World Cup Fans Do Not Need COVID-19 Vaccination – Qatar

In this file photo taken on December 10, 2021, a view of the Education City Stadium in the Qatari city of Ar-Rayyan. (Photo by KARIM SAHIB / AFP)

 

Coronavirus vaccinations will not be mandatory for the million-plus fans going to the World Cup in Qatar this year, the Gulf state said Thursday.

But players and match officials may be forced into a secure “bio-bubble” if Covid-19 cases take off again, with the threat of expulsion from the tournament for those who breach the secure environment, the health ministry said.

The 29-day tournament will be the first major global sporting event with fans since the eruption in December 2019 of the Covid pandemic, which has since killed more than six million people.

Qatari organisers, who have predicted that more than one million people will pack Doha for the matches, and football’s governing body, FIFA, have said they want the event to be a sign the world is getting over the devastating pandemic.

But Qatar’s health ministry warned in its World Cup guidelines that special measures would be ordered “in the event of a worsening pandemic situation in the country”, such as the emergence of a threatening new variant.

With Covid-19 currently considered under control, “there will be no vaccination requirement for participants and visiting spectators,” the ministry said.

All visitors aged over six will have to produce negative Covid-19 tests before taking flights to Qatar for the tournament that starts on November 20.

Fans will have to wear masks in public transport but authorities are only recommending the use of masks at the eight stadiums in the Doha region where matches will be played.

Anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in Qatar will have to isolate for five days, the guidelines added.

READ ALSO: FIFA Ends Video Game Partnership With EA Sports After 30 Years

Bio-bubble ready 

Organisers and FIFA are most worried about the first two weeks of the tournament when four matches a day are planned and the peak number of supporters from the 32 competing nations will be packing stadiums, fan zones and tourist spots.

Some estimates say there could be up to 350,000 visiting fans in Doha at the same time during the weekend of November 26-27.

Officials say Doha airport and the city’s roads will be facing peak pressure that weekend.

Because of the pressure on accommodation, only fans with tickets can enter Qatar from November 1, though each person with a ticket is allowed to invite three guests.

Each person entering the country must download a special fan pass, a Hayya card, and Qatar’s anti-Covid health application, Ehteraz.

The app has to be shown at the entrance to metro stations and most shopping malls.

“If metro stations and malls want to check the app, then people need to be ready for some queues,” said one tourism consultant who is advising a major chain of hotels in Qatar.

Other measures may also be difficult to enforce because of the shear numbers, experts said.

The ministry is recommending a one metre (three feet) space between diners in cafes and restaurants.

Virtually every team at the World Cup will have players who have refused to have vaccines, officials acknowledged.

England’s Premier League said this year that 15 percent of players had refused vaccines.

Qatar’s health ministry said it would force players, referees and officials to stay in a secure “bio-bubble” if coronavirus cases take off “to allow for the safe operation and continuation of the event.”

Hotel rooms, training facilities and transport to and from stadiums would all be sealed off.

“Breaching the bubble arrangement may result in an immediate dismissal of the violator from the event and removal from event hotel and accommodation,” the ministry said.

AFP

Eurozone Growth Jumps As COVID-19 Restrictions Ease

 

Economic growth in the eurozone jumped sharply in February as coronavirus restrictions were eased, a key survey showed on Monday.

Growth accelerated to a five-month high, IHS Markit said in its closely watched monthly survey — but it also noted that persistent supply constraints and soaring energy prices also pushed inflation to a record level.

Its purchase managers’ index (PMI) surged 3.5 points to 55.8, higher than the 52.3 recorded in January. A figure above 50 indicates growth.

The rise was attributed to the eurozone — the 19 EU countries using the euro — exiting two months of tough restrictions designed to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Omicron is now the dominant strain in Europe, but governments regard it as less grave than previous variants because widespread vaccinations and booster jabs have muted its impact.

After two months of curbs that hit the eurozone economy, “February saw these restrictions ease to the lowest since November,” IHS Markit said.

The service sector led the newfound optimism, as increased travel and tourism pushed it to its highest level since last November.

Manufacturing increased “also accelerated slightly, attaining the fastest expansion since last September, thanks in part to improved supply availability” and a rise in demand.

However, supply constraints remained, causing backlogs, and average prices for goods and services spiked to the highest level recorded in the PMI surveys.

“Soaring energy costs and rising wages have added to inflationary pressures, resulting in the largest rise in selling prices yet recorded in a quarter of a century of survey data history,” said IHS Markit’s chief economist, Chris Williamson.

“The intensification of inflationary pressures will add to speculation of an increasing hawkish stance” at the European Central Bank, he said.

The survey showed that growth in the eurozone’s powerhouse Germany was at a six-month high, with an index reading of 56.2.

The second-biggest economy, France, was doing even better, with growth at an eight-month high and an index reading of 57.4.

UK PM Fights For Survival After Lockdown Party Hangover

File photo: Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during an event on the sidelines of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland on November 1, 2021. COP26, running from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow will be the biggest climate conference since the 2015 Paris summit and is seen as crucial in setting worldwide emission targets to slow global warming, as well as firming up other key commitments.
Steve Reigate / POOL / AFP

 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fighting for his political future on Thursday as his Conservatives descended into open internal warfare after he belatedly apologised for attending a party during the coronavirus lockdown.

The apparent breach of coronavirus restrictions has enraged the public, who were forced to abide by rules that prevented them from visiting sick and dying loved ones, or attending funerals.

Most cabinet members rallied around Johnson after his mea culpa, but the backing given by some such as Rishi Sunak, his powerful finance minister and potential successor, was distinctly lukewarm.

The Prime Minister himself went to ground on Thursday, cancelling a planned trip to northern England after a family member came down with Covid-19, in scrupulous adherence to his government’s rules.

While expressing “heartfelt apologies”, Johnson on Wednesday sparked ridicule by saying he had believed the May 2020 gathering was a work event.

He urged all sides to await the findings of an internal inquiry.

Douglas Ross, the Conservatives’ leader in Scotland, joined at least four Tory backbench MPs in calling for Johnson to quit after the prime minister admitted joining the party in his Downing Street garden in May 2020, when Britain was under a strict lockdown.

“Regretfully, I have to say his position is no longer tenable,” Ross told STV.

Cabinet member Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed Ross as a “lightweight” Tory figure, sparking rebukes from other MPs and warnings that the upper-crust Englishman was bolstering the case for Scottish independence.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis insisted Johnson had been “very, very sincere” in his apology, amid warnings that Conservative MPs could be mobilising for a no-confidence vote.

“He does recognise the anger and upset and frustration that people feel at what they perceive happened at Number 10. He recognises that and takes responsibility,” Lewis told BBC radio.

Labour Surges In Polls

But Lewis was forced to play down reports that Johnson had told Ross and other Tories, after his House of Commons apology, that he did not believe he had done anything wrong.

On Wednesday, Labour leader Keir Starmer for the first time joined other opposition chiefs in demanding that Johnson resign.

The prime minister’s poll ratings have slumped since “partygate” allegations related to events in 2020 emerged last month.

One new poll by YouGov in The Times newspaper gave Labour a 10-point lead over the Tories, its biggest margin since 2013, and said six out of 10 voters believe Johnson should resign.

Senior Labour MP Lisa Nandy said the prime minister was likely to face new revelations, after Johnson previously insisted in parliament that no Covid rules had been broken in 2020.

‘Horrified and Re-traumatised’

Relatives left bereaved by Covid and unable to say their final goodbyes felt “appalled, horrified and re-traumatised” by Johnson’s attendance at the party, Nandy said on ITV, urging the police to investigate.

London’s Metropolitan Police have not ruled out a criminal probe into the party, which occurred at a time when Britons were banned from outdoor socialising.

But for now Johnson’s fate appears to lie in the hands of senior civil servant Sue Gray, whom he has commissioned to look into the May 2020 event and other Downing Street gatherings that year.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Sunak, who was noticeably absent from the House of Commons on Wednesday, said Johnson had been right to apologise and urged “patience” pending Gray’s report.

Another potential contender to replace Johnson, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, also took hours to issue any public backing, but said she stood “100 percent” behind the prime minister.

Johnson’s official spokesman insisted the cabinet was united in delivering the government’s post-Brexit and post-pandemic priorities.

“The prime minister abides by the principles of public office,” he told reporters, stressing that Johnson had promised to publish Gray’s report and then update parliament.

The government suffered a further blow Thursday with news that its deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam — a gifted and colourful communicator during the pandemic — was leaving to go back to academia.

Georgia Destroys 17,000 Vaccine Doses As Rollout Slows

File photo of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo by Robyn Beck / AFP)

 

Health officials in Georgia sounded the alarm Wednesday over the slow pace of coronavirus vaccinations, after some 17,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had to be destroyed because they expired.

The Black Sea nation is in the midst of a devastating new wave of the pandemic despite vaccines being widely available.

The country of 3.7 million people saw record numbers of daily cases this week, with 6,024 new infections on Wednesday, and was the country with the fifth-highest number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the week to Tuesday, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.

Overall Georgia has reported nearly 733,000 cases and more than 10,000 deaths.

“The government has made available a wide choice of internationally approved Covid-19 vaccines, but the rollout has slowed significantly since the summer,” the deputy director of Georgia’s National Centre for Disease Control, Paata Imnadze, told AFP.

“As a result, we were forced to destroy 17,000 expired AstraZeneca vaccines.”

If the trend is not reversed, “we will soon face… a sharp increase in mortality,” Imnadze said.

This summer the ex-Soviet republic’s government set up vaccination points in shopping malls and sent medical brigades to villages to speed up the rollout.

The finance ministry in September launched a lottery in which cash prizes are awarded to both partially and fully vaccinated people.

But many health professionals have criticised the government’s efforts as insufficient.

“There was practically no information campaign to raise awareness about the vaccination’s importance and safety,” the head of the critical medicine department at the Tbilisi-based New Hospital, Vakho Kaloyan, told AFP.

Only a third of Georgia’s population has been vaccinated with at least one dose since the country began a national coronavirus vaccine drive in March.

Georgia received a donation of some 43,000 doses of AstraZeneca through the UN’s mechanism for vaccine distributions, Covax, as well as 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine from the United States.

AFP

Cheers, Tears As Australia’s Border Reopens After Almost 600 Days

Family members celebrate upon being reunited on arrival at Sydney’s International Airport on November 1, 2021, as Australia’s international border reopened almost 600 days after a pandemic closure began. (Photo by Saeed Khan / AFP)

 

Australia’s international border reopened on Monday almost 600 days after a pandemic closure began, sparking emotional scenes at Sydney airport as loved ones reunited.

Shortly after dawn, bleary-eyed passengers began to trickle into the arrivals terminal at Kingsford Smith International and were quickly wrapped up in the tearful embraces of flower-clutching relatives.

On March 20 last year, Australia introduced some of the world’s toughest border restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Almost all travel to the island continent halted, prompting critics to dub the country a “hermit state”.

Tim Turner, who had not seen his son for more than a year, said it was “pretty brilliant” that they were now able to reunite.

Arriving in Sydney was “beautiful, beautiful”, he told reporters at the airport.

Julie Choo, who flew back from the UK to visit her sick mother in hospital, said she was trying not to cry as the plane touched down.

“I just can’t wait to touch my mother’s hand when I see her. I can’t wait to hold her,” she said. “It’s going to be very emotional.”

For the last 19 months, Australians have been banned from travelling overseas without permission.

Families were split across continents, and tens of thousands of nationals were stranded overseas.

The few who did gain permission to enter were forced to spend thousands of dollars and agree to spend 14 days locked in a hotel room.

Those conditions have now been dropped for the country’s two largest cities — Sydney and Melbourne — which will now allow vaccinated Australians to come and go without quarantine of any kind.

But for some, like Lucinda Botlero, the long-awaited reopening comes agonisingly late.

“I haven’t seen my family for four years, we’ve been trying to get in for a year and a half,” she said.

“It’s a very mixed feeling. Because I still couldn’t see my dad alive. He passed away just a week ago. We’re just a week late, but it’s still really gratifying that I’ll be able to attend his funeral now.”

– Leaving the island –

As some Australians returned home, others stuck in the country took the opportunity to leave.

Abhi Bajaj, 35, said it was “too overwhelming” that he could now travel to the United States to celebrate Christmas with family after two years apart.

“I was waiting for this day for a long time,” he told AFP, before boarding a flight to Los Angeles.

Australian airline Qantas had grounded much of its fleet for more than 18 months, with CEO Alan Joyce calling the resumption of regular international flights “a long time coming”.

“It’s wonderful to see Australians able to reunite with loved ones after such a long time apart,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was a “big day for Australia”, posting on Facebook that the country was now “ready for take-off!”

Travel is expected to resume slowly after such a protracted shutdown, with low passenger numbers on the first flights to arrive.

More than one million foreign residents remain stuck in Australia unable to see friends or relatives overseas, with the relaxed travel rules applying mainly to citizens.

And some Australian states with lower vaccination rates will remain virtually closed to the world, as they still have mandatory and costly 14-day hotel quarantine.

IMF Urges Training Boost To Handle Pandemic Job Shift

In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

With certain sectors haemorrhaging jobs while others can’t find enough qualified workers due to the economic upheaval unleashed by the coronavirus pandemic, the IMF on Wednesday urged Europe states to step up training programmes.

“The Covid-19 pandemic could result in a sizable reallocation of labour, especially among the low-skilled and young workers, as they are disproportionately employed in the sectors hardest hit by the pandemic,” the International Monetary Fund said.

The tourism sector, especially in southern Europe, has been hard hit by coronavirus lockdowns and has shed jobs by the tens of thousands.

Meanwhile, IT companies seen their businesses boom as locked down consumers shifted further to buying goods online, and can’t recruit enough trained workers.

The IMF said in a report focusing on Europe that training assistance should be directed at the most vulnerable workers and those having the least qualifications.

READ ALSO: UN Security Council To Demand Civilian Power In Mali

It should also be directed at smaller companies that traditionally have less resources to dedicate to training, the IMF added.

Incentives to companies could also help them to take the risk of employing newly qualified help.

Meanwhile, aid directed to workers, like cushioning a loss of wages, could help people take the risk of jumping into a new profession.

Alfred Kammer, the head of the IMF’s European department, told a news conference it is important that countries intensify their efforts as “automation will continue and accelerate and it will add pressure on the labour market.”

Russia Vows Retaliation After YouTube Blocks German RT Accounts

 

(FILES) YouTube said on September 29, 2021 it would remove videos that falsely claim approved vaccines are dangerous, as social networks seek to crack down on health misinformation around Covid-19 and other diseases. (Photo by Eric PIERMONT / AFP)

 

 

Russia has threatened retaliatory measures after YouTube blocked the German-language channels of state broadcaster RT for violating coronavirus disinformation rules.

The US video-sharing platform told German media on Tuesday that it had issued a warning to RT for violating its coronavirus disinformation guidelines and then shuttered two channels for breaching user terms.

The move comes amid an escalating standoff between foreign tech companies and the Kremlin, which accuses them of interfering in Russian politics, including by hosting content supportive of jailed opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.

Russia’s foreign ministry accused YouTube of an “unprecedented act of media aggression” which it said was likely aided by German authorities.

“The adoption of symmetrical retaliatory measures against German media in Russia… seems not only appropriate, but also necessary,” the ministry said in a statement.

“We believe these measures are the only possible way to stimulate our partners’ interest in a constructive and meaningful dialogue around this unacceptable situation,” it said.

Russia has recently been ramping up pressure on foreign tech giants as it seeks greater controls over content available online to its domestic audience.

Ahead of parliamentary elections this month, Russia’s media watchdog blocked dozens of websites linked to Navalny, whose organisations were banned in Russia under “extremism” legislation.

Courts have slapped non-compliant platforms, including Twitter, Google and Facebook, with a series of fines and in March started throttling the speed of Twitter’s services.

India To Export Eight Million COVID-19 Jabs In October

A health worker prepares to inoculate a person with a dose of the Covishield vaccine against the Covid-19 coronavirus at a civil hospital in Amritsar on September 17, 2021.
Narinder NANU / AFP

 

India will export eight million coronavirus vaccine jabs by the end of October after ending its ban on sending doses abroad, a top foreign ministry official said Saturday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to resume exports at a meeting of leaders from the so-called Quad in Washington as India, Japan, Australia, and the US try to counter growing Chinese influence across the Asia-Pacific region.

Foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told reporters on Saturday that most of the eight million doses of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine will be sent to Asia-Pacific countries.

“This would be ready by the end of October. This is an immediate delivery, from the Quad into the Indo-Pacific region,” Shringla told reporters.

India is one of the world’s biggest vaccine producers and had pledged earlier this year to export one billion Covid-19 jabs by December 2022.

But New Delhi halted exports in May after a devastating coronavirus wave ravaged the country.

India lifted its vaccine export ban this week with new Covid-19 infections and deaths slowing down.

The country suffered weeks of vaccine shortages as a coronavirus surge between March and May killed at least 250,000 and infected tens of millions of people.

It has now administered nearly 840 million vaccine doses. Nearly half of the adult population has had at least one jab and with 16 percent receiving a second dose.

AFP

Putin Says ‘Several Dozen’ People In His Circle Have COVID-19

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the International Military-Technical Forum “Army-2021” held in the Patriot Park, in Kubinka outside Moscow on August 23, 2021. (Photo by Ramil SITDIKOV / SPUTNIK / AFP)

 

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that dozens of people in his inner circle at the Kremlin had tested positive for coronavirus, which has affected over seven million people in the badly-hit country.

Earlier this week, the 68-year-old Putin said he was self-isolating after announcing an outbreak among members of his entourage.

“Cases of the coronavirus were detected in my inner circle. Not just one or two but several dozen people,” Putin said, speaking via video link at a meeting of a Moscow-led security alliance.

Putin had been due to attend the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe in person but said Tuesday he would instead join remotely.

News of the extent of the outbreak at the Kremlin comes a day before staggered three-day parliamentary elections open in Russia to limit the spread of the virus.

Authorities have gone to great lengths to protect Putin — who has been vaccinated with Russia’s homegrown Sputnik V jab — since the start of the pandemic.

Foreign leaders, journalists and officials have all had to self-isolate before meeting the longtime Russian leader.

Putin this week met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and athletes returning from the Tokyo Paralympic Games, just before the Kremlin said he was self-isolating.

Highest European Death Toll

Russia has the fifth-highest number of recorded Covid cases, according to an AFP tally, and has struggled to rein in infections despite easy access to vaccines.

According to the latest figures, the country has recorded more than 7 million cases and 195,041 deaths, the highest death toll in Europe.

Infections have been falling in recent days after a spike this summer, but health officials still reported 18,841 new cases and 792 new deaths on Wednesday.

Authorities have struggled with a vaccine-skeptic population, with independent polls showing that a majority of Russians do not plan to be inoculated.

As of Tuesday, about 40.2 million of Russia’s 146 million people had been fully vaccinated, according to the Gogov website, which tallies Covid data from the regions.

Russia has several homegrown vaccines freely available to the public but does not distribute any Western-made jabs.

Moscow, the epicentre of Russia’s outbreak, and a host of regions have introduced mandatory vaccination measures to speed up the inoculation drive, and Putin has repeatedly called on Russians to get vaccinated.

The Kremlin initially set a goal of fully inoculating 60 percent of Russia’s population by September, but later dropped that target even though free jabs have been available since early December.

Russian authorities have been accused of vastly downplaying the effects of the pandemic and, after a tight first lockdown in 2020, have refrained from introducing new restrictive measures.

The country instead pinned its hopes of curtailing the pandemic on its four homegrown vaccines — Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona, CoviVac and the one-dose Sputnik Light.

COVID-19: Nigeria Records 387 New Cases, 21 More Deaths

A health worker holding the COVID-19 vaccine.

 

Nigeria has recorded 387 new cases of the COVID-19 with 21 more deaths across the country.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) disclosed this in an update on Monday night.

Lagos had the highest number of infections with (114), followed by Rivers (91), and the FCT (32).

Others are Edo (31), Delta (28), Kwara (20), Bayelsa (18), Akwa Ibom (15), Oyo (10), Osun (8), Gombe (5), Plateau (5), Ekiti (4), Ogun (3), Kano (2) and Kaduna (1).

Till date, 199,538 cases have been confirmed, 188,427 patients have been discharged and 2,619 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

Globally, the coronavirus has killed at least 4,630,215 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019.

The United States remains the worst-hit country with 660,177 deaths, followed by Brazil with 586,851, India with 442,874, Mexico with 267,748 and Peru with 198,764.

Below is a breakdown of the COVID-19 cases across Nigeria.

 

States AffectedNo. of Cases (Lab Confirmed)No. of Cases (on admission)No. DischargedNo. of Deaths
Lagos75,2042,19072,350664
FCT20,95468120,094179
Rivers11,48383610,509138
Kaduna9,366819,21966
Plateau9,252989,09361
Oyo8,5407047,649187
Edo5,9455635,168214
Ogun5,332685,18579
Ondo4,2363013,85778
Akwa Ibom4,2366403,55442
Kano4,131673,952112
Kwara3,7084423,20759
Delta3,2015602,55685
Osun2,818342,69985
Enugu2,6751122,53429
Nasarawa2,426422,34539
Gombe2,333522,23645
Katsina2,214502,12935
Anambra2,173972,05719
Ebonyi2,059242,00332
Abia1,880501,80525
Imo1,784951,65039
Ekiti1,6583011,33225
Bauchi1,568131,53817
Benue1,512701,41824
Borno1,34401,30638
Adamawa1,153231,09832
Bayelsa1,1501161,00727
Taraba1,074361,01424
Niger1,0016791420
Sokoto796276628
Jigawa5731254516
Cross River5425246921
Yobe50124909
Kebbi458943316
Zamfara25322438
Kogi5032

Coronavirus: Latest Global Developments

In this file photo taken on August 9, 2021, a health worker administers a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to a woman in Suva.
Leon LORD / AFP

 

 

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis:

– Eviction moratorium ends -The US Supreme Court blocks the extension of a federal moratorium on evictions, ending a protection granted to millions who have struggled to afford rent during the pandemic.

– NZ extends lockdown -New Zealand extends into next week a national lockdown sparked by a Delta virus outbreak, but warns restrictions will last longer in the infection epicentre of Auckland.

– Year-long symptoms -Fatigue and shortness of breath still afflict many patients a year after their hospitalisation for Covid-19, according to a new Chinese study calling for a better understanding of the pandemic’s long-term health effects.

– Rotating presence -The best way to keep cases out of businesses and schools while maintaining some in-person presence is to create two rotating groups, a French study shows.

– Thailand on the red list -The British government says it will add Thailand and Montenegro to its travel “red list” on Monday, with foreigners banned from travelling to England from those countries, and nationals required to quarantine.

– More than 4.4 million dead -The coronavirus has killed at least 4,472,486 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to an AFP compilation of official data.

The US is the worst-affected country with 633,564 deaths, followed by Brazil with 577,565, India with 436,861, Mexico 256,287 and Peru 198,064.

Based on the latest reports, the countries with the most new daily deaths were the US with 1,238, followed by Brazil with 920 and Mexico with 835.

COVID-19: White House Says 50% Of Americans Fully Vaccinated

A health care worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine to a young woman during a vaccination event hosted by Miami Heat at FTX Arena in Miami, on August 5, 2021. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP

 

Half of the US population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the White House said Friday, as inoculations rise in response to the surging Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.

“50% of Americans (all ages) are now fully vaccinated. Keep going!,” Cyrus Shahpar, White House COVID-19 data director, said in a tweet.

That means more than 165 million people have received either the two-dose Moderna or Pfizer vaccine or the one-and-done Johnson & Johnson shot.

The threshold of half of all adult Americans fully vaccinated was reached in late May.

Shahpar said the seven-day average of newly vaccinated people is up 11 percent from last week and up 44 per cent over the past two weeks.

For four straight weeks, the average number of people getting vaccinated each day has risen, White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients said Thursday.

The United States is the nation hardest hit by the pandemic with 615,000 deaths.

Biden has been pressing hard for Americans to get vaccinated ever since he took office in January.

The aggressive vaccination program had raised hopes of a return to some semblance of normal life this summer, but the plan did not pan out because of the Delta variant.

After peaking in April, the rate of new inoculations fell off sharply.

Daily new cases, deaths and hospitalisations are up sharply in recent weeks, and cities like New York and Los Angeles are imposing new restrictions such as demanding proof of vaccination for entering indoor venues like restaurants and gyms.

Last week there was an average of 90,000 new coronavirus cases per day. Florida and Texas accounted for a third of them, the White House said.

That figure marks a 43 per cent rise from the previous week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

The level of community transmission of the virus is “high” or “substantial” in 85 percent of the country, the CDC says.

Hospitalizations are up to a nationwide daily average of around 7,300 per day in the seven days. Deaths are up sharply at around 380 per day.

Breakout cases of infection among vaccinated people are still rare but preliminary research shows that when they do happen, the risk of contagion is greater than with previous strains of the virus.

And this poses a higher risk for the non-vaccinated who come into contact with infected vaccinated people.

In light of all these numbers the CDC changed course recently and recommended the wearing of masks indoors in high-risk areas, even for people who are vaccinated.