of a new “action plan” to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots that has raised doubts among the public over his handling of the pandemic.

Biden’s plans were previewed Thursday afternoon by White House press secretary Jen Psaki and other senior administration officials ahead of the speech.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— In COVID-slammed Idaho, schools risk buckling hospitals

— 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

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

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

BOSTON — The U.S. Education Department has announced a new grant program for schools that get state funding withheld for defying state mask policies.

The measure aims to push back against governors in Iowa, South Carolina and other states attempting to block schools from requiring masks among students and teachers. Some states, including Florida, have withheld the salaries of school leaders who have required masks in defiance of state orders.

Those schools will soon be able to apply for federal grants under Project SAFE to make up for any money lost due to implementing public health measures backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona says school officials should be thanked, not punished, for taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and “this program will allow them to continue that critical work of keeping students safe.”

The money will come from an existing pool of federal funding that the Education Department can use on a range of student safety initiatives. The agency says it will invite districts to apply in the coming weeks.

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ROME — Italy has sent two vaccination teams to the Sicilian island of Lampedusa to vaccinate newly arrived migrants against the coronavirus.

Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese has decreed that migrants arriving in the country must be inoculated. Italy’s virus czar, Gen. Francesco Figliuolo, said in a statement that starting Thursday two teams began work on Lampedusa alongside local health authorities and Italian Red Cross to administer the vaccines.

Lampedusa, a tiny island closer to Africa than the Italian mainland, is one of the main destinations of African-based migrants who pay Libyan or Tunisian smugglers to cross the Mediterranean in hopes of reaching Europe.

Some 40,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by boat so far this year, twice as many as in 2020 and nine times as many as 2019.

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ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s health minister says the country’s first locally developed COVID-19 vaccine is close to seeking approval for emergency use.

Fahrettin Koca tells reporters that the nation aims to start mass producing Turkovac, which uses an “inactivated virus” technology, in October.

The vaccine was developed by Erciyes University. Late-stage trials began in June. Turkey also hopes to export Turkovac to other countries.

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LANSING, Mich. — Michigan health and business officials are renewing a plea for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, citing hospital workforce shortages, unnecessary deaths and concerns that end-of-summer travel and the return to school could fuel a surge in cases.

About 59% of Michigan residents 12 and older have been fully vaccinated, and 65% have gotten at least one dose. Those figures trail behind the national rates of 62% and 73%.

Brian Peters, CEO of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, says hospitals are near capacity as coronavirus caseloads rise and high numbers of non-COVID-19 patients seek care they delayed earlier in the pandemic.

Peters says that “our staffing is stressed to a level that we have not seen previously,” and “one of the ways to prevent that is to get the vaccine.”

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HONOLULU — An officer with the Honolulu Police Department says he has been suspended without pay and faces termination for not complying with the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Cpl. Mark Kutsy was on patrol this week when he was pulled off duty and forced to turn in his gun and badge.

Kutsy says he’s willing to submit to weekly testing. But Honolulu is in the only county in Hawaii not giving an option to test in lieu of vaccination.

State workers also have a vaccination mandate, but they can undergo weekly tests instead.

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FRANKFORT, Ky. — Gov. Andy Beshear says just 90 adult intensive care beds are available in Kentucky as strained hospitals confront the surging delta variant of the coronavirus.

Beshear says that’s a pandemic low, and “that means if you get COVID and need to be hospitalized, there has never been a greater likelihood that there’s not a bed for you or your family members, or your friends.”

Beshear adds that 60 of 96 hospitals in the state currently face a critical staffing shortage. The limited number of ICU beds also will put those in non-virus related emergencies in danger of not receiving care, such as car crash victims.

In the governor’s words, “Our hospital situation has never been more dire in my lifetime than it is right now.”

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BRUSSELS — Belgium’s vaccination task force says people with a weakened immune system will be offered an extra dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines next week.

The task force says the measure is for people over 12 who have reduced immunity due to a condition or a medical treatment. That includes cases of congenital immune disorders, cancer treatments or chronic dialysis.

The task force says “their bodies are less responsive to the vaccine and an additional dose is recommended for optimal protection against severe disease progression, hospitalization or even death.”

Up to 400,000 people among Belgium’s 11.5 million inhabitants will be eligible for an extra shot.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — The Sri Lankan health ministry inoculate young people ages 12 to 18 against COVID-19 soon, saying the move will help reopen the schools, which have been closed for more than six months.

Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella says about 2 million students will be vaccinated and classes for grades 7 to 13 could begin when that is finished.

The government imposed a lockdown Aug. 20 that runs through Sept. 13. The health ministry says 62% of the population above age 20 is vaccinated.

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WASHINGTON — Researchers say federal government data significantly understated the ravages of COVID-19 in nursing homes last year.

Official numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are missing about 12% of cases among nursing home residents and 14% of deaths. That’s according to new estimates published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Network Open, by a Harvard researcher and her team.

It translates to thousands of missing data points, suggesting more than 118,300 nursing home residents died of COVID-19 last year, or about 30% of all coronavirus deaths nationally.

The researchers attributed the data holes to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services not requiring nursing homes to report cases and deaths until May 2020, well into the pandemic. The new estimates rely on numbers from states that required fuller reporting.

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NAIROBI, Kenya — The World Health Organization’s Africa director says the continent will receive 25% fewer coronavirus vaccine doses by year-end than had been expected.

Matshidiso Moeti says that while the COVAX global vaccine initiative has delivered over 5 million vaccine doses to African countries in the past week, “three times as many doses have been thrown away in the United States alone” since March.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says just 3% of people across the continent have been fully vaccinated.

Moeti urges companies and countries to make vaccine equity a priority, saying, “Every dose is precious.”

African health officials are dismayed by Wednesday’s announcement that COVAX is again cutting its delivery forecast through the end of the year from 1.8 billion to about 1.4 billion.

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 will be 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 and said it was the bigget drop in eight week

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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, said Thursday in a statement that of 16,381 applicants, 12,012 “have become French.”

“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.

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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 are still high and are overwhelming many hospitals. Despite the prolonged emergency, the largely voluntary measures have become less effective as an 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.

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NEW YORK — United Airlines says more than half of its workers who weren’t vaccinated last month have gotten the shots since the airline announced it will require proof of inoculation.

The airline is detailing rules around its requirement that employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 by late September. United officials say employees seeking exemption for 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 on the pandemic as the reason for the policy.

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MANILA, Philippines — Philippine officials say the coronavirus has infected almost 100 children at an orphanage.

The outbreak apparently happened when an adult who was infected but asymptomatic visited the orphanage in Quezon City, in metropolitan Manila.

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte says in a statement that 99 minors were infected with the virus along with 33 staffers of the Gentlehands Orphanage.

Belmonte says the outbreak could have been prevented if minimum health standards had been strictly followed.

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HONOLULU — Hawaii is launching a program letting people use their smart phones to prove they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Officials say people who have been vaccinated in the state 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 state’s vaccination database.

Diners may show the record to restaurants in lieu of their paper card.

The move comes shortly before Honolulu and Maui begin instituting vaccine requirements for patrons of restaurants and other businesses.

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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 a second, larger deal is in the works with another country.

New Zealand was slow to roll out vaccinations but has been catching up to other developed countries. About 55% of New Zealanders have now received at least one dose.

New daily community cases have been decreasing and were down to 13 Thursday. Auckland remains in a strict lockdown as health authorities try to extinguish the outbreak entirely.

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