The Latest: Illinois pays $443M in pandemic rental relief
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office says more than $443 million in emergency rental assistance has been paid on behalf of 49,100 state households through the Illinois Rental Payment Program.
It provides up to $25,000 in emergency rental assistance to cover up to 12 months of past due rent and up to three months of future rent payments for tenants suffering a financial hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Payments are made directly to the landlord on behalf of the tenant, but only if the landlord doesn’t pursue eviction.
“Having a roof over your head is the foundation of a thriving life,” Pritzker said Friday in a release, “and Illinois is fiercely combatting the pandemic’s destabilizing effects on that foundation by keeping our residents on their feet.”
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— California to require school children get vaccines, once age approved
— Merck says experimental pill cuts effects of COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths
— Justice Kavanaugh tests positive for virus, has no symptoms
— Foundations aim to persuade Americans to get vaccinated
See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SAN FRANCISCO — California has announced the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine mandate for school children.
Gov. Gavin Newsom says the mandate won’t take effect until the COVID-19 vaccine has received final approval from the U.S. government for various grade levels.
The government has given final approval for the vaccine for anyone 16 and older. Once final approval comes for anyone 12 and older, the state will mandate vaccines for students in seventh through 12th grades.
The state will mandate the vaccine in kindergarten through sixth grades once the federal government gives final approval for anyone 5 and older.
The state’s vaccine mandate would take effect the semester after the federal government grants final approval. If it comes in January, then the mandate would take effect in July.
Students would be granted religious and medical exemptions, but the rules for how the state would apply those exemptions have not been written yet.
In August, California became the first state in the U.S. to require all teachers and staff in K-12 public and private schools to get vaccinated or undergo weekly COVID-19 testing. Newsom also issued a school mask mandate this summer for indoor classes that applies to all teachers and students.
NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana’s largest health system is ratcheting up pressure to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate reports Ochsner Health told employees it will charge a monthly premium of $200 if a spouse or domestic partner covered under an Ochsner health plan is not vaccinated. Ochsner has previously set an Oct. 29 deadline for all employees to be vaccinated.
President and CEO Warner Thomas says the surcharge is part of an effort to keep health premiums low for employees. As a self-insured organization, Ochsner bears the cost of COVID-19 treatment for patients who are on its insurance plan.
“We spent more than $9 million on COVID care for those who are covered on our health plans over the last year,” Thomas told The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate in an emailed statement, which included intensive patient care.
Thomas says the surcharge doesn’t amount to a mandate because employees’ spouses and partners can choose other insurance coverage. The spouses and partners can also apply for an exemption on medical or religious grounds.
More than 2.1 million people in Louisiana are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, about 45% of the state’s population, according to health department data.
The state reported 872 coronavirus cases and 49 confirmed deaths on Thursday. Louisiana has registered a total of 740,533 cases and 13,949 deaths.
(This item has been corrected to show Louisiana has fully vaccinated 45% of population, not 56%.)
ROME — Some 1,100 doctors and dentists in Italy are currently suspended because they haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19.
The National Federation of Doctors President Filippo Anelli stressed Friday that those who aren’t vaccinated are a minority of the federation’s 460,000 members (less than 1%) and indicated “many are currently correcting their status” through vaccination.
The federation says some 290 others had their suspension lifted because they got vaccinated. Anelli said in a statement about 500 doctors who appealed their suspensions are still allowed to practice until a final decision is reached.
The federation’s web site lists the names of 363 doctors or dentists who have died of COVID-19.
WASHINGTON — Biden administration officials say a new pill that could provide an easier, effective way to treat COVID 19 is good news, while adding vaccination remains the key to controlling the pandemic.
Officials at drugmaker Merck say they’ll soon seek regulatory approval for the experimental pill, which reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci calls it “very good news” and Merck’s data on its medicine “impressive.”
White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients says vaccination will remain the government’s main strategy for controlling the pandemic.
“We want to prevent infections, not just wait to treat them when they happen,” says Zients at the briefing on Friday.
If it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the government has contracted to buy 1.7 million doses of Merck’s medication.
NEW DELHI — India says arrivals from Britain will be subjected to COVID-19 tests and a 10-day quarantine, in response to the same measures imposed on Indians visiting the U.K.
India has been demanding that Britain revoke what it calls a discriminatory advisory that includes Indians, even if they are fully vaccinated with the Indian-made AstraZeneca shots.
India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar discussed the issue with the British foreign secretary Liz Truss in New York this week. India was irked that while the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has been recognized by Britain, its version produced by Serum Institute of India has been excluded.
Starting Monday, all British arrivals, irrespective of their vaccination status, will have to undertake PRC tests within 72 hours before travel and again after travel.
India, the world’s largest vaccine producer, said this week it will resume exports and donations of surplus coronavirus vaccines in October after a long freeze because of the massive surge in domestic infections last spring.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has lifted a six-week national lockdown as coronavirus cases and deaths decline. However, movement restrictions remain in place.
The lockdown on Aug. 20 was extended three times as Sri Lanka grappled with an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths from the rapid spread of the delta variant. New daily infections have fallen below 1,000 and deaths under 100, from a peak of more than 3,000 cases and 200 deaths early September.
Despite the end of the lockdown Friday, people are only allowed out for work or to buy essentials. Public gatherings are banned and cinemas, schools and restaurants are still closed.
The move is hoped to boost tourism and ease a decline in foreign exchange that led to a shortage of essential items such as milk powder, sugar, rice and cooking gas.
Sri Lanka has reported more than 516,000 confirmed cases and 12,847 confirmed deaths.
TOKYO — Tokyo’s train stations were packed with commuters Friday as Japan fully came out of a coronavirus state of emergency for the first time in more than six months.
Emergency measures had been in place for more than half of the country, including Tokyo. Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga thanked the people for their patience and cooperation. Cases are declining, but he asked them to stick to their basic anti-virus measures.
The emergency measures have mainly involved requests for eateries to curb alcohol and hours. They can now serve alcohol and operate an hour longer but still close at 9 p.m.
Daily reported cases fell below 1,600 this week nationwide after the mid-August peak of 25,000. Health experts attributed the declining numbers to vaccinations and increased social distancing after alarm from the near collapse of medical systems during the summer.
Nearly 59% of Japanese people have been fully vaccinated. Japan has reported 1.6 million cases and 17,641 confirmed deaths.
WASHINGTON — Pharmaceutical company Merck says its experimental COVID-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus.
Merck’s drug would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19, a potentially major advance in efforts to fight the pandemic. The study results were released by the company and have not been peer reviewed. An independent group of medical advisers monitoring the trial recommended stopping it early because the interim results were so strong.
Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics say early results showed patients who received the drug, called molnupiravir, within five days of COVID-19 symptoms had about half the rate of hospitalization and death as patients who received a dummy pill. The study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who were considered higher risk for severe disease due to health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease.
Such medications are seen as key to controlling future waves of infection and reducing the impact of the pandemic.
The company says it will soon ask health officials in the U.S. and around the world to authorize its use. The U.S. government has committed to purchase 1.7 million doses of the drug if it is authorized by the FDA.
MOSCOW — Coronavirus deaths in Russia hit a record on Friday for the fourth straight day, and confirmed cases continued to surge as well.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force reported 887 deaths, the country’s highest daily number in the pandemic. The previous record, from a day earlier, stood at 867.
The task force also reported 24,522 new confirmed cases from Thursday — the highest daily tally since late July.
“The dynamic is bad. It elicits concern,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday.
The Russian government has no plans to impose a lockdown, according to Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, the head of the task force.
Russia has had only one nationwide lockdown, at the beginning of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. The country’s authorities have shunned imposing tough restrictions ever since.
Peskov pointed out that many regional governments have their own infection-control measures, but he wouldn’t say whether the Kremlin considered those rules sufficient.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has outlined plans to lift a pandemic ban on its vaccinated citizens traveling overseas from November. But no date has yet been set for welcoming international tourists back.
Travel restrictions that have trapped most Australians and permanent residents at home over the past 18 months would be removed when 80% of the population aged 16 and older were fully vaccinated, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.
Australia introduced some of the toughest travel restrictions of any democracy in the world on people entering and leaving the island nation on March 20 last year. Most Australians have had to argue for rare exemptions from the travel ban to leave the country. Tourism is never accepted as a reason to cross the border.
Hundreds of thousands have failed to reach relatives’ death beads, missed funerals or weddings and have yet to be introduced to grandchildren because of restrictions aimed at keeping COVID-19 out of Australia.
New South Wales would likely become the first state to reach the 80% vaccination benchmark and Sydney’s airport the first to open to international travel, Morrison said.