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Coronavirus

As mandate kicks in, ranks of unvaccinated New York police, firefighters dwindle

By Peter Szekely

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As mandate kicks in, ranks of unvaccinated New York police, firefighters dwindle
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) President Andrew Ansbro speaks while a NYFD truck exit the building during a news conference as the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate deadline approaches at Ladder Co.

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared his coronavirus vaccination order for emergency responders a success on Monday, with no disruption to city services, despite a sickout by some firefighters who officials said were protesting the mandate.

The mayor’s Oct. 20 order, which police and firefighter union leaders said would cause staff shortages, led to an 11th-hour rush of inoculations that shrank the ranks of the unvaccinated as officials in the largest U.S. city began enforcing the mandate on Monday morning.

The vaccination rate for city’s workforce of 378,000 employees, including teachers, corrections officers and other city workers who faced previous orders, rose to at least 91% over the weekend from 86% on Thursday, de Blasio said.

“Time and time again we put the mandates in place and they’ve worked,” de Blasio, a Democrat, told a briefing.

Mandate disputes also have erupted in other cities as political leaders, including President Joe Biden, have sought to stem the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

In Cook County, Illinois, a judge on Monday temporary blocked Chicago from enforcing a vaccine mandate for police officers who are union members and ordered the case to arbitration.

New York City police and firefighter unions also have challenged the mandate. But the Police Benevolent Association of the City of New York said courts last week rejected its requests for an emergency order to halt the mandate’s enforcement.

The New York mandate prompted several thousand uniformed workers, including emergency medical services and sanitation employees, to get the required minimum first shot by the Friday afternoon deadline, and more than 3,500 others to do so over the weekend, de Blasio said.

That lifted vaccination rates to 85% for the New York Police Department, 88% for Emergency Medical Services, 83% for the Sanitation Department and 77% for firefighters, the mayor said.

Some 9,000 workers were placed on unpaid leave for failing to get immunized, while another 12,000 unvaccinated workers were getting paid while officials assessed their claims for medical or religious exemptions, which could take days, de Blasio said.

“We’re not seeing disruptions to any city services,” he added.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said 2,300 employees had called in sick on Monday, more than double the usual number.

“Since the mandate was issued, our medical leave spiked up,” Nigro said at the briefing. “We know that’s related to protests against the mandate. It’s obvious.”

Despite the sickout, which could lead to discipline, all of the city’s fire houses were open on Monday, Nigro said.

Union officials, who said last week at least one-third of firefighters and police officers were unvaccinated, had predicted worker shortages as a result of the mandate, which eliminated a COVID-19 testing alternative that they said had worked well.

At a pre-dawn briefing, Uniformed Firefighters Association President Andrew Ansbro predicted that dozens of fire companies would shut because of staff shortages and urged the city to give his members more time to comply, NY1 TV reported.

Even so, Ansbro added, “this is not a city in crisis.”

Coronavirus

China slashes COVID quarantine time for international travellers

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China on Tuesday slashed the quarantine time for inbound travellers by half in a major easing of one of the world’s strictest COVID-19 curbs, which have deterred travel in and out of the country since 2020.

Quarantine at centralised facilities has been cut to seven days from 14, and subsequent at-home health monitoring has been reduced to three days from seven, the National Health Commission said.

The latest guidelines from the health authority also eased quarantine requirements for close contacts of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus.

China has cautiously eased its COVID curbs on cross-border travellers in recent months, with health officials saying the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant allows for an adjustment of quarantine periods.

The Chinese capital Beijing in recent months has already reduced the quarantine period at centralised facilities to 10 days from 14.

China, last month, also removed some COVID-19 test requirements for people flying in from countries such as the United States.

“We believe that today’s announcement will be welcomed by the American business community,” the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai said on its official WeChat account.

The quarantine adjustment will make it easier for companies to bring staff to China, and for Chinese companies and their executives to visit the United States, AmCham said.

Stock markets rose in Hong Kong and the mainland, with the Hang Seng Index reversing losses and ticking up roughly 0.4% and the CSI300 Index gaining 0.7%.

Shares in mainland tourism companies jumped more than 5%.

China’s aviation regulator said this month it had been in touch with some countries to steadily increase the number of flights in the second half of 2022.

IN THE CLEAR

Beijing and Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear simultaneously since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19.

The Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) Co’s Shanghai Disney Resort said on Tuesday that it would reopen the Disneyland theme park on June 30; it had been shut for more than three months.

Authorities, however, were adamant the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

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Coronavirus

Beijing, Shanghai both free of new local COVID cases for first time in months

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People line up at a nucleic acid testing station, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beijing, China, June 16, 2022. REUTERS/Thomas Peter/File Photo

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s capital, Beijing, and the financial hub of Shanghai reported on Tuesday no new local COVID infections, the first time both cities were in the clear at the same time since late February, after months of fighting their worst-ever outbreaks.

The milestone for the two cities, achieved on Monday, came after their daily caseloads dropped to single digits over the past week, allowing Shanghai to gradually resume eating in at restaurants and Beijing to reopen some leisure venues including the Universal Beijing Resort.

Shanghai Communist Party chief Li Qiang declared on Saturday that authorities had “won the war to defend Shanghai” against COVID-19, following a crushing two-month citywide lockdown that was finally lifted in early June.

Authorities, however, remained wary and were adamant that the government’s so-called dynamic zero COVID policy, which aims at blocking flare-ups from spreading as they crop up, remains in place.

Beijing would “fight against any new outbreaks at the outset and with speed and resolutely break their transmission channel”, Cai Qi, the city’s top Communist Party chief, was quoted as saying in a report by the party-backed Beijing Daily.

The city would build “a solid virus barrier”, Cai was quoted as saying on Monday.

Earlier on Monday, the Beijing Daily apparently misquoted Cai as saying the city would maintain its COVID control effort for “the next five years”.

The newspaper afterwards removed the reference and its chief, Zhao Jingyun, said it was an error but that did not prevent some suspicion among the public.

“Surely it wasn’t a mistake! It’s meant to gauge public opinion!” said a user of the Weibo (NASDAQ:WB) social media platform.

Another Weibo user said even if it was a mistake, “at least the higher-ups are now aware of how helpless we all feel and how we detest the current counter-epidemic policies”.

Despite easing COVID restrictions in Beijing and Shanghai, their combined 47 million residents have been told to go through COVID testing every few days, to maintain access to public spaces and transport.

Elsewhere in mainland China, a total of 22 domestically transmitted infections were reported for June 27, including five in the southern technology hub Shenzhen.

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Coronavirus

U.S. appeals court vacates federal vaccine mandate pending additional hearing

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A resident over 50 years old and immunocompromised receives a second booster shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Waterford, Michigan, U.S., April 8, 2022. REUTERS/Emily Elconin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court panel said on Monday it would convene a full panel to reconsider President Joe Biden’s executive order requiring civilian federal employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and set aside the order pending that hearing.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which is based in New Orleans, had reinstated the vaccine order in April by a 2-1 vote after it was blocked by a district court judge in January. [L2N2W530Z]

The court said on Monday that it would reconsider the case en banc, which means it will be heard by a larger panel of judges. No date was given for the hearing. Pending that hearing, the court said it would vacate the April ruling, which means that Biden’s order cannot be enforced.

Biden said in September he would require about 3.5 million government workers to get vaccinated by Nov. 22, barring a religious or medical accommodation, or face discipline or firing. Despite the legal fight, more than 90% of federal workers were vaccinated by December, the White House said last year.

The president’s vaccine and mask mandates have faced stiff opposition, led by Republicans, which have turned public safety measures endorsed by disease experts into a political and legal battle in the United States.

The United States passed the milestone of 1 million dead from the coronavirus in May. More than 250 people still die of the disease daily, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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