The Latest: WHO official knocks nations that hoard vaccines
NAIROBI, Kenya — The Africa director for the World Health Organization has sharply criticized the decisions by some richer countries to roll out COVID-19 booster shots.
Matshidiso Moeti told journalists on Thursday that the decisions “threaten the promise of a brighter tomorrow for Africa.”
“As some richer countries hoard vaccines, they make a mockery of vaccine equity,” Moeti said.
African health officials, including the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had warned against booster shots in recent weeks as less than 2% of the African continent’s population of 1.3 billion people is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Moeti noted that the latest resurgence in confirmed coronavirus cases across Africa is leveling off but that “Africa is encountering headwinds” as rich countries like the United States decide to roll out booster shots.
The situation in Africa remains “very fragile” as the more infectious delta variant is now dominant in most of the continent’s 54 countries, she said. More than 7.3 million cases, including more than 186,000 deaths, have been confirmed across the continent during the pandemic.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
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— Ethnic health care systems strained in Myanmar amid pandemic
— Pandemic fiction: Upcoming books include stories of the virus
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
HONG KONG — Hong Kong’s government says it has granted a quarantine exemption to an individual to perform “designated professional work” following reports that Hollywood actor Nicole Kidman did not have to spend time in quarantine when she arrived to film a TV series.
The government did not identify Kidman by name. She was spotted out and about in Hong Kong this week after reportedly flying into the city from virus-hit Sydney, Australia. Kidman is filming a new Amazon Prime Video series called “Expats.”
Her quarantine exemption comes as Hong Kong tightened entry restrictions, requiring those arriving from high-risk countries such as the U.S. to spend 21 days in quarantine and fully vaccinated travelers from medium-risk countries to spend 14 days starting Friday.
“The case in discussion has been granted permission to travel to Hong Kong with a quarantine exemption for the purpose of performing designated professional work, taking into account that it is conducive to maintaining the necessary operation and development of Hong Kong’s economy,” the government said in a statement.
The city previously allowed travelers from medium-risk countries to stay just seven days in quarantine at designated hotels if they are fully vaccinated and had a positive antibodies test.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Thousands of people took to the streets of Latvia’s capital of Riga late Wednesday to protest mandatory COVID-19 vaccination.
The Baltic News Service, the region’s main news agency, said the number of people exceeded the maximum allowed for public protests, people did not observe distance, and many didn’t wear face masks.
Up to 3,500 people participated, BNS reported, quoting police.
On Thursday, police said it was investigating after a few minor incidents were reported, including a smashed police car window and firecrackers being used.
The protest ended around midnight.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s two most populous states on Thursday recorded new highs in COVID-19 cases.
New South Wales reported a record 681 cases in the latest 24-hour period, mostly in Sydney. The previous high was 633 on Wednesday.
Neighboring Victoria reported 57 new infections in its capital Melbourne. It was the highest daily tally since the final days of a second wave of infections in early September last year.
Melbourne and the entire state of New South Wales are in lockdown as authorities attempt to stamp out coronavirus spread as Australia had successfully done throughout the pandemic before the delta variant arrived on its shores.
Melbourne is in its 6th lockdown of the pandemic and Thursday marked the 200th day that Australia’s second-most populous city has been locked down.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand will now allow youths aged 12 to 15 to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. Previously, only those aged 16 and over were eligible.
The government announcement Thursday came as the nation remains in a strict lockdown as it deals with a new outbreak of the fast-spreading delta variant, its first virus outbreak in six months.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said there were 11 new infections, bringing the total in the outbreak to 21. She said the outbreak had been linked to a passenger who returned from Sydney earlier this month.
On Tuesday, the government imposed a lockdown of at least three days across the country and of at least seven days in in Auckland and Coromandel. New Zealand health workers are using only the Pfizer vaccine in their inoculation campaign.
UNITED NATIONS — The United States is urging the more than 150 countries planning to send their leader or a government minister to New York to speak at the U.N. General Assembly next month to consider giving a video address instead to prevent the annual high-level week from becoming “a super-spreader event.”
A note from the U.S. Mission sent to the 192 other U.N. member nations also called for all other U.N.-hosted meetings and side events to be virtual, saying these parallel meetings that draw travelers to New York “needlessly increase risk to our community, New Yorkers and the other travelers.”
The U.S. note, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, said the Biden administration is particularly concerned about Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the incoming General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid hosting high-level in-person events on climate change, vaccines, the 20th anniversary of the U.N. World Conference Against Racism, food systems and energy.
“The United States is willing to make every effort to make these important events on shared priorities successful in a virtual format,” the note said.
WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden announced that his administration will require that nursing home staff be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.
Biden unveiled the new policy Wednesday afternoon in a White House address as the administration continues to look for ways to use mandates to encourage vaccine holdouts to get shots.
“If you visit, live or work in a nursing home, you should not be at a high risk for contracting COVID from unvaccinated employees,” Biden said.
The new mandate, in the form of a forthcoming regulation to be issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, could take effect as soon as next month.
Hundreds of thousands of nursing home workers are not vaccinated, according to federal data, despite those facilities bearing the brunt of the early COVID-19 outbreak and their workers being among the first in the country to be eligible for shots.
It comes as the Biden administration seeks to raise the costs for those who have yet to get vaccinated, after months of incentives and giveaways proved to be insufficient to drive tens of millions of Americans to roll up their sleeves.
PORTLAND, Ore. — Just 41 intensive care unit beds were available in Oregon on Wednesday as COVID-19 cases continue to climb and hospitals near capacity in a U.S. state that was once viewed as a pandemic success story.
Oregon, which earlier had among the lowest cases per capita, is now shattering its COVID-19 hospitalization records day after day. Oregon — like Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana — has had more people in the hospital with COVID-19 than at any other point in the pandemic.
As of Wednesday, 850 coronavirus patients were hospitalized in Oregon — surpassing the state’s record, which was set the previous day. Before this month, the hospitalization record was 622 in November, during a winter surge and when vaccines were not yet available.
More than a third of the state’s 652 adult ICU beds are being used for COVID-19 patients. Health officials say that the overwhelming majority of hospitalized virus patients are unvaccinated.
For more than a year Oregon faced some of the nation’s strictest safety measures — county risk levels, mask requirements inside and outside, limited gatherings and restaurants closed for indoor dining. Health officials say the state’s consistently low COVID-19 case counts throughout the pandemic can be attributed to tight restrictions.
On June 30, Gov. Kate Brown officially lifted coronavirus restrictions. At the time 136 people with COVID-19 were hospitalized.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students.
Biden’s order takes aim at Republican governors in Florida, Texas and other states that have barred schools from mandating masks in the classroom. He directed Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to “assess all available tools” against state that fail to protect students amid surging coronavirus cases.
“Some state governments have adopted policies and laws that interfere with the ability of schools and districts to keep our children safe during in-person learning,” Biden said in an executive order, adding that some states “have gone so far as to try to block school officials” from adopting safety measures.
In response, the Education Department raised the possibility of using its civil rights arm to push back. The agency says state policies could amount to discrimination if they lead to unsafe conditions that prevent students from attending school.
Biden’s order amounts to the sharpest threat yet against states that so far have ignored admonishments from the White House during the surging pandemic.