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July 29, 2021, 12:54 p.m. EDT

Biden expected to outline requirement for federal workers to get vaccinated or face regular tests in latest push for U.S. vaccine program

Ciara Linnane

President Joe Biden is expected to announce later Thursday a plan to require all federal employees to either get vaccinated or be subjected to regular testing, social distancing, face-mask requirements and restricted travel as he continues to encourage more unvaccinated Americans to get their shots.

The administration is still reviewing some of the details of the new policy, the New York Times reported, citing two people described as familiar with Biden’s plans. Biden is scheduled to hold a press briefing at 4 p.m.

The U.S. vaccine push has stalled in recent months from the fast pace seen at the beginning of the year, with the numbers barely changing from day to day of late. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that 163.6 million Americans are fully vaccinated, equal to 49.3% of the overall population, stubbornly holding below 50%.

Full vaccination means having had two shots of the vaccines developed by Pfizer (NYS:PFE) with German partner BioNTech (NAS:BNTX) or Moderna (NAS:MRNA) , or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s (NYS:JNJ) single-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca (NAS:AZN) (LON:UK:AZN) vaccine, which has been widely used in the U.K. and other places, has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Among adults 18 and older, 155 million are fully vaccinated, equal to 60.2% of that group. Some 69.3% have received at least one jab, just below Biden’s goal of having 70% of adults receive at least one jab by July 4.

The CDC said Tuesday it is changing its policy on face masks and is now recommending that even vaccinated people wear masks in public settings in areas with high rates of infection. Those include many southern states, including Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida, along with large parts of western states such as Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona. More than 63% of U.S. counties are categorized as having “high” or “substantial” rates of transmission.

Don’t miss: The new surge in COVID-19 cases is putting the vaccinated and the unvaccinated on high alert as masks come back and anxiety kicks in

See: CDC head takes to the airwaves to sell change on face masks, as delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 spreads to 132 countries

In the meantime, cases continue to rise in all 50 states, mostly driven by the highly transmissible delta variant, the strain first detected in India that is fast becoming dominant worldwide. Delta has been designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, which said Wednesday that the variant is now in 132 countries.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus , WHO director-general, said Thursday that the pandemic has exposed a major gap in international relations, the “lack of international solidarity and sharing: the sharing of pathogen data, epidemiological information, specimens, resources, technology and tools such as vaccines.”

Read now:  COVID-19 — but not the vaccine — may reduce male fertility

To bridge that divide, the WHO is proposing a treaty on pandemic preparedness and response, one that will mark a generational commitment and leave the world far better prepared for future crises, Tedros said in opening remarks at the President of U.N. General Assembly meeting on the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

“Pandemics start and end in communities,” he said. “All our work to prevent future pandemics must start locally, by strengthening public health surveillance and systems that can detect and contain diseases at source, stronger primary healthcare systems that can save lives, and bolstering community engagement and participation through stronger social safety nets. That must be our first priority.”

Elsewhere, another 24 COVID cases were recorded at the Tokyo Olympics, according to the organizing committee, as Kyodo news reported, the highest daily count since the start of the month. That brings the total to 193. Tokyo counted a record of 3,865 new cases in a single day.

In Australia, officials in the biggest city, Sydney, have called on the military to help enforce a lockdown, after yet another record rise in COVID cases on Thursday, Reuters reported. The city counted 239 cases in 24 hours, despite a strict lockdown, and authorities are worried it could get worse.

China recorded another 49 new COVID cases on Thursday due to an outbreak of the delta variant of the virus in Nanjing, also from Reuters. That was down from 86 a day earlier. The official Xinhua News Agency said that tracing of the outbreak found it likely came from inadequately protected staff who cleaned planes after international flights.

In the U.K., AstraZeneca narrowed losses from its COVID-19 vaccine in the second quarter, but its earnings fell below forecast, the Wall Street Journal reported. That contrasts with rivals like Pfizer, who are making money from their shots.  

See now: Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine generated $7.8 billion in revenue in the second quarter

AstraZeneca pledged last year to  distribute the vaccine at no profit  during the pandemic. Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said Thursday the company and its manufacturing partners had released a billion doses of the vaccine for use in more than 170 countries.

A growing number of companies are opting to require that their employees get vaccinated before returning to offices as the delta variant spreads. Google (NAS:GOOGL) is postponing a return to the office for most workers until mid-October and rolling out a policy that will eventually require everyone to be vaccinated once it is fully reopened, the Associated Press reported. Facebook (NAS:FB) has announced the same requirement. That comes after a similar move from Apple Inc. (NAS:AAPL) .

The U.S. airlines Delta (NYS:DAL) and United (NAS:UAL)  are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs (NYS:GS) and Morgan Stanley (NYS:MS) are requiring their employees to disclose their vaccination status, but are not requiring staffers to be vaccinated.

Less that 10% of employers have said they intend to require all employees to be vaccinated, based on periodic surveys by the research firm Gartner.

See now: As CDC reverses mask policy, Apple, Costco, Walmart and others have some soul-searching to do

Related: Restaurants tell customers, ‘No vax, no service’ as delta variant spreads

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness moved above 196 million on Thursday, while the death toll climbed above 4.19 million, according to  data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University .

The U.S. leads the world with a total of 34.7 million cases and in deaths with 611,813.

India is second by cases at 31.5 million and third by deaths at 422,662, according to its official numbers, which are expected to be undercounted.

Brazil is second in deaths at 553,179, but is third in cases at 19.8 million. Mexico has fourth highest death toll at 239,616 but has recorded just 2.8 million cases, according to its official numbers.

In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 154,403, while the U.K. has 129,718, making Russia the country with the fifth highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.

China,  where the virus was first discovered late in 2019,  has had 104,854 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

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