US court halts Biden’s vaccine mandate for companies

In this file photo taken on Sept 22, 2021, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic for homeless people in Los Angeles, California. A US federal appeals court on Nov 6, 2021 froze a vaccine mandate by President Joe Biden's administration that is intended to push workers at businesses with more than 100 employees into getting COVID-19 shots. (FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP)

ATHENS / ZAGRED / DAR ES SALAAM / WASHINGTON – A US federal appeals court ruled Saturday to temporarily halt a mandate by President Joe Biden's administration that required employees of large companies to get vaccinated or undergo frequent testing.

According to the mandate, employees of companies with a workforce of 100 or more must be fully vaccinated by Jan 4. Unvaccinated employees must submit weekly negative COVID-19 tests to enter the workplace after the deadline, and have to wear masks indoors at their workplaces starting Dec 5.

According to the mandate, employees of companies with a workforce of 100 or more must be fully vaccinated by Jan 4

Issued by three judges from the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit who were appointed by Republican presidents, the order reasoned that "there are grave statutory and constitutional issues with the Mandate" and suspended the mandate "pending further action by this court."

The court order came after a joint petition against the mandate from several Republican-led states as well as several private companies.

In response to the petition, the Labor Department's top lawyer, Seema Nanda, said Friday that the department was "confident in its legal authority" to issue the mandate, which will be enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA has the authority "to act quickly in an emergency where the agency finds that workers are subjected to a grave danger and a new standard is necessary to protect them," she said, adding the administration was "fully prepared to defend this standard in court." 

Costa Rica

Costa Rican children aged five and up must get COVID-19 vaccinations, according to a new health ministry mandate, making the Central American country one of the first to adopt such a requirement for kids.

The move would add COVID-19 to a list of other infectious diseases in which vaccines for children have for years been required, including for polio and smallpox.

"Our basic vaccination scheme has made it possible to subdue many of the viruses that cause suffering and health consequences and even fatalities in the underage population," Health Minister Daniel Salas said in a statement issued on Friday, announcing the addition of COVID-19 to the scheme.

Coronavirus infection rates in Costa Rica have been trending down recently, with confirmed COVID-19 deaths totaling more than 7,000, according to official data, out of a population of around 5.1 million.

So far, nearly three-quarters of the country's 12 to 19-year-olds have received at least one vaccine dose, while about 54 percent of all Costa Ricans have been fully vaccinated.

Croatia

New COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours in Croatia hit a new record high of 7,094 and resulted in 50 fatalities, which was also a new daily record since the start of the pandemic, Croatian COVID-19 crisis management team said in a statement on Saturday.

As of Saturday, there are 31,689 active cases, including 1,786 hospitalized patients, 234 of whom are on ventilators, the statement said.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as many as 497,168 people have been infected with the virus, and the total death toll has risen to 9,450 in the country.

Low vaccination rate has been blamed for the climbing COVID-16 cases, as only 53.71 percent of the adult population in Croatia have been vaccinated. 

An employee checks COVID-19 vaccine certifications at the enter of a shop in central Athens on Nov 6, 2021. Mandatory negative COVID-19 tests is now required in Greece for unvaccinated seeking access to government offices, shops and banks. (LOUISA GOULIAMAKI / AFP)

Greece

Queues formed outside shops in Athens on Saturday on the first day of new restrictions to curb soaring coronavirus infections which require the unvaccinated to have negative COVID-19 tests.

COVID-19 infections in Greece hit a new daily high almost every day in November, prompting authorities to announce new measures on Tuesday, which also restrict access to cafes and restaurants, state services and banks to those who are either vaccinated or have a negative test.

COVID-19 infections in Greece hit a new daily high almost every day in November, prompting authorities to announce new measures on Tuesday, which also restrict access to cafes and restaurants, state services and banks to those who are either vaccinated or have a negative test

Those vaccinated against COVID-19 also have to present their vaccination certificates, triggering long lines outside shops in the capital's busiest shopping street, Ermou.

"I don't like it," said Soula Tsaousi as she waited in line outside a clothes shop in central Athens. "We don't live in a jail, we're civilized human beings and I don't like it at all."

ALSO READ: Greece rolls out COVID-19 vaccines in migrant camps

Greece reported 6,909 new coronavirus infections on Friday, breaking a previous single-day record of 6,808 recorded on Thursday. This took the total infections to 774,265 since the pandemic began last year. Some 16,200 death people have died.

Some Greeks were in favour of the new rules.

"They will be effective as long as they are implemented correctly and by all," said Giorgos, a customer in a cafe who declined to give his last name. "I think they were late in coming too, they should have implemented these measures a lot sooner."

As part of the new measures, all unvaccinated workers should also test negative twice a week. Most unvaccinated in Greece are now required to present a negative test once a week to get to their workplace.

About 60.5 percent of a population of about 11 million are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the latest data.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris said Greece will soon send letters and text messages as part of a new campaign to boost vaccination take up.


Tanzania

Tanzanian authorities said on Saturday that between 80,000 and 100,000 people will be vaccinated daily against COVID-19 during the second phase of the inoculation campaign.

A statement by the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children said the permanent secretary in the ministry, Abel Makubi, revealed the acceleration of the vaccination in a meeting with regional medical officers and COVID-19 vaccination coordinators in the capital Dodoma.

Makubi said the second phase of the vaccination campaign will mainly focus on rural communities.

He said the new campaign will go in tandem with raising awareness at community levels on precaution measures issued by health authorities against the pandemic.

ALSO READ: Vaccine-holdout Tanzania starts inoculations with Sinovac shots

At least one million Tanzanians have been vaccinated between July 28 when President Samia Suluhu Hassan launched the campaign and October 31.

China has donated 1,565,600 Sinopharm vaccine doses to Tanzania to support the east African nation's drive to vaccinate its people against the virus. Tanzania intends to vaccinate at least 60 percent of its 60 million population.  

Travelers arrive at Heathrow's Terminal 5 in west London on Aug 2, 2021. (TOLGA AKMEN / AFP)

UK

British travelers who fail to get COVID-19 booster jabs could face fresh quarantine and testing requirements, according to the Mail on Sunday.

Officials are drawing up plans to prevent the spread of new variants but are split over when to introduce the travel restrictions, the Mail reported, without naming its sources. So far, only 60 percent of those eligible for booster jabs have received it — almost 10 million people in the UK, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement.

The UK reported another 30,693 cases on Saturday, the lowest since Oct 3. Confirmed infections are down more than 10 percent in the past week, the government said on its website. Weekly fatalities are up 8 percent to 1,186 people dying within 28 days of a positive test.