The Latest: Australia pressing its states to end lockdowns

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FILE – In this Tuesday, May 11, 2021 file photo, Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington. On Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, Marks urged parents to be patient, saying the agency will rapidly evaluate vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as it gets the needed data. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool via AP)

CANBERRA, Australia — The Australian government is ramping up pressure on state governments to end pandemic lockdowns by outlining plans to end financial aid.

The government says in a Wednesday statement that its payments to workers who lose hours due to lockdowns will end two weeks after a state or territory reaches its vaccination benchmark. That benchmark is 80% of residents ages 16 and older being fully inoculated with a double dose of AstraZeneca, Pfizer or Moderna.

State and territory leaders agreed in July that lockdowns would no longer be necessary after that level was achieved. But with the delta variant outbreak worsening in Sydney and Melbourne, some leaders have suggested they may maintain restrictions until 90% are fully vaccinated.

Australia’s government reported Tuesday that less than 53% of the population is fully vaccinated.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— U.S. employer vaccine mandates convert some workers, but not all

— 400K in U.S. got Pfizer booster shots last weekend

— France offers state-funded therapy, tackles mental health

— Vaccination situation in Europe a story of two regions

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See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand is reporting 45 new local cases of the coronavirus, the most in nearly a month as an outbreak in Auckland continues to grow.

Auckland remains under lockdown although officials have eased some restrictions since the outbreak began last month.

COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said Wednesday that people need to keep steady as officials continue efforts to tamp down the outbreak.

Officials say some of the cases have been spreading among homeless people living in transitional housing, a group that may be more reluctant than most to seek health services.

About 64% of New Zealanders have had at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine.

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BOISE, Idaho — Health care workers in Idaho say they are facing increased animosity from some patients and community members, and they blame misinformation about the pandemic and coronavirus vaccines.

Officials at Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene, for instance, say some nurses are scared to go to the grocery store unless they have changed out of scrubs because they get accosted by angry people.

The Idaho Hospital Association says similar instances are happening across the state. State health officials say the state will help hospitals boost security if needed.

Some state lawmakers, political groups and local leaders have been dismissive of coronavirus vaccines, pushed the use of an anti-parasitic drug to treat COVID-19 and claimed that coronavirus case numbers are being inflated.

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HARRISBURG, Pa. — A bill that would allow parents in Pennsylvania to exempt their children from wearing a mask at school cleared a state Senate committee on Tuesday as Republican lawmakers started making good on their pledge to counter the governor’s statewide mask mandate.

The legislation would hand the ultimate decision on masking at school to parents and guardians, allowing them to overrule any face-covering mandate imposed by the state Department of Health, a local health department or a school board.

It would also prohibit schools from keeping unmasked students away from other students or excluding them from any school-sponsored activities.

The Senate Education Committee approved the bill on a party-line vote. It would have to clear the full Senate and the House before going to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, whose office said he opposes the bill.

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Thousands of health care workers in New York faced with getting the COVID-19 vaccine or losing their jobs on Monday have received at least one dose.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul released figures showing vaccination rates rising among the state’s 450,000 hospital workers and for other health care workers. By Monday evening, 92% of nursing home staff received at least one vaccine dose. Preliminary data showed 92% of hospital staff receiving at least one dose of vaccine.

The executive order allows out-of-state doctors, nurses and other medical professionals to practice in New York, makes it easier for retirees to return to the workforce and allows doctor consults in nursing homes via telemedicine.

The order broadens the roles of emergency medical technicians, allowing basic EMTs to vaccinate and test for the coronavirus.

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DECATUR, Ga. — The metro Atlanta city of Decatur is requiring its police officers, firefighters and other employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly tests to keep their jobs.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says Decatur City Manager Andrea Arnold announced the new policy during a city commission meeting on Monday night. At least one other Georgia city — Brookhaven, also in metro Atlanta — has issued a similar requirement.

Arnold says the city’s policy mirrors the federal vaccine mandate enacted by President Joe Biden. That mandate has been panned by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republican leaders.

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LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he’ll appoint a chair this year to the planned public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic and bereaved families will have a role in the proceedings.

The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, which has around 4,000 members, have been calling for a public inquiry into the government’s handling of the pandemic so lessons can be learned to limit future virus-related deaths. It has criticized Johnson and his Conservative government for a lack of protective gear for health workers, delaying lockdowns and a too-lax travel policy.

Johnson confirmed in May a public inquiry will start to hear evidence next year. However, the group says, “we see no reason why preparations for the inquiry cannot begin now, particularly as nearly 1,000 people are still losing their lives each week.”

The U.K. registered 167 virus-related deaths on Tuesday. Britain has Europe’s second-highest pandemic death toll after Russia, with nearly 136,500 confirmed dead.

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PHOENIX — Arizona reported 1,123 confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, a figure less than half the state’s latest seven-day rolling average that state officials say is low because of a reporting problem.

Therefore, the figures released Wednesday and Thursday will be higher, the Department of Health Services says.

The state reported 108 new deaths, increasing the state’s total to 19,920 confirmed deaths.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases dropped in the past two weeks, decreasing from 2,581 on Sept. 12 to 2,500 on Sunday. The rolling average of daily deaths rose from 26 to 42 during the same period, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The COVID-19-related hospitalizations, which have decreased slightly since mid-September, were at 1,794 on Monday.

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WASHINGTON — More than 400,000 Americans got Pfizer booster shots last weekend through local pharmacies in the opening days of the U.S effort to provide more protection for vulnerable populations.

White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients says an additional 1 million people have scheduled booster shots for the coming weeks. He adds: “We’re off to a very strong start with the booster campaign.”

As many as 25 million people qualify for the third dose of the Pfizer shot, which was authorized last week for those 65 or older, those with pre-existing conditions or facing an elevated risk at their workplace.

U.S. officials say their primary focus is ensuring the roughly 25% of eligible Americans who have yet to get their first shot do so.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says a major priority is the vaccination rate among pregnant women, which stands at 30% nationally and at 15% among Black pregnant women. She encouraged them to seek out vaccinations, saying data shows they’re safe for mother and baby and can prevent needless illness or death.

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PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron has announced psychology appointments in France will be funded by the government starting next year.

State health care systems in Britain, Germany and some other countries already fund therapy sessions. French health professionals say a national effort to improve access is long overdue, especially as the coronavirus pandemic has caused and aggravated psychological distress.

Macron acknowledged both the psychological impact of government virus restrictions and past government failures to make mental health a priority during a conference with mental health professionals on Tuesday. He described a spike in the number of children seeking psychological treatment and in attempted suicides, notably among teenagers.

Health surveys in France last year pointed to a surge of depression most acute among people without work, those in financial hardship and young adults.

The French government announced free therapy sessions for children and young people earlier this year, and on Tuesday pledged to extend it to everyone. Psychiatric treatment is already largely reimbursed by the state.

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WILMINGTON, Del. — Delaware Gov. John Carney announced all teachers and school staff in Delaware will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing.

Carney announced the requirement Tuesday. It will be formally issued by emergency regulation and take effect Nov. 1. The requirement also applies to contractors and volunteers who work in K-12 public and private schools.

Carney says the top priority has been to get all students back in school this fall, and the mandate will help minimize disruptions.

Delaware State Education Association President Stephanie Ingram says the state’s largest teacher’s union supports the decision and urges members to get vaccinated, calling weekly testing a “reasonable alternative.”

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NEW YORK — Businesses with vaccine mandates say some workers who’ve been on the fence have gotten inoculated against COVID-19, with some holdouts.

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases are surging in the U.S. The seven-day average COVID-19 deaths climbed above 2,000 last week for the first time since March.

Even before President Joe Biden’s announcement on Sept. 9 that companies with more than 100 workers would have to require vaccinations, dozens of companies, including Amtrak, Microsoft, United Airlines and Disney, issued ultimatums to most workers.

United Airlines said 97% of its workers have been vaccinated even before its deadline took effect Monday. Alternatives for those employees include weekly testing, working remotely or away from other staff, or ultimately, termination.

Some bigger companies that require in-office workers be vaccinated now or in coming weeks include Google, McDonald’s (U.S.-based office workers), and Goldman Sachs, among others.

Biden wants to boost the vaccination rate in the U.S., where about 77% of American adults have had one dose of the vaccine, according to the CDC.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania started administering third doses of coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday, the same day it recorded its highest number of daily infections since the start of the pandemic.

Romania, which has the second-lowest vaccine rate in the European Union, is facing a rise of COVID-19 cases. The country registered 11,049 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday. That’s almost 1,000 more than its previous record last November.

Chief vaccination coordinator Dr. Valeriu Gheorghita administered boosters during a hospital visit in the capital Bucharest.

“We still have a long way to go,” he said. “The rate of vaccination is obviously not enough to limit the negative consequences of the fourth wave and especially with the delta variant infections.”

Only 33% of adults in Romania, a country of 19 million, have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The booster shots are recommended for people vulnerable to the virus who received their second dose at least six months ago.

Romania has recorded more than 1.2 million confirmed cases and 36,658 confirmed deaths.

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ZAGREB, Croatia — Croatian authorities say all employees in health and social care services in the country must produce COVID-19 certificates to work or they must get tested twice a week.

The decision Tuesday will apply to facilities where patients don’t require urgent medical care. Workers will be required next week to show evidence of vaccination, a negative virus test or a certificate that they’ve had COVID-19.

Croatia introduced the new rules after a recent case surge and a slowing of the vaccination drive in the nation. Croatia has reached about 50% vaccination rate among the adult population in the country of 4.2 million.

Health Minister Vili Baros says “we don’t want to be rigid” but adds it’s clear more vaccinations are needed and those not following the rules “won’t get paid.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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