Biden to Broaden Mandates; Microsoft Delays Return: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — U.S. President Joe Biden will announce a requirement for all executive branch employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated, part of a renewed push to quell the pandemic, a person familiar said. He also plans to call for a meeting on global vaccine supply to be held at the United Nations General Assembly this month. 

Microsoft said it won’t forecast a new date for a full reopening of its U.S. work sites. It had planned to start reopening on Oct. 4. 

The U.K. is considering making vaccinations mandatory for frontline health-care workers. United Airlines Holdings Inc. will put some unvaccinated workers on forced leave, joining carriers such as Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. in sidelining or firing staff who haven’t been inoculated.

Key Developments

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 222.8 million; deaths pass 4.6 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 5.59 billion doses administered
  • Vaccine data show stark divide over employer mandates
  • Covax vaccine shortfall puts pressure on rich nations to act
  • Doctor who espoused sex helped Denmark weather Covid
  • mRNA is magic in Covid vaccines. What else can it do?

Maine Intensive Care Hits Record (12:37 p.m. NY)

Maine’s intensive-care cases rose to a record of 74, amid an increase in infections nearing the surge of last winter. The state has one of the U.S.’s highest rates of vaccination, with 72.3% of people having at least one dose, compared with the national average of 62.7%, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. Health officials say almost all serious disease is among the unvaccinated. 

U.S. Rent Rises (11:59 p.m. NY)

Apartment rents were up in August from a year earlier in all the top 30 U.S. metro areas, the first time that’s happened since the start of the pandemic, according to a new report by Yardi.

The national average rent in multi-family buildings rose 10.3% from a year earlier to $1,539 — the first double-digit rise in the dataset’s history — after a $25 increase in August, the real-estate firm said. Over the past 10 years, the average pace of growth has been 2%.

Microsoft Delays Office Return Indefinitely (11:23 a.m. NY)

Microsoft said it won’t forecast a new date for a full reopening of its U.S. work sites. 

The company said it will now open U.S. work sites as soon as it’s able to do so safely based on public health guidance. It had planned to start reopening on Oct. 4 at its Redmond, Washington headquarters and other U.S. sites.

The company noted that difficulties remain with remote work. Employee surveys show continued challenges to satisfaction with work-life balance and team connection. “Solving the Hybrid Work Paradox will be the challenge of the decade,” Microsoft said in a blog post.

Biden to Mandate Shots for Federal Workers (11:03 a.m. NY)

President Joe Biden will announce a requirement for all executive branch employees and federal contractors to be vaccinated, part of a renewed push to quell the pandemic, a person familiar said. He plans to speak at 5 p.m. at the White House. 

Biden will sign an executive order Thursday requiring the vaccinations, said the person, who spoke on on condition of anonymity. The move marks a significant hardening of the administration’s position on vaccine mandates amid the surge in the delta variant that threatens to overwhelm hospitals in parts of the U.S.

He also plans to call on all schools to regularly test students, teachers and staff for Covid-19 in accordance with CDC guidelines, NBC News reports, citing an unidentified official.

Sinovac to Start Child Trials in South Africa (10:59 a.m. NY)

Sinovac plans to start trials of its Covid-19 vaccine on South African children between the age of six months and 17 years, News24 reported, citing Numolux, which has the approval to distribute the shot in the country.

About 2,000 South African children will be enrolled out of a global trial of 14,000 participants, the news web site said.

NYC Expands Vaccine Mandate (10:36 a.m. NY)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday said the city would expand its vaccine mandate to all employees of childcare centers and after-school programs that have city contracts. Childcare employees must get their first Covid shot by Sept. 27, bringing them in line with a vaccine requirement for public school employees. It also announced a $35 million fund to provide bonuses to physicians who get their patients vaccinated. New York City is just 5,000 people short of reaching its June goal of 5 million fully-vaccinated residents.

Europe Edges Toward Boosters (10:16 a.m. NY)

Europe is stepping closer to booster shots, with the U.K. regulator saying they’re safe while the European Medicines Agency reviews data on third jabs from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc.

A decision on the use of a Pfizer booster dose six months after the second shot is expected to come in the next few weeks, Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccines strategy at the EMA, said at a briefing.

Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and AstraZeneca Plc can be used as safe and effective booster doses, the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency also said Thursday.

Italy Expands Use of Vaccine Pass (7:43 a.m. NY)

Italy’s government introduced a limited extension to the use of vaccine passports as tensions rise in Mario Draghi’s coalition over the government’s right to curtail citizens’ movements and activities based on vaccination status.

Nursing home caregivers and school support staff are now required to have the so-called “green pass,” which offers proof of vaccination, of a recent negative test or of having recovered from the illness.

WHO Africa Seeks Faster Shot Supplies (7:43 a.m. NY)

The WHO’s Africa unit is pleading with countries that have vaccine supply agreements with the continent to fast-track these deliveries after Covax, the global program set up to immunize the world, cut its 2021 supply forecast by more than a quarter.

Africa will fall short of about 50 million doses by the end of September in its efforts to inoculate 10% of its inhabitants. The year-end goal of having about 900 million doses means “there will be a need to ramp-up supply considerably,” said Richard Mihigo, program area manager for immunization and vaccine development at the WHO’s Africa office.

U.K. Medicine Body on Pfizer, Astra Boosters (7:24 a.m. NY) 

The vaccines made by Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc can be used as safe and effective booster doses, the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization will now advise whether booster jabs will be given and if so, which vaccines should be used.

Finland to Donate Vaccines Through Covax (7:04 a.m. NY)

Finland will donate 3 million AstraZeneca and 650,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses to developing countries through Covax.

They will be delivered directly from the international pharmaceutical manufacturers to the countries in question, and won’t slow down inoculations in Finland. The total value of shots is 10 million euros ($12 million).

Deadly North Macedonia Hospital Fire (5:46 p.m. HK) 

At least 14 people died in a fire at a hospital treating Covid-19 patients in North Macedonia’s city of Tetovo.

A late Wednesday explosion caused the fire, which took 45 minutes to put out. Police and prosecutors are trying to identify the victims and investigate the cause of the accident. 

South Africa Set to Ease Virus Curbs (5:20 p.m. HK)

South Africa’s government is preparing to ease restrictions that were imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus after a sustained slowdown in new infections.

Larger public gatherings will probably be permitted, making it easier for political parties to campaign for upcoming municipal elections, according to people with knowledge of the deliberations within government. Alcohol trading hours are set to be extended and a nighttime curfew will probably be shortened, they said.

Japan Emergency Measures Extension (4:21 p.m. HK)

The Japanese government extended the virus emergency in Tokyo and 18 other prefectures to Sept. 30, affecting more than 70% of the population, as high levels of delta-variant infections continue to put strain on the medical system.

Suga said the government will use vaccination certificates and test results to help ease restrictions. He said the certification systems would help ease the way for a normalization of economic activities, helping eateries and other establishments hurt by the current curbs. 

Czech Cases on the Rise (4:54 p.m. HK)

The Czech Republic had 376 new coronavirus cases in the 24 hours through Wednesday, up 114 from a week ago. The daily new cases have been steadily rising since the end of August on a week-by-week basis, confirming that the country faces a fresh wave of the pandemic. The nation had 96 people hospitalized with Covid-19 as of Wednesday and the health ministry expects that number to rise to 500 in the second half of September. Some 30% of new infections are among school-age kids, according to the ministry.

Singapore to Ease Migrant Worker Restrictions (3:10 a.m. HK)

Singapore will gradually ease movement restrictions for migrant workers living in dormitories, the Ministry of Manpower said.

Changes in what will be a month-long pilot program include allowing as many as 500 vaccinated migrant workers to visit pre-identified locations in the community for six hours at a time. They must come from dormitories with high vaccination rates and no positive Covid-19 cases in the last two weeks, and will take Covid-19 tests before and three days after the visit.

U.K. Studies Mandatory Jabs for Frontline Staff (1:40 p.m. HK)

The U.K. government announced a consultation on mandatory vaccination for frontline health and care staff in England.

The six-week consultation starts Thursday, according to a statement. Some 92% of National Health Service staff have had their first dose and 88% have had both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

Thailand Issues Covid-19 Pass (10:43 a.m. HK)

Thailand issued a digital health pass to allow users to present vaccination information and Covid-19 test results on their phones to airlines before traveling domestically.

The pass can be used with seven airlines including Bangkok Airways, AirAsia and Vietjet Air, and also at restaurants and other businesses as Thailand prepares to open to more travel in October.

Biden to Call for Vaccine Conference (7:07 a.m HK)

U.S. President Joe Biden plans to call for a meeting on global vaccine supply to be held at the United Nations General Assembly later this month, as wealthy nations face pressure to do more to bolster inoculations for developing countries, according to people familiar with the matter.

Biden intends to host a session during the UN meetings, though the scope and the attendees aren’t yet clear.

Unvaccinated United Workers on Forced Leave (4:31 p.m. NY)

United Airlines will require employees with religious and medical exemptions from its vaccine mandate to take a leave of absence.

Unpaid personal or medical leave for exempted employees will begin on Oct. 2. United said the policy was needed to protect customer and employee safety after a surge in infection rates and hospitalizations.

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