ATHENS, Greece — Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters who gathered Wednesday in Athens to oppose coronavirus vaccination requirements proposed by the Greek government.
The demonstration in front of the parliament building took place hours after the government submitted legislation to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for employees at nursing homes and care facilities.
Under the draft bill, staff members could be suspended without pay starting in mid-August if they fail to comply.
Officers fired the tear gas and water cannons after protesters attempted to break through a police cordon.
Several thousand people also joined a protest rally in Greece’s second-largest city, Thessaloniki.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Russia says 23% of population has received at least 1 virus shot
— South African firm to produce Pfizer vaccine, a first for Africa
— Tokyo virus cases hit 6-month high, 2 days before Games open
— WHO says 3.4M global virus cases last week, up 12%; says virus risk inevitable at Tokyo Olympics
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah on Wednesday recorded its highest number of people hospitalized due to COVID-19 in five months as the virus surges among unvaccinated people.
State health officials renewed their pleas for people to get vaccinated as Utah intensive care units reached 81.5% capacity. There are 295 people who are hospitalized due to the virus in the state, the highest since February.
Utah has averaged about 622 confirmed cases per day over the last week, about triple the case rate the state was experiencing at its lowest point in early June.
State health data shows the recent surge is almost entirely connected to unvaccinated people. About 66% of adults in Utah have had at least one dose of the vaccine and 60% are fully vaccinated.
BISMARCK, N.D. — In North Dakota, where COVID-19 vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country, three doctors who specialize in reproductive health appeared in a virtual town hall Wednesday to dispel misinformation about the effects of vaccines on fertility and pregnancy. They vouched for the safety of vaccinations for couples who want to have a baby urged people to seek out their doctors or nurse practitioners with any questions.
“I can understand that people are scared, people are nervous,” said Dr. Stephanie Broadwell of Sanford Health in Fargo. “I think sometimes there can be information that can be helpful and some that can be misleading. We don’t have to 100 percent agree on everything we’re speaking but that counseling is very, very important.”
MISSION, Kan. — Coronavirus cases have tripled in the U.S. over two weeks amid an onslaught of vaccine misinformation. The spike in infections is straining hospitals, frustrating doctors and pushing clergy into the fray.
Across the U.S., the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks to more than 37,000 on Tuesday, up from less than 13,700 on July 6. That’s according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Health officials blame the delta variant and flattening vaccination rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 56.2% of Americans have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine.
“It is like seeing the car wreck before it happens,” said Dr. James Williams, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at Texas Tech, who has recently started treating more COVID-19 patients.
He says patients are younger — many in their 20s, 30s and 40s — and overwhelmingly unvaccinated.
“People were just begging for this,” he said of the vaccine. “And remarkably it was put together within a year, which is just astonishing. People don’t even appreciate that. Within a year, we got a vaccine. And now they are thinking, ‘Hmm, I don’t know if I will get it.’”
NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana health officials reported 5,388 new coronavirus cases Wednesday, the third-highest daily count since the start of the pandemic.
Hospitalizations for the disease rose to 844 statewide, up more than 600 since mid-June.
The numbers were announced as state officials stressed the need for vaccinations. There are 1.6 million people, about 36% of the state’s population, fully vaccinated.
In New Orleans, officials are considering a revival of previous virus restrictions. Mayor LaToya Cantrell and the city’s top health official, Dr. Jennifer Avegno, are expected to make an announcement about any changes.
MOSCOW — A total of 33.6 million Russians, or 23% of the country’s population, have received at least one shot of a coronavirus vaccine.
That’s according to Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who says some 22.6 million, or 15%, have been fully vaccinated among the population of 146 million. On Wednesday, the coronavirus task force reported 23,704 new infections and 783 confirmed deaths.
The Russian authorities have struggled to ramp up the country’s low vaccine uptake as coronavirus infections surged in recent weeks. Russia’s daily number of cases more than doubled, going from about 9,000 in early June to more than 25,000 in mid-July.
Faced with the soaring infections and deaths, officials in more than 30 Russian regions made vaccinations mandatory for certain groups, such as those employed in health care, education, public transportation or the services sector.
President Vladimir Putin, who said last month that he doesn’t support mandating the shots, urged officials on Wednesday to ramp up the immunization drive by convincing people that vaccinations are necessary.
“It shouldn’t be imposed (on people), but you need to explain,” Putin said.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force has reported more than 6 million confirmed coronavirus cases and a total of 150,705 confirmed deaths in the pandemic. However, reports by Russia’s state statistical service Rosstat suggests a tally much higher.
LONDON — Keir Starmer, leader of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, is the latest high-profile politician in the country to have to self-isolate after coming into close contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
A spokesman for Starmer says one of his children tested positive at lunchtime, just hours after Starmer had tested negative. It will be the fourth time Starmer has entered quarantine since the start of the pandemic.
The news came after Starmer castigated Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson for trying to dodge the self-solation rules, a charge Johnson rejected.
Johnson, and his Treasury chief Rishi Sunak, are self-isolating after having come into close contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for the virus on the weekend.
New infections across the U.K. are running near 50,000 a day. With expectations the case load could at least double, there are concerns among businesses that millions of people will have to quarantine for a period this summer.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization says there were more than 3.4 million new global cases of the coronavirus last week, a 12% increase from the previous week.
The U.N. health agency says the number of deaths is continuing to decline, with about 57,000 in the last week.
“At this rate, it is expected that the cumulative number of cases reported globally could exceed 200 million in the next three weeks,” WHO says. It notes the highest increases in COVID-19 cases were in the Western Pacific and European regions. In the past week, WHO says the highest coronavirus infections were in Indonesia, Britain, Brazil, India and the U.S.
It says the increased transmission of the virus is driven by new variants, the relaxation of COVID-19 protocols and the large number of people still susceptible to the coronavirus, despite rising vaccination rates in some countries.
WHO has urged countries to commit to vaccinating at least 40% of every country’s population by the end of the year. Of the more than 3 billion vaccine doses administered globally, only about 1% have gone to people in poorer nations.
NEW YORK — New York City will require workers in city-run hospitals and health clinics to either get vaccinated or get tested weekly as officials face a rise in COVID-19 cases, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
Publicly employed nurses, doctors, social workers, custodians and registrars will be covered under the order from New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi. De Blasio says he isn’t applying the same requirement yet to teachers, police officers and other city employees.
The number of vaccine doses being given out daily in the city has dropped to less than 18,000 from a peak of more than 100,000 in early April. About 65% of all adults are fully vaccinated. However, the inoculation rate is around 25% among Black adults under age 45. About 45% of the workforce in the city’s public hospital system is Black.
Meanwhile, caseloads have been rising in the city for weeks and health officials say the variant makes up about 7 in 10 cases they sequence.
The order, effective Aug. 2, will cover the roughly 42,000 people who work in the city’s public hospital system, which includes 11 hospitals plus nursing homes and clinics. The policy will cover some employees of the city’s Health Department.
JOHANNESBURG — A South African firm will begin producing the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the first time the shot will be produced in Africa, Pfizer announced Wednesday.
The Biovac Institute based in Cape Town will manufacture the vaccine for distribution across Africa, a move that should help address the continent’s desperate need for more vaccine doses amid a recent surge of cases.
Biovac will receive large batch ingredients for the vaccine from Europe and will blend the components, put them in vials and package them for distribution. The production will begin in 2022 with a goal of reaching more than 100 million finished doses annually. Biovac’s production of doses will be distributed among the 54 countries of Africa.
The development is “a critical step” in increasing African’s access to an effective COVID-19 vaccine, Biovac chief executive Dr. Morena Makhoana said.
Pfizer’s goal is to provide access to its vaccine to people everywhere, CEO Albert Bourla said. But the vast majority of its vaccine doses have been sold in bilateral deals to rich countries and only a small amount was made available to the U.N.-backed effort to share COVID-19 vaccines.
TOKYO — Tokyo’s coronavirus infections have surged to a six-month high with the Olympic host city logging 1,832 new cases just two days before the Games open.
Tokyo is currently under its fourth state of emergency, which will last until Aug. 22, covering the entire duration of the Olympics that start Friday and end Aug. 8. Fans are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area.
Japan Medical Association President Toshio Nakagawa says the surge has been expected regardless of the Olympics. Experts say cases among younger, unvaccinated people are sharply rising as Japan’s inoculation drive loses steam due to supply uncertainty. About 23% of Japanese are fully vaccinated.
Health experts on Wednesday warned Tokyo’s infections would only worsen in coming weeks. Dr. Norio Ohmagari, the Tokyo metropolitan government’s expert panel member, says Tokyo’s average daily cases could hit around 2,600 in two weeks if they continue at the current pace.
Japan has recorded about 84,800 infections and more than 15,000 confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic, most of them since the latest wave in January.
TOKYO — The head of the World Health Organization says the Tokyo Olympics should not be judged by the tally of COVID-19 cases that arise because zero risk is impossible.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tells the International Olympic Committee what matters more is how infections are handled.
Tedros wants Tokyo’s success to be judged by how “cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible and onward transmission is interrupted.”
The number of games-linked COVID-19 cases in Japan this month is now 79. More international athletes have tested positive at home and cannot travel.
The WHO leader had a more critical message and a challenge for leaders of richer countries about sharing vaccines. He called it a “horrifying injustice” that 75% of the vaccine shots delivered globally were in only 10 countries.
“The pandemic is a test and the world is failing,” says Tedros, predicting more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 worldwide before the Olympic flame goes out in Tokyo on Aug. 8.
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