Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on July 29

The latest:

U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday announced sweeping new pandemic requirements aimed at boosting vaccination rates for millions of federal workers and contractors as he lamented the “American tragedy” of rising-yet-preventable deaths among the unvaccinated.

Federal workers will be required to sign forms attesting they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else comply with new rules on mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and more. The strict new guidelines are aimed at increasing sluggish vaccination rates among the huge number of Americans who draw federal paycheques — and to set an example for private employers around the country.

“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say, ‘If I’d just got the vaccine,”‘ Biden said in a somber address from the East Room of the White House. “This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don’t have to die.”

The U.S. government directly employs about four million people, but Biden’s action could affect many more when federal contractors are factored in. New York University professor of public service Paul Light estimates there are nearly seven million more employees who could potentially be included, combining those who work for companies that contract with the government and those working under federal grants.

A person is administered a COVID-19 vaccine in Wilmington, Calif., on Thursday. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Biden also directed the Defence Department to look into adding the COVID-19 shot to its list of required vaccinations for members of the military. Service members already are required to get as many as 17 vaccines, depending on where they are based around the world.

Biden renewed his calls for schools to fully open this fall, although children under 12 are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine. And he said that public health officials do not yet believe Americans need a booster vaccine despite the highly contagious delta variant fuelling the surge.

His announcements come as some 60 per cent of American adults have been fully vaccinated. He had set a July 4 goal to get at least one shot in 70 per cent of adults, and is still not quite there. The latest figure is 69.3 per cent. And there remains significant resistance, from many Republicans and some unions, to vaccine mandates for employers.

But Thursday’s move is not just about federal workers.

The administration hopes it will nudge private companies to push their workers harder to get vaccines that, while widely recognized as safe and effective, have yet to receive full approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Guests are asked to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination as they arrive for the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago on Thursday. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Some of the nation’s biggest corporations have moved to require vaccinations for their workers. Tech giants Facebook and Google announced this week their employees would have to show proof they’ve been fully vaccinated before returning to work.

Delta and United airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are requiring workers to disclose their vaccination status though not requiring them to be vaccinated.

But fewer than 10 per cent of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by the research firm Gartner.

And there is already opposition, with state lawmakers across the U.S. having introduced more than 100 bills aimed at prohibiting employers from requiring vaccination as a condition of employment, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy. At least six states have approved such bills.


What’s happening in Canada

People wearing face masks are seen in Kelowna, B.C., on Thursday. The province reinstated a face mask mandate and declared a COVID-19 outbreak in the Central Okanagan . (Winston Szeto/CBC)

  • Re-instated mask mandate takes effect in B.C.’s Central Okanagan region.
  • All restrictions in N.B. will be lifted Friday at 11:59 p.m. local time.
  • Nunavut opens travel bubble with Arctic Quebec region of Nunavik.

What’s happening around the world

As of Thursday, more than 196 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 4.1 million deaths had been reported.

In Africa, the director of the region’s World Health Organization chapter says the continent of 1.3 billion people is entering an “encouraging phase after a bleak June” as supplies of COVID-19 vaccines increase. 

In Asia, Japanese officials have sounded the alarm as Tokyo reported record-breaking coronavirus cases for the third straight day with the Olympics well underway.

In Europe, Spain’s prime minister on Thursday announced that existing measures to protect the most vulnerable from the pandemic’s economic fallout will be prolonged until the end of October.

In the Americas, Brazil plans to cancel a contract signed in March for 10 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said on Thursday as the South American nation struggles with one of the worst outbreaks in the world.

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