The United States is partnering with Africa to boost the supply of coronavirus vaccines to the continent as the Delta variant continues to spread, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a pre-recorded speech released to the US-Africa Business Summit on Tuesday.
"We are partnering with the African Union and the African CDC to distribute doses to those most at risk, and we will continue to ramp up the safe and secure transfer of vaccines through the rest of the year," Tai said. "We’ve all seen the alarming statistics, in particular, how many of the new cases come from the Delta variant."
Tai said defeating the coronavirus and helping facilitate a robust global economic recovery were interconnected and top priorities for Africa and the United States.
"At the moment, less than 2 percent of Africa’s population is vaccinated, and the World Health Organization recently said that Africa experienced the worst surge of cases in late June since the pandemic began," she noted.
Tai also said since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the US government has announced more than $500 million in emergency health, humanitarian, economic and development assistance to sub-Saharan Africa.
In addition, the US government provided an initial $2 billion - out of a total planned $4 billion - to support vaccines for 92 low- and middle-income countries that are eligible to participate in the COVAX Advanced Market Commitment Facility.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy's euroskeptic Lega party, said on Tuesday that COVID-19 vaccination passports should not be obligatory for teachers and students over 12 years old.
"There is no question that the vaccine saves lives. But I say no to obligating children aged 12 and 13 to get vaccinated," Salvini was quoted as saying by Italian news agency ANSA.
The former deputy prime minister suggested instead that the elderly and those at a higher risk of COVID-19 should remain a priority.
On Monday, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said that the government was considering the introduction of the so-called green passes in schools beginning from the new academic year.
Last week, the Italian Council of Ministers extended the COVID-19 state of emergency until December 31, despite thousands of people protesting against the new restrictions.
The package includes health passes to access indoor restaurants, long-distance trains and events such as festivals, concerts and sports tournaments. Apart from that, the Italian authorities changed the criteria of color-coding areas to indicate levels of COVID-19 risks.
The COVID-19 state of emergency was first introduced in Italy on January 31, 2020. The emergency empowers the government to make decisions on countering COVID-19 without compulsory approval by parliament.
The Chechen republic became the first Russian region to reach the 60% COVID-19 vaccination rate among adults, Elkhan Suleymanov, the regional health ministry, said on Tuesday.
"Chechnya is the first region of the Russian Federation to achieve 60% COVID-19 vaccination rate of the adult population, which is 568,000 people of the total population of the republic [910,000 people]," Suleymanov told reporters, adding that the effect of achieving herd immunity will affect the epidemiological situation in Chechnya closer to autumn.
The US government will lift travel restrictions between the United States and Canada when the coronavirus cases of the emergent Delta variant are sufficiently reduced, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said during a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
"We are mindful of and monitoring every single day the economic impact of the travel restrictions… we are watching the trajectory of the pandemic - a pandemic of the unvaccinated - we are watching the Delta variant very carefully, and we will lift those restrictions in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control when the arc of the pandemic so warrants," Mayorkas said.
Mayorkas was responding in particular about travel restrictions between the United States and Canada, having been asked by Senator Gary Peters about what criteria the Biden administration is using to reach the travel restriction decision.
Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced last week that Canada will be opening its borders to fully vaccinated US citizens starting on August 9 as well as to other foreigners on September 7.
Mayorkas also said he spoke with Canadian Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair last week about the decision. Blair said there is "nothing embarrassing" about the lack of reciprocity in the lifting of travel restrictions between the United States and Canada.
The Thai government said on Tuesday that it had to start evacuating COVID-19 patients in Bangkok on temporary stay to their home regions due to the shortage of hospital beds in the capital.
"To reduce the demand for patient beds in Bangkok, the Ministry of Public Health, the National Health Security Office, and related agencies have joined hands in facilitating travel for COVID-19 patients wanting to return to their hometowns under the health protection plan to prevent the risk of spreading the virus," the government's Public Relations Department said.
Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told a briefing in Bangkok that the evacuation will be carried out on buses and trains duly equipped to transport COVID-19 patients. Should the need arise, the government will arrange for aerial transportation, he added.
"We will continue this service until we are back to the situation where every COVID-19 patient can get a hospital bed in Bangkok," the minister said.
The first evacuation train has already departed from Bangkok's central railroad station earlier in the day, carrying over 100 patients and fully equipped health workers to northeastern provinces. Ambulances are at seven stations on the route to transport the patients to local hospitals, which are not facing a shortage of beds, the minister said.
Thailand's cumulative toll of COVID-19 cases is close to 527,000 cases, including 4,264 deaths. Over 90% of all cases and 97% of deaths were recorded in the period from April 1, which the Thai health authorities pinned as the start of the third wave.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will advise coronavirus vaccinated individuals to wear masks indoors, reversing earlier guidance that face masks are no longer needed, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
The updated guidance would apply to areas of the US experiencing a surge of infections, including so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated individuals, due to the more contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, the report said.
The new recommendations expected later on Tuesday would mark a sharp turnabout from the CDC's position since May that vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most indoor spaces, the report added.
The report followed a meeting by US health officials Sunday night to review new evidence that may have prompted the reversal.
The CDC’s initial guidance in May said people vaccinated against the coronavirus could go mask-free indoors, but recommended that unvaccinated people wear masks.