NEW YORK — U.S. health officials are recommending all Americans get COVID-19 booster shots.
The plan, as outlined by the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other top health authorities, calls for booster doses eight months after people get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
The booster doses could begin the week of Sept. 20.
Health officials say people who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine also probably need extra shots because some effectiveness of vaccines wanes over time. But they say they’re awaiting more data and have yet to work out the details.
The overall plan awaits a Food and Drug Administration evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of a third dose, the officials say.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Mississippi opens second field hospital in Jackson amid surge
— Florida governor touts antibody treatment linked to donor; tries to ban mask mandates
— Transportation Security Administration extends mask rule for airline passengers
— Texas Gov. Abbott is at least the 11th governor to test positive
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
PARIS, Texas — A Texas school district is amending its dress code to require masks in hopes of sidestepping Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order banning mask mandates.
The Paris Independent School District’s board of trustees voted to require masks as part of its dress code when classes begin Thursday. The district, which has about 3,800 students, is located about 100 miles northeast of Dallas.
The board said in a statement: “The board believes the dress code can be used to mitigate communicable health issues.”
Abbott’s order barring mask mandates has been challenged in court, and several larger school districts have imposed mask requirements despite the order.
Meanwhile, at least four school districts in the state have temporarily closed campuses because of coronavirus cases among staff and students.
The Paris board’s decision came the same day the governor tested positive for the coronavirus and statewide hospitalizations reached their highest level since late January.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka is closing swimming pools, gymnasiums and children’s parks, along with stricter rules for people going out of their homes, in an effort to control soaring coronavirus cases.
The rules, effective Wednesday, allow only one person to leave home other than for work. Indoor sport facilities will be closed, beach gatherings and musical shows are prohibited. State, private offices and businesses can operate with limited personnel and customers.
Sri Lanka is facing a rise in coronavirus cases, with health officials warning that hospital facilities and morgues have reached their full capacity.
The government announced Wednesday it has approved the import of an additional 360,000 liters of liquid oxygen. However, it has ruled out a full lockdown because of the impact on the economy.
Sri Lanka has reported 365,683 cases and 6,434 confirmed deaths.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi, one of the nation’s least vaccinated states, has opened its second field hospital to treat a surge of coronavirus patients.
The Christian charity relief group Samaritan’s Purse arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, with more than 50 medical professionals, setting up tents with 32 beds in a garage at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Recently, an emergency field hospital with federal backing was set up elsewhere on the medical center campus.
Health officials say the surging delta variant is overwhelming the state’s hospital system. On July 27, some 726 people were hospitalized with the coronavirus. By Aug. 16, that figure stood at 1,623. Only 34% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.
Mississippi’s State Health Officer, Dr. Thomas Dobbs says this wave is impacting younger, unvaccinated people just as schools are resuming. More children are hospitalized, and one died last week.
State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers says about 20,000 Mississippi students are currently quarantined for COVID-19 exposure — 4.5% of the public school population.
The medical center’s leader, LouAnn Woodward, renewed pleas for people to get vaccinated. She says unlike the natural disaster in Haiti, the situation in Mississippi is a “disaster of our own making.”
“We as a state, as a collective, have failed to respond in a unified way to a common threat, we have failed to use the tools that we have to protect ourselves,” she says.
There’s been a total of 392,300 cases and 7,880 confirmed deaths in a state of 3 million people.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has been criticized for efforts to ban mask mandates and vaccine passports.
However, he’s touting a COVID-19 antibody treatment in which a top donor’s company has invested millions of dollars. DeSantis has been promoting the effectiveness of Regeneron, a monoclonal antibody treatment. Filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show Citadel, a Chicago-based hedge fund, has $15.9 million in shares of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals as well as options to buy its stock.
Citadel CEO Ken Griffin has donated $10.75 million to a political committee that supports DeSantis. Citadel’s investment in Regeneron is a tiny fraction of its overall $39 billion in investments.
GENEVA — The Swiss government plans to make coronavirus vaccinations free to thousands of cross-border workers.
Such vaccinations have been currently limited to citizens and residents of Switzerland and some others “due to the limited availability of vaccine doses,” the government said Wednesday. The Federal Council, the Swiss executive branch, wants to expand the availability of doses to “other people with close ties to Switzerland.”
More than 400,000 people who live in neighboring countries — mostly four European Union member states — have permits to work in Switzerland, a non-EU country of about 8.5 million. Many of those cross-border workers may already have been vaccinated in their home countries.
The council is proposing next week the government “assume the costs of vaccination for cross-border commuters, since they are regularly in Switzerland and could influence the course of the pandemic here.”
Health authorities have been dispensing Pfizer and Moderna in Switzerland.
CANBERRA, Australia — Qantas Group says the Australian airline company will require all of its workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Front-line employees — including cabin crew, pilots and airport staff — must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 15, while remaining Qantas employees have until the end of March, the Sydney-based company said in a statement.
Exemptions will be made for employees unable to be vaccinated for documented medical reasons, the statement said. Such exemptions are expected to be “very rare.”
Qantas said a survey found that 89% of its workers were already vaccinated or planned to be. U.S. airlines are divided over whether to insist on their staffs getting vaccinated.
Qantas has become the second Australian company outside the health and aging care sectors to make COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory.
The Transport Workers Union, which represents workers for Qantas Airways and subsidiary Jetstar, criticized the company for making the announcement without a plan to ensure employees could secure vaccine shots.
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is adding his voice to a campaign to overcome vaccine skepticism, issuing a public service announcement insisting that vaccines are safe, effective and an “act of love.”
The video message released Wednesday is aimed at a global audience but directed particularly at the Americas. It features six cardinals and archbishops from North, Central and South America as well as the Argentine-born pope. It was produced by the Vatican and the Ad Council, which has produced a series of pro-vaccine ads in a bid to get more people vaccinated.
In his comments, Francis said: “Being vaccinated with vaccines authorized by the competent authorities is an act of love. And contributing to ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love.”
He added: “Vaccination is a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other, especially the most vulnerable.”
Francis had emphasized at the start of the pandemic the need to ensure equal access to the vaccine, especially for the poor. But faced with increasing skepticism about vaccines especially among religious conservatives, the Vatican has vowed an all-out effort to overcome hesitancy and encourage widespread vaccination.
The Vatican has declared that it is morally acceptable for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines, including those based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses.
VALLETTA, Malta — The small Mediterranean island nation of Malta has donated tens of thousands of COVID-19 vaccine doses to Libya.
After having vaccinated over 90% of the eligible local population, Malta’s government decided to donate 40,000 AstraZeneca doses to the nearby North African country, a Health Ministry spokesperson said. Malta also donated 40,000 rapid test kits.
Malta has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world. Libya, with a population of 6.8 million, had only administered some 764,233 doses as of Aug. 9, according to the World Health Organization. Libya is the launching point for tens of thousands of would-be asylum-seekers who pay human traffickers to cross the Mediterranean to get to Europe.
Malta’s donation was welcomed by the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe, Hans Kluge.
In response to a tweet by Malta’s health minister, Kluge tweeted: “Thank you very much @chrisfearne & Malta Gvt! You show that international solidarity & national leadership go hand in hand: No one is safe until everyone is safe.”
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says Southeast Asia is battling the world’s highest COVID-19 death toll, driven by the delta variant and unequal distribution of vaccines.
Southeast Asia recorded 38,522 deaths from COVID-19 in the last two weeks, nearly twice as many as North America, it says, citing data from John Hopkins University.
Seven of the top 10 countries where COVID-19 deaths have doubled the fastest are in Asia and the Pacific, with Vietnam, Fiji and Myanmar in the top five, according to Our World in Data.
Its Asia Pacific director, Alexander Matheou, called Wednesday for richer countries to urgently share their excess vaccine doses with Southeast Asian nations to curb record surge in infections and deaths in the region.
It said vaccine companies and governments also need to share technology and scale up production to help ramp up low vaccination rate in the region. While the United Kingdom, Canada and Spain have fully vaccinated over 60% of their population, it said Southeast Asian nations are falling far behind.
Malaysia has fully vaccinated 34% of its population, Indonesia and Philippines close to 11% and Vietnam less than 2%. Matheou said each country must aim for mass vaccination rates of 70%-80% for the world to overcome the pandemic.
BEIJING — Beijing’s top official is reiterating the need for strict anti-coronavirus measures at next year’s Winter Olympics, now less than 200 days away, although it remains unclear whether spectators will be permitted.
Beijing is intent on holding a games that are “simple, safe and exciting,” Cai Qi, the city’s Communist Party chief and president of the Beijing organizing committee was quoted as saying by state media.
On a tour of venues Monday, Cai emphasized strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus were needed in preparing for and holding the Games. He said all venues must be carefully checked for points where the virus could be transmitted and each must adopt their own specific measures.
Cai said steps must be taken to avoid the virus from being spread between different groups, but did not say whether general spectators would be permitted in the stands.
China has seen a recent spike in cases, though on a smaller scale than in other countries. It is maintaining its “zero-tolerance” policy of eliminating the spread of the virus through lockdowns, travel restrictions and mass testing.
State media have reported Beijing may administer booster shots to all Olympics staff as a safeguard against the delta variant, against which China’s domestically developed vaccines have been cited as less effective.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand’s first coronavirus outbreak in six months has grown to seven people.
The announcement Wednesday came a day after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern imposed a strict lockdown after the first case was reported. The lockdown is for at least three days for the country and at least a week for the cities of Auckland and Coromandel.
Ardern says the government expects the number of cases to keep growing, especially after some of those infected spent time at a church, a school, a casino and a hospital. She announced a new mandate compelling people to wear masks in supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies during strict lockdowns.
Ardern says genome testing has confirmed the outbreak is of the delta variant and originated in Sydney, although it’s not yet clear how the virus breached New Zealand’s border quarantine controls.
SYDNEY — Australia’s most populous state is reporting a record 633 new coronavirus infections as concerns grow about the spread of the delta variant beyond Sydney. The previous high for a 24-hour period in New South Wales was 466 on Saturday.
Officials announced three people died in the period, bringing the death toll to 60 from the outbreak first detected in Sydney in mid-June.
Officials say infections were reported in towns in the state’s west, north and central region in recent days. Sydney has been in lockdown since June 26 and the entire state has been locked down since Saturday.
The national capital of Canberra is surrounded by New South Wales and it reported 22 new infections from a cluster that originated in Sydney.
PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is upping the pressure on public school districts defying a state ban on mask mandates by threatening to cut off some funds.
The Republican governor said Tuesday that schools won’t get any cash from a $163 million grant program he controls if they don’t drop mask rules within 10 days. Schools also will lose out on the $1,800 per student if they have to close because of coronavirus outbreaks.
At least 16 districts teaching nearly a third of the state’s 1.1 million public school students now have mask rules. A judge ruled this week that the state ban does not take effect until Sept. 29.
Ducey also announced a $10 million program that will give $7,000 for a student to use for private schooling if their public school requires isolating or quarantining due to virus exposure, orders mask wearing or gives preferential treatment to vaccinated children.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.