HONG KONG — Hong Kong said Thursday that domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines will be allowed to fly into the city starting Aug. 30, a move expected to ease a shortage of helpers in the city.
Hong Kong has approximately 370,000 domestic workers from Indonesia and the Philippines. Flights have been banned from both countries because they were considered high-risk for the coronavirus; under current arrangements, only fully-vaccinated Hong Kong residents from high-risk countries are allowed to enter the city.
Under the new arrangements, domestic helpers from Indonesia and Philippines must be fully vaccinated and have a working visa before they are allowed into Hong Kong. They must also quarantine for 21 days at a specific hotel, with the costs to be borne by their employers.
Authorities conceded that the number of arrivals will also be restricted.
Hong Kong, with its entry restrictions and social distancing measures, has kept its reported COVID-19 cases to about 12,000, with just 212 deaths.
Indonesia has so far reported over 4 million cases and the Philippines nearly 1.9 million.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Pfizer seeking FDA OK for COVID-19 vaccine booster dose
— Japan suspends use of 1.63M Moderna vaccine doses over contamination concerns
— WHO: Coronavirus origin window of opportunity stalled, ‘closing fast’
— New NY governor adds 12,000 deaths to publicized COVID-19 tally
— Do you need a COVID-19 vaccine passport? More private venues, workplaces and governments requiring them.
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BUDAPEST, Hungary — A Hungarian orchestra conductor received a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot onstage during a free open-air concert in Budapest on Wednesday as part of an effort to encourage people to get vaccinated.
Budapest Festival Orchestra conductor Ivan Fischer removed his jacket to reveal a white dress shirt with a hole cut out of the sleeve. As he kept his baton moving and the orchestra played on, a doctor administered the shot, Fischer’s third dose, to applause from the crowd.
The carefully choreographed action was an attempt to “further raise awareness of the need for vaccination” in Hungary, the orchestra’s managing director, Orsolya Erdodi, said.
Hungary has enjoyed a comparative summer reprieve from the COVID-19 pandemic after a devastating spring, when the country for a time had the world’s highest number of virus deaths per capita.
While confirmed cases and deaths are down, the vaccination rate also has slowed dramatically. More than 32% of the Central European country’s adult population has not received a first shot amid stubborn vaccine hesitancy.
ATHENS, Greece — Workers at public hospitals in Greece have conducted a five-hour work stoppage to protest a government decision making vaccination against COVID-19 mandatory for all health care workers in the public and private sector.
About 300 hospital workers rallied Thursday outside the health ministry in Athens to protest the measure that takes effect on Sept. 1. The government has made clear that no extension will be granted.
Those working in the public and private health care sector, and those working in care homes who have not received at least one dose of the vaccine by that date or who don’t have a certificate of recent recovery will be suspended from work. The public hospital workers’ union said that while it supports the vaccines, it opposes making them mandatory.
Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias said those who were protesting against the measure were “small minorities.”
“They are in the opposite direction of the majority of Greek society, which wants to protect public health,” he said.
NAIROBI, Kenya — The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is raising the vaccination target he believes is needed to provide widespread protection against COVID-19 on the continent, citing the more infectious delta variant now present in 32 countries.
Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong told reporters on Thursday that health officials once estimated at least 60% of Africa’s population of 1.3 billion people needed to be vaccinated to achieve so-called herd immunity.
Nkengasong says he now thinks the proportion should be “in excess of 70% to 80%.” Even at that level, he said, “are we going to get to herd immunity? I doubt that notion is relevant anymore.”
Africa is well short of its original vaccination target as health officials criticize richer countries for hoarding doses and rolling out booster shots while people in poorer nations are still awaiting vaccines. .
Only 2.5% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated now, and 93 million doses have been administered. The Africa CDC has estimated that perhaps just 30% of Africa’s population can be vaccinated by the end of the year.
“Things will get more challenging before they get better,” Nkengasong said.
PARIS — France’s prime minister has announced plans to give COVID-19 booster shots to people over age 65 and individuals living in nursing homes starting next month.
Prime Minister Jean Castex, speaking Thursday on French radio RTL, said the booster shot is needed because vaccine effectiveness decreases over time.
Castex said the eligible older people will be able to make appointments to get the shots and a booster vaccine drive will start on Sept. 12 in nursing homes.
France’s health authority, the HAS, recommended this week administering a third dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines to people over 65 and those with underlying health conditions at least six month after they received their second shot.
The HAS said those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson jab should be offered a Pfizer or Moderna shot at least four weeks after they first got vaccinated.
Over 47 million people in France, or 71.2% of the population, have received at least one vaccine shot. More than 42 million, or 62.8%, are fully vaccinated.
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A top health official in Norway says the Scandinavian country is experiencing its fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Norway reported 1,294 new confirmed cases in 24 hours, a record number and 682 more than the same day a week ago, the Norwegian news agency NTB reported Thursday.
Espen Rostrup Nakstad, the deputy head of the Norwegian Directorate of Health, told Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that vaccinations against COVID-19 were keeping hospitalizations down during the current outbreak. .
“Nevertheless, it is important to keep control so that not so many people become infected that the (hospital) admission numbers also increase a lot,” he said.
More than half of Norway’s population of 5.3 million, or 51.8%, has been vaccinated against the virus.
SYDNEY — Authorities in Australia’s New South Wales state say they will ease pandemic restrictions for vaccinated adults next month even as they are reporting a record 1,029 coronavirus infections and three deaths from COVID-19.
The record reported Thursday surpassed the previous high for a 24-hour period of 919 infections just a day earlier.
State Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the slight easing of restrictions is coming because the state reached 6 million vaccine doses in a population of 8.2 million.
Beginning Sept. 13, families in the highest-risk parts of Sydney will be allowed to leave their homes for an hour of recreation as long as any adults are fully vaccinated. The recreation hour is in addition to the hour people are already allowed out to exercise.
Elsewhere in the state, groups of five will be allowed to congregate as long as all adults are fully vaccinated.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand has reported 68 new community cases of the coronavirus, the largest daily increase since April of last year as an outbreak of the delta variant continues to grow.
The government put the nation into a strict lockdown last week as it tries to stamp out the outbreak, which has grown to a total of 277 infections.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Thursday that she is confident the lockdown is working and new cases will soon begin to drop.
Also on Thursday, national carrier Air New Zealand reported an annual loss of 440 million New Zealand dollars, or about $306 million U.S., after revenue dropped nearly 50% due to the pandemic-induced plunge in international travel.
MIAMI — Cruise companies are adapting to a changing landscape amid a rise in COVID-19 cases that is threatening to dampen the industry’s comeback.
Cruise lines have detected infections among vaccinated crew members and passengers, including a recent case in an elderly traveler that resulted in death.
Last Friday, the CDC began advising travelers who are at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness to avoid cruises. It is also recommending that passengers show both a recent negative COVID test and proof they’ve been immunized.
In addition to the surging delta virus, the CDC changed its cruise guidelines for high-risk groups because of the close proximity of ship passengers, the limited options for care on board and the challenges of medically evacuating travelers at sea, Centers spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund said Tuesday.
Some cruise lines — and cruise destinations — are also revising their own guidelines.
BEIJING — China went on the offensive Wednesday ahead of the release of a U.S. intelligence report on the origins of the coronavirus, bringing out a senior official to accuse the United States of politicizing the issue by seeking to blame China.
Fu Cong, a Foreign Ministry director general, said at a briefing for foreign journalists that “scapegoating China cannot whitewash the U.S.”
“If they want to baselessly accuse China, they better be prepared to accept the counterattack from China,” he said.
China, the United States and the World Health Organization are entangled in a feud that centers on whether the virus that causes COVID-19 could have leaked from a lab in the city of Wuhan, where the disease was first detected in late 2019.
A joint WHO-China report published in late March concluded that a lab leak was “extremely unlikely,” and China wants the investigation to move on to other possibilities. The most likely scenario, the report said, is that the virus jumped from bats to another animal that then infected humans.
But the findings are not conclusive, and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “all hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies.” He added in July that there had been a “premature push” to rule out the lab leak theory.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee state health commissioner says children now account for more than a third of the state’s COVID-19 cases, a sharp rise from earlier as the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to spread.
Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey said Wednesday that Tennessee had 14,000 pediatric cases in the previous seven days, which she said was 57% more than the previous week. She says such cases now make up 36% of total COVID-19 cases, “when it’s historically been in the 10 to 15 percent range.”
The spike in cases among school-age children has brought calls from some health officials for more forceful protective measures such as mask mandates at schools. Gov. Bill Lee has resisted such suggestions.
SANTA FE, N.M. — Top health officials in New Mexico are warning that the state is about a week away from having to ration medical care as coronavirus infections continue to climb.
The state health secretary said Wednesday the state is tracking along with its worst-case projections when it comes to spread of the virus and hospitalizations for COVID-19. Dr. David Scarse says there was a 20% increase in pandemic patients needing care in just the past day.
Scarse says that the result may be that “we’re going to have to choose who gets care and who doesn’t get care, and we don’t want to get to that point.”
He says the biggest constraint right now is the shortage of health care workers.
RALEIGH, N.C. — Hospitals in the Raleigh region of North Carolina say younger and otherwise healthy adults are increasingly being hospitalized for COVID-19 amid the spread of the coronavirus delta variant.
The chief physician executive for WakeMed Health & Hospitals said Wednesday that the average age of patients it is treating for COVID-19 is almost 20 years younger on average than during the first surge of the pandemic.
The director of Wake County’s EMS agency says it is getting more calls for help than ever before, with daily totals often 33% higher than pre-pandemic levels of about 300 calls.
The chief medical officer at UNC REX Healthcare says the hospita’s ICU capacity is now full.
The more than 3,500 patients currently in North Carolina hospitals due to COVID-19 is the highest since Jan. 21.
NEW YORK — A study from Israel says COVID-19 carries a far higher risk of heart inflammation than Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.
Researchers in Tel Aviv estimate there were three heart cases for every 100,000 people vaccinated with the Pfizer shot. The risk was 11 per 100,000 in people who were infected with the virus.
The findings were published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Grace Lee is an infectious disease expert at Stanford University and says the paper was the first to assess the potential risks of vaccination “in the context of understanding the potential benefits of vaccination.”
Previous reports have linked the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to inflammation of the heart muscle. The problem was mainly seen in male teens and young men, who developed chest pain a few days after vaccination.
The Clalit Research Institute researchers looked at hundreds of thousands of people who were vaccinated and not vaccinated. Separately, they looked at unvaccinated people who were infected or not.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi health officials said Wednesday that a child younger than 5 has died from COVID-19.
Dr. Paul Byers, the state epidemiologist, said it was the sixth pediatric death from the virus in Mississippi since the pandemic began. He said the Health Department would not provide any identifying information, including where the child lived.
State Health Department spokeswoman Liz Sharlot also said Wednesday that law enforcement officers are investigating threats against the state health officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs. He has been imploring people for months to get vaccinated, but Mississippi still has among the lowest vaccination rates in the United States.
Dobbs wrote Tuesday on Twitter that he has received threatening phone calls from people promoting false “conspiracy theories” about his family.
NEW ORLEANS — A child under age 1 is among the latest reported COVID-19 deaths in the state of Louisiana.
The state health department didn’t provide the child’s exact age or where the death occurred. The child’s death was one of 110 in the Wednesday report, which said 85 of the deaths were listed as “confirmed” COVID-19 deaths and 25 as “probable.”
“We last reported a COVID death in a child 6 months ago,” the health department said on Twitter. “In total, 11 children younger than 18 have died from COVID in Louisiana.”
The department reported more than 6,619 confirmed and probable cases on Wednesday. Statewide hospitalizations dropped by 12 to 2,844.
The disease is blamed for more than 12,000 confirmed deaths in Louisiana.