REDMOND, Wash. — Microsoft says employees must be fully vaccinated to enter the company’s U.S. offices and other worksites, starting next month.
The tech giant told employees Tuesday it will require proof of vaccination for all employees, vendors, and any guests entering Microsoft buildings in the U.S. The company also says it will have a process to accommodate employees “who have a medical condition or other protected reason, such as religion, which prevent them from getting vaccinated.”
The company is also delaying its return to the office until Oct. 4.
Caregivers of people who are immunosuppressed or parents of children who are too young to receive a vaccine can work from home until January, the company says.
Microsoft’s new vaccine policy follows similar moves last week by other employers, including Google and Facebook, along with Disney and Walmart.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— WHO leader seeks vaccine booster moratorium: 4M cases reported globally last week
— Indonesia surpasses 100,000 deaths amid new virus wave
— China seals city amid worst virus outbreak in year
— Obama curtails 60th birthday bash after delta variant surge
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BEIJING — China’s worst coronavirus outbreak since the start of the pandemic a year and a half ago has escalated with dozens more cases around the country.
One city is being sealed off and local officials blamed for lax pandemic measures will be punished. Since the initial outbreak was tamed last year, China’s people lived nearly free of the virus, with extremely strict measures stamping out small flareups.
Now, the country is on high alert as a cluster of cases caused by the delta variant touched at least 17 provinces. After a hotspot grew from one city near a famed scenic area, officials issued an order that no one, whether tourist or resident, could leave.
BRUSSELS — The European Union has sealed an agreement with Novavax for millions of doses of the coronavirus vaccine that it’s developing in the hope that the shot will be better adapted to new variants of the virus.
The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, says the contract will allow the bloc’s 27 member states to buy up to 100 million doses of the Novavax shot once it’s approved for use.
The vaccine is expected to come on the market in the last quarter of this year. The advanced purchasing agreement also includes an option for another 100 million doses over through to 2023.
Around 60% of adults in the EU, which has a population of some 450 million people, are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But concerns linger about the impact of the fast-spreading delta variant.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says “as new coronavirus variants are spreading in Europe and around the world, this new contract with a company that is already testing its vaccine successfully against these variants is an additional safeguard.”
The EU has separate contracts for well over 2 billion vaccine doses with AstraZeneca, CureVac, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer and Sanofi-GSK.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization is calling for a moratorium on administering booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines to help ensure that doses are available in countries where few people have received their first shots.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the appeal on Wednesday mostly to wealthier countries that have far outpaced the developing world in numbers of vaccinations.
WHO officials say the science is unproven about whether giving booster shots to people who have already received two vaccine doses is effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. WHO has repeatedly called for rich countries to do more to help improve access to vaccines in the developing world.
Israel, France, Germany and many Middle Eastern countries have already started administering booster shots. Other nations, including the United States and Britain, are considering plans to do so in the wake of the emergence of the highly transmissible delta variant.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s mass vaccination campaign is accelerating, giving shots to 220,000 people a day last week.
It’s moving toward the goal of 300,000 per day. With large deliveries of doses arriving and some vaccines assembled domestically, South Africa appears on track to inoculate about 35 million of its 60 million people by the end of the year. After starting with just a dozen vaccination sites, South Africa now has more than 3,000.
More than 7.7 million South Africans have received at least one dose, with more than 100,000 fully vaccinated, representing 1.6% of the population, according to official figures.
South Africa has shouldered the largest burden of COVID-19 in Africa, with more than 35% of all cases reported by the continent’s 54 countries. Its population is just 4.6% of the continent’s total.
Across Africa, less than 1.5% of the 1.3 billion people have been fully vaccinated, according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama has scaled down his 60th birthday bash due to the surge in the delta variant of the coronavirus.
A spokesperson says the party planned for this weekend at his home on Martha’s Vineyard off the Massachusetts coast is now limited to family and close friends. Obama, who turned 60 on Wednesday, had been criticized for planning a big celebration during a pandemic.
Published reports had said several hundred guests were expected. Obama’s defenders stressed that the party would be outdoors, guests were asked to provide a negative COVID-19 test and the event would follow public health guidelines.
The CDC website on Wednesday listed the rate of transmission in Dukes County, Massachusetts, which includes the island of Martha’s Vineyard, as “substantial.”
BERLIN — The German government says it will donate all future orders of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn told media group RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland on Wednesday that 1.3 million doses of the vaccine will be delivered to COVAX, which can then distribute them to countries in need.
“It is in our vested interest to get the world vaccinated because this pandemic is only over when the virus is globally under control,” he said.
The media group reported Germany will give away future orders of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. That means 1.7 million doses to European Union countries and other third-party countries.
WARSAW, Poland — Poland will return to COVID-19 restrictions, in regions with lowest inoculation rate, when the daily national number of infections reaches 1,000, the health minister said Wednesday.
The current daily rate of new registered infections hovers around 160.
Minister Adam Niedzielski said that more than 80% of the cases are of the delta variant.
Niedzielski said that he expects a spike in infections in late August and especially after the vacation season, in September. Restrictions will first be re-introduced to regions with the lowest number of vaccinated people..
“Vaccination, and vaccination alone can protect us against the scenario that would mean the return to a situation that we had previously,” Niedzielski said, recalling the lockdown.
Some 34.6 million shots have been administered in the nation of some 38 million. Some 17.6 million people have been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna or one-jab Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
MILWAUKEE — Health officials have identified nearly 500 coronavirus cases statewide that could be linked to the large crowds that gathered in downtown Milwaukee as fans cheered on the Bucks’ run to the NBA championship.
Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson says contact tracing and testing for cases associated with those gatherings continues with the help of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.
Officials say 491 people with confirmed or probable cases said they had attended the Deer District or Bucks game “during their exposure or infectious periods.” But DHS could not say definitively that they caught the virus while viewing the game downtown or elsewhere.
In addition to the games, tens of thousands of fans packed the Deer District to cheer on the Bucks last month.
Officials also raised concerns about statewide hospitalization rates, the Journal Sentinel reported.
“We have four times as many people hospitalized with COVID in Wisconsin as we did one month ago, from 74 individuals to 310 today,” said Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services at the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.
GENEVA — There were more than 4 million new COVID-19 cases reported globally in the last week, driven mostly by spikes in the Middle East and Asia.
That’s according to the World Health Organization’s latest weekly report on the pandemic.
The U.N. health agency said Wednesday infections have been increasing for more than a month, although the worldwide number of deaths dropped by about 8%.
In the Middle East and Asia, however, deaths increased by more than a third. In the last week, the highest numbers of coronavirus cases were reported by the U.S., India, Indonesia, Brazil and Iran. More than 130 countries have now reported cases of the easier-to-spread delta variant, first identified in India.
After nearly a month of rising cases, WHO said the European region reported a 9% drop in COVID-19 infections, citing falling caseloads in Britain and Spain. Last month, the U.K. relaxed nearly all remaining COVID-19 restrictions amid heavy criticism the move would lead to another deadly wave of infections. Nearly 60% of the British population has been fully immunized against the disease.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia has surpassed 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths, a grim milestone in a country struggling with its worst pandemic wave fueled by the delta variant.
It took 14 months for Indonesia to exceed the 50,000 deaths at the end of May, and just over nine weeks to double it. The Health Ministry recorded 1,747 new deaths of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours.
Meanwhile, an independent data group has reported that since the beginning of June, more than 2,800 people have died during self-isolation at home. Some of those deaths are reflected in official figures but others are not. Indonesia’s per capita death rate is one of the worst in the region, second only to Myanmar.
BANGKOK — Thailand hit a new daily high of 20,200 confirmed coronavirus cases and 188 deaths on Wednesday.
The government pressed ahead with the creation of new field hospitals and medical facilities to treat the sick.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn donated about 100 million baht, or $3 million, to support the establishment of field hospitals, pre-admission centers and quarantine centers nationwide. The country has recorded a total of 672,385 confirmed cases and 5,503 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Most of the cases have been linked to the delta variant first discovered in India. Bangkok and its vicinity have been the most severely affected area, with the number of cases accounting for more than half the total nationwide.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistani authorities say the World Bank will provide $150 million assistance to the Islamic nation for the procurement of the COVID-19 vaccines.
According to a finance ministry statement, this assurance was given to Pakistan’s finance minister Shaukat Tarin by Hartwig Schafer, the bank’s South Asia Regional Vice President who met with him in Islamabad.
It said Tarin welcomed the World Bank Group’s proposed $12 billion initiative to help developing countries procure COVID-19 vaccines to treat up to 1 billion people.
On Wednesday, Pakistan reported 46 deaths from coronavirus.
The South Asian country of over 216 million people has reported 104,7999 confirmed cases and 23,575 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.
AUSTIN, Texas — A federal judge has ordered Texas to keep state troopers from stopping vehicles that are carrying migrants on the grounds that the migrants may spread the coronavirus.
The temporary restraining order handed down Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Kathleen Cardone comes as coronavirus infections are rising along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last week authorized Texas’ growing presence of state troopers along the border to “stop any vehicle upon reasonable suspicion” that it transports migrants.
The Biden administration accused Abbott of potentially worsening the spread of the coronavirus. It argued that impeding the movement of migrants would prolong the detention of unaccompanied children in “increasingly crowded” facilities.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pressing forward with efforts to allow schools to mandate face masks as coronavirus infections continue to rise in the state.
Hutchinson on Tuesday called the legislature back into session to consider revising a law he signed in April that prohibits mask mandates by schools and other governmental entities. Some lawmakers in the Republican-controlled body are opposing a mandate.
The session will begin Wednesday and include a proposal to prevent the state from having to resume making supplemental unemployment benefits to thousands of residents.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Country music star Garth Brooks says he is reassessing whether to continue his stadium tour in light of the rising number of coronavirus cases across the country.
Brooks says in a statement that while he is scheduled to play the next two tour stops in Kansas City, Missouri, and Lincoln, Nebraska, he will not put tickets on sale for the next planned stop in Seattle.
The singer says he will take a three-week break to assess what to do about the remainder of the tour.
Brooks is one of the biggest selling entertainers in music. He restarted touring in July and regularly performs in front of 60,000 to 70,000 people. Many of his shows sell out well in advance.