The Latest: China pledges 2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses
BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping has pledged that 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines would be supplied to the world through this year, increasing China’s commitment as the largest exporter of the shots.
Xi’s announcement was delivered late Thursday at a vaccine forum China hosted virtually.
The figure likely includes the 770 million doses China has already donated or exported already and it’s not clear if it includes a COVAX agreement for Chinese producers to supply 550 million doses.
Xi also promised to donate $100 million to the UN-backed COVAX program, which aims to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. Vaccine distributions have been starkly unequal, as wealthy countries now consider issuing booster shots to their citizens and poorer nations struggle to get enough vaccines for a first dose.
Hundreds of millions of Chinese shots, the vast majority of which are from Sinopharm and Sinovac, have already been administered to people in many countries across the world. However, there are concerns about whether they protect adequately against the new, highly transmissible delta variant.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Florida, Georgia, Louisiana account for nearly 40% of U.S. hospitalizations
— Tokyo hits record 5,042 daily cases as infections surge during Olympics
— US plans to require COVID-19 shots for international travelers
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MANILA —Thousands of people have jammed coronavirus vaccination centers in the Philippine capital after false news spread that unvaccinated residents would be deprived of cash aid or barred from leaving home during a two-week lockdown.
Officials placed Metropolitan Manila under lockdown until Aug. 20 as a new spike in COVID-19 infections that health officials say could be due to the highly contagious delta variant threatens to overwhelm hospitals.
The fake news reports that spread a day before Friday’s lockdown start sent large crowds heading for vaccination centers in the cities of Manila, Las Pinas and Antipolo even without prior registrations.
In Manila alone, up to 22,000 people showed up outside vaccination centers before dawn.
Police were forced to stop vaccinations in at least one of the shopping malls and asked the crowds to return home.
Critics partly blamed President Rodrigo Duterte for the confusion. Duterte warned Filipinos last week that those who refuse to get vaccinated will not be allowed to leave their homes as a safeguard against the spread of the delta variant. He acknowledged that there was no specific law for such a restriction.
BEIJING — China recorded another 80 locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as the country seeks to control its widest flare-up since the original outbreak with a combination of lockdowns, mass testing and travel restrictions.
Of the new cases, 58 were found in the eastern city of Yangzhou in Jiangsu province, where the highly contagious delta variant spread among airport workers in the provincial capital of Nanjing. Other cases were found in six provinces from tropical Hainan in the south to Inner Mongolia bordering on Russia.
That has taken the number of cases linked to the Nanjing outbreak to more than 460 since the middle of last month, prompting renewed travel restrictions, community lockdowns and the sealing off of Zhangjiajie, a city of 1.5 million.
Such measures have been implemented with much success following local outbreaks under China’s “zero tolerance” approach to the pandemic, although they are being seen as taking a major toll on society and the economy, stirring speculation that a new approach may be needed that allows for the virus to circulate to some manageable degree.
China says it has administered more than 1.6 billion doses of vaccine, although questions have been raised about the efficacy of the domestic jabs.
Another 44 imported cases were reported on Friday and 1,370 people are currently being treated for COVID-19, 34 of them in serious condition, according to the National Health Commission.
China has reported 4,636 deaths out of 93,498 cases.
SEOUL, South Korea __ South Korea says it will extend the toughest distancing rules imposed on the greater Seoul area for two more weeks as its worst COVID-19 outbreak at home has no immediate signs of abating.
South Korea on Friday reported 1,704 new cases over the past 24-hour period, taking the country’s total to 207,406, including 2,113 deaths from COVID-19. It’s the 31st day in a row for South Korea’s daily tally to be above 1,000.
Senior health official Lee Ki-Il said the average number of daily infections this week is 1,451, a decrease from last week’s 1,506. Lee still calls the size of the ongoing outbreak “big” and says it’s unclear if the outbreak will display a downward trajectory soon.
Lee says authorities will continue to place the Seoul area under the toughest distancing restrictions until Aug. 22. He says the second highest distancing guidelines enforced on non-capital regions will also be extended for two additional weeks.
In Seoul and nearby cities and towns, private gatherings of three or more people are banned after 6 p.m. High-risk facilities such as nightclubs are not allowed to operate, and weddings and funerals can be attended by up to 49 people. ___
TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey students from kindergarten to 12th grade will be required to wear masks in schools when the new year begins in a few weeks, Gov. Phil Murphy is set to announce Friday as COVID-19 cases rise in the state.
Murphy, a Democrat seeking reelection this year, will formally announce the decision Friday, according to spokesperson Mahen Gunaratna.
The decision to require masks is an about-face from just a few weeks ago when Murphy said it would take a “deterioration” of COVID-19 data to require masks.
The state’s figures, like many across the country, have been trending up in recent weeks. The seven-day rolling average of new cases climbed over the past two weeks from 512 on July 20 to 1,104 on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The surging figures are part of a nationwide struggle with the contagious delta variant, which has been leading — along with vaccination holdouts — to higher hospitalization rates across the country.
HARTFORD, Conn. - Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday signed an executive order that allows municipal leaders to require both vaccinated and unvaccinated people to wear face coverings indoors at public places within their respective cities and towns.
This latest order lets municipal leaders move beyond Lamont’s current edict, which requires only unvaccinated people to wear masks while in indoor public places. It also requires everyone to wear them in specific settings, such as health care facilities, prisons, day care sites and public and private transit.
“There are some pockets of the state that are lagging behind others and some leaders in those areas have requested the option of requiring everyone to wear masks until they can get their vaccination rates higher,” the Democrat said in a written statement.
Also Thursday, Lamont signed an order that will ultimately enable Dr. Deidre Gifford, the acting public health commissioner, to require all unvaccinated nursing home staff to be tested weekly for COVID-19. This move comes as public health officials plan to visit every nursing home to check on the number of employees who’ve been vaccinated.
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has announced new vaccination requirements for state employees who work in settings where they interact with the vulnerable — or else face strict face-covering requirements and regular coronavirus testing.
The governor said Thursday that the requirements taking effect Sept. 1 apply to employees at 48 different state facilities. They include 11 state health care facilities and 12 facilities under the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. They also include six detention centers and 18 correctional facilities as well as the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home.
Hogan adds that “we are also strongly urging the private operators of the state’s 227 nursing homes to institute similar vaccination requirements for their employees.”
SEATTLE — Amazon has pushed back its return-to-office date for tech and corporate workers until January as coronavirus infections rise nationally due to the more contagious delta variant.
Unlike its Seattle-area rival Microsoft and other tech giants, Amazon will not mandate employees receive a coronavirus vaccine before they return to the office. Instead, the company said Thursday that unvaccinated employees will be required to wear masks in the office.
The surge of cases has upended many companies’ plans to bring office workers back this fall, a drive already complicated by efforts to accommodate widespread employee preference for flexible remote work policies, and debates over how to handle vaccine and masking policies.
Other companies that have postponed reopening plans include Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Lyft.
BALTIMORE — Baltimore is the latest U.S. city to return to indoor mask requirements as coronavirus infections rise.
Mayor Brandon Scott said Thursday that indoor masking regulations will take effect Monday, giving businesses and citizens a few days to adjust. The indoor mask rules are mandated for everyone, regardless of vaccination status.
The order came as the city health commission said new virus cases have increased 374% over the past month. As is the case across the nation, the delta variant is driving those infections.
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The number of hospitalizations for COVID-19 in Oklahoma has topped 900 for the first time since February, which a University of Oklahoma doctor says is his biggest concern due to a lack of nurses.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health said Thursday that there are 954 hospitalizations, with 274 patients in intensive care.
Dr. Dale Bratzler at University of Oklahoma Health says that “back in January, February, we handled the capacity with the big numbers of cases. We can’t do it now because we don’t have enough nurses and personnel to take care of all of those patients.”
OU Health has three hospitals plus clinics around the state and says its nursing staff is 19% below what is needed, with about 400 positions unfilled.
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — One of Iowa’s largest health care provides has announced it will require its more than 33,000 employees to be vaccinated against the coronavirus — or lose their jobs.
The West Des Moines-based system announced the vaccine requirement Thursday.
CEO and president Clay Holderman says the vaccination requirement is meant to protect the system’s employees and patients. The requirement applies to all employees, regardless of whether they provide direct patient care.
UnityPoint employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 1. Those who refuse must resign or be fired.
Employees can request an exemption for medical or religious reasons, and pregnant employees — while strongly encouraged to get vaccinated — can request a temporary deferral.
TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas’ most populous county has ordered masks worn by students and staff in elementary schools in hopes of checking the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus.
The Johnson County Commission voted 5-2 Thursday to impose the requirement for schools from kindergarten through the sixth grade.
The commission faced criticism both from health care providers who urged members to go further and from parents and other residents who opposed a mask mandate.
Johnson County, in the Kansas City area, has six public school districts with about 96,000 students or 20% of the state’s total. The mandate affects roughly 50,000 students
MILAN — Italy will require a vaccination pass on long-distance transportation, including high-speed trains and ferries between regions, beginning Sept. 1.
Government ministers met Thursday to decide additional requirements for the so-called Green Pass, which will be required from Friday to access indoor dining, theaters, indoor swimming pools, gyms, museums and other gathering places.
Under the new restrictions, access will be granted to anyone who has had at least one dose of vaccine in the last nine months, who has recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months, or has tested negative in the previous 48 hours.
Ministers also say school will resume in September with all students present in classrooms, after a year and a half of at least part-time distance learning. All students over age 6 will have to wear masks and maintain social distancing.