Covid-19 has infected more than 226M people and killed over 4.6M. Here are virus-related developments for September 15:
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Unvaccinated French healthcare workers face suspension
Healthcare workers in France face suspension from their jobs starting Wednesday if they haven't been vaccinated against Covid-19. With as many as 300,000 workers still not vaccinated, some hospitals fear staff shortages will add to their strain.
Vaccines are now compulsory for medical care, home care and emergency workers in France, and Wednesday is the deadline for such staff to have had at least one shot. Failing that, they face having pay suspended or not being able to work. But a top court has forbidden staff to be fired outright.
More than 113,000 people with the virus have died in France, and health authorities say most of those hospitalised in the most recent surge weren't vaccinated.
“It's aimed at one thing: protecting hospitals, protecting healthcare workers, protecting our fragile populations,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday. “We are not stigmatizing anyone. We are making everyone take responsibility.”
Pope questions vaccine sceptics, including cardinals
Pope Francis said he didn’t understand why people refuse to take Covid-19 vaccines, saying “humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines”.
“Even in the College of Cardinals, there are some negationists,” Francis said on Wednesday en route home from Slovakia.
He noted that one of them, “poor guy,” had been hospitalised with the virus. That was an apparent reference to US Cardinal Raymond Burke, who was placed on a ventilator last month after contracting the virus.
“It’s a bit strange, because humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines,” Francis said, noting that children for decades have been vaccinated against measles, mumps and polio “and no one said anything.”
The pope said that in the heart of the Vatican, "everyone is vaccinated, with the exception of a small group".
Singapore expands migrants curfew in pilot programme
A group of migrant workers visited Singapore's Little India area on Wednesday in their first taste of freedom in more than a year. The trip is part of a pilot programme to ease harsh measures imposed on migrants to halt a spike in coronavirus infections in dormitories.
While the rest of Singapore has returned to some semblance of normal life, low-wage foreign workers have mostly been confined to living quarters, other than for work, nearby recreation or essential errands.
Wednesday's trip is part of a programme to allow up to 500 fully vaccinated migrant workers to visit certain public locations for six hours each week.
The project will be evaluated after a month.
The Southeast Asian financial hub in April last year imposed controls on tens of thousands of mainly South Asian labourers after their often-cramped dormitories became the epicentre of last year's outbreak.
Covid deaths rise in Africa despite drop in global cases, casualties
The World Health Organization has said there were about 4 million coronavirus cases reported globally last week, marking the first major drop in new infections in more than two months. In recent weeks, there have been about 4.4 million new Covid-19 cases.
In its weekly update, the UN health agency said every region in the world saw a drop in Covid-19 cases compared to the previous week.
Although the worldwide number of deaths decreased to about 62,000, with the sharpest decline in Southeast Asia, there was a 7 percent increase in deaths in Africa.
The highest numbers of cases were seen in the US, Britain, India, Iran and Turkey and the highly contagious Delta variant has now been reported in 180 countries.
WHO also said children and teenagers continue to be less affected, with deaths of people under 24 accounting for fewer than 0.5 percent of global deaths.
Cuba seeks WHO approval of jabs as toddlers next for shot
Cuba on Thursday will seek WHO approval of three Covid-19 vaccines, according to the state-run corporation that produces them, as it begins administering shots en masse to toddlers.
Cuba aims to immunise more than 90 percent of the population by November.
The Communist-run Caribbean island is vaccinating its population at one of the fastest rates in the world with local drugs Abdala, Soberana-2 and Soberana Plus, all authorised for emergency use by local regulators.
More than 65 percent of Cubans have currently received at least one shot and 37 percent have been fully vaccinated with three shots.
The country says its vaccines have an efficacy above 90 percent and initial results are similar to those of other top vaccines significantly reducing transmission, critical illness and death. Those results have yet to be peer reviewed.
EU commits 200M more doses to low-income countries
The EU has said ramping up vaccinations around the world is the bloc's No 1 priority right now, committing another 200 million vaccine doses to Africa and low-income nations.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen used her State of the European Union speech on Wednesday to announce the new donation that will be fully delivered by the middle of next year and comes on top of 250 million vaccine doses already pledged.
Von der Leyen said the bloc was also investing $1.2 billion to boost increased vaccine production capacity in Africa.
African health officials say they need just under 800 million doses to vaccinate 60 percent of the continent’s population.
As of last week, 145 million doses had been procured, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Experts say Israel's booster drive effective in reducing severe Covid
Israel's programme of booster jabs has proved effective in reducing severe cases of Covid even as new infections hover near record highs, experts said, citing recent data.
Israel has rolled out a third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to everyone aged 12 and over, ignoring criticism that the booster jab is unnecessary and unfair.
Weeks after the third jab rollout began, the severe case count – which shot up from more than 70 in late July to 600 by mid-August – has stabilised, currently standing below 700.
Infections also remain very low among the triple jabbed.
Those factors, Gabi Barbash, a former Health Ministry director general now with the Weizmann Institute of Science said, make it clear that "waning immunity is what caused the fourth wave."
"The Pfizer vaccine is decreasing in its effectiveness clearly after five months," he said.
"If you are not vaccinated, you are around 35 times more likely to develop a severe case if you are over the age of 60, and around eight times more if you have two doses and no booster shot," Cyrille Cohen, a member of the Health Ministry's vaccine committee, said.
NBA won’t mandate vaccine for players
The NBA will exempt its players from getting vaccinated while mandating that referees and most staff get vaccinated, ESPN reports.
The NBA and NBPA continue to negotiate other protocols for the upcoming season, but the vaccine mandate is a non-starter with the union, per the report. However, the league is putting forth strict protocols for players who are not vaccinated.
Those protocols, not agreed upon yet, could include eating and traveling apart from vaccinated teammates as well as being located in a different part of the locker room, per the report.
Roughly 85 percent of players are vaccinated, the league said.
The league informed teams last month that personnel who work within 15 feet of players or officials during games are required to get vaccinated by Oct 1, per the report.
Most gorillas at Atlanta's zoo test positive
At least 18 of the 20 gorillas at Atlanta's zoo have now tested positive, an outbreak that began just days before the zoo had hoped to obtain a veterinary vaccine for the primates.
Zoo Atlanta had announced the first positive tests among the western lowland gorillas on Friday after employees noticed the gorillas had been coughing, had runny noses and showed changes in appetite. A veterinary lab at the University of Georgia returned positive tests for the respiratory illness.
Zoo Atlanta says the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, confirms that at least four of the samples from the gorillas so far have tested positive for the Delta variant of the virus.
The zoo says it is using monoclonal antibodies to treat the gorillas at risk of developing complications from the virus.
Officials say there’s no evidence that the gorillas can pass the virus back to humans and visitors are too far away to be infected by gorillas.
Because the gorillas live close together in four troops, zoo officials say it’s impossible to keep infected animals isolated.
Zoo officials say they believe an asymptomatic employee who cares for the gorillas passed on the virus.
Zimbabwe imposes vaccine on churchgoers
Zimbabwe's Parliament banned anyone not vaccinated from attending church services, the latest in a series of measures to boost uptake of the jab.
The southern African country had already made the vaccine mandatory for civil servants and teachers earlier this month.
Getting vaccinated is also a prerequisite for trading in markets, working out at gyms, frequenting restaurants and sitting for university exams.
The country has so far relied on vaccine doses produced in China, India and Russia, but recently approved the emergency use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Just over 2.8 million of Zimbabwe's 15 million inhabitants have so far received a first vaccine dose.
African Union slams vaccine manufacturers for restricting access
The African Union accused vaccine manufacturers of denying African countries a fair chance to buy them, and urged manufacturing countries, in particular India, to lift export restrictions on vaccines and their components.
"Those manufacturers know very well that they never gave us proper access," Strive Masiyiwa, AU special envoy for Covid-19, told a World Health Organization briefing from Geneva.
"We could have handled this very differently."
Out of 5.7 billion doses of vaccines administered around the world so far, only 2 percent have been in Africa.