The Latest: More health care signups through pandemic plan
WASHINGTON — More than 2 million people have signed up for subsidized health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act since President Joe Biden reopened health insurance markets this year as part of his pandemic response plan.
The Department of Health and Human Services says 1.5 million enrolled through the federal HealthCare.gov marketplace while another 600,000 signed up through state-run insurance exchanges.
Since April 1, all “Obamacare” customers have been eligible for much more generous financial assistance with their coverage, a temporary benefit boost that Biden and congressional Democrats hope to make permanent through legislation later this year.
The current special enrollment period is scheduled to end on Aug. 15. But HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra hinted Biden may revisit the issue and decide to extend the deadline.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Norwegian cruises sues Florida over virus vaccination law
— Spain’s top court rules pandemic lockdown unconstitutional
— WHO: Weekly virus cases at nearly 3M globally
— London mayor wants to keep mask use on public transportation
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
MIAMI — Norwegian Cruise Line is challenging a new Florida law that prevents cruise companies from requiring passengers to show proof of vaccination against the COVID-19 virus.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Miami federal court, contends that the law jeopardizes safe operation of cruise vessels by increasing risk of contracting the virus. Norwegian intends to restart cruises from Florida ports Aug. 15 with vaccinations required for all passengers. Norwegian wants a judge to lift the ban by Aug. 6.
The law imposes a fine of $5,000 each time a cruise line mandates that a passenger provide vaccination proof.
The lawsuit names as a defendant Florida’s surgeon general, Dr. Scott Rivkees, who is head of the state Health Department. Rivkees is an appointee of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose spokeswoman said the cruise line’s policy discriminates against children under 12 and others who are not vaccinated.
Other cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, have already begun voyages from Florida with a variety of policies regarding COVID-19 vaccination.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia hit a record of more than 54,000 new coronavirus cases, surpassing recent daily infections in India.
Officials fear the more highly transmissible delta variant is spreading from the islands of Java and Bali, where outbreaks prompted a partial lockdown that closed places of worship, malls, parks and restaurants.
The Health Ministry reported 54,517 confirmed new cases on Wednesday, up from about 8,000 a month ago. India reported fewer than 39,000 cases on Wednesday, far below its peak of more than 400,000 daily cases in May.
There were 991 confirmed deaths in Indonesia on Wednesday, bringing the number of cases since the pandemic began above 2.6 million and confirmed deaths to more than 69,000.
PARIS — France has celebrated its national holiday with thousands of troops marching in a Paris parade and traditional parties around the country.
Last year’s Bastille Day events were scaled back because of virus fears. The government decided to go ahead with the parade on the Champs-Elysees on Wednesday as part of a broader effort to return to pre-pandemic activity.
The number of spectators was limited. All had to show special passes proving they had been fully vaccinated, recently recovered from the virus, or had a negative virus test.
The same rules will apply to those watching fireworks at the Eiffel Tower. Bastille Day marks the storming of the Bastille prison in eastern Paris on July 14, 1789, commemorated as the birth of the French Revolution.
Not everyone is celebrating. Some cafe owners, hospital workers and parents are pushing back against President Emmanuel Macron’s decision this week to require all French health care workers to get vaccinated, and a special COVID-19 pass for anyone over 12 going to a restaurant.
Many doctors and scientists, meanwhile, are urging tougher measures to contain the coronavirus. France has lost more than 111,000 lives to the pandemic.
BERLIN — Germany’s president is appealing to hesitant citizens to get vaccinated against the coronavirus to protect against dangerous variants and prevent the need for new restrictions.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s video message on Wednesday came a day after Chancellor Angela Merkel urged German residents to get inoculated. The leaders are seeking to reinvigorate its vaccination campaign as the number of people getting shots has declined.
By Tuesday, 58.9% of the population had received at least one shot and 43.7% were fully vaccinated. But Germany’s disease control center said last week that the country should aim to vaccinate 85% of people ages 12-59 and 90% of over-60s to prevent the delta variant from causing a resurgence of cases this fall and winter.
Steinmeier says, “Only when even more people in our country have received full vaccine protection is our common aim achieved.”
MADRID — Spain’s Constitutional Court has ruled that last year’s stay-at-home lockdown order by the government under a state of emergency was unconstitutional.
The court ruling on Wednesday was in response to a suit brought by the far-right Vox party.
It was a split decision according to a brief statement issued by the court. State broadcaster TVE says it was six magistrates in favor and five against.
According to the broadcaster, the ruling said that the limitations on movement violated citizens’ basic rights and therefore the state of emergency was insufficient to give them constitutional backing.
With the pandemic raging, Spain’s government declared the state of emergency on March 14, 2020, ordering people off the streets except for basic shopping for several weeks.
It is immediately unclear if the ruling will open the gates for lawsuits against the government.
TOKYO — The Japanese city of Hamamatsu, hosting a Brazilian Olympic team’s pre-game trainings, says there was a COVID-19 outbreak among staff of their hotel.
So far, eight staff at the hotel accommodating the Brazilian team members, including judo athletes, have tested positive for the virus since Monday in Hamamatsu, the city said in a statement. Brazilian athletes and coaches, whose sections in the hotel are isolated from other guests.
On Wednesday, Tokyo reported 1,149 confirmed cases, highest since 1,121 on May 8. The Olympics begin July 23.
Tokyo is under a fourth state of emergency, which requires restaurants and bars to close early and ban alcohol, through the Olympics. Experts have said caseloads could rise above 1,000 before the Olympics and multiply to thousands during the games. Overall, Japan has about 825,000 cases and 15,000 confirmed deaths.
LONDON — Britain’s Royal Navy says there’s been a coronavirus outbreak within its Carrier Strike Group, which includes its flagship carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
A spokesman for the Royal Navy says a “small number” of crew within the ships on deployment have tested positive.
He adds all personnel have been fully vaccinated and there are a number of “mitigation measures on board,” including masks, social distancing and a track and trace system.
The spokesman says there would be no effects on the operations tasks of the carrier group, which is about a quarter of the way through a 28-week deployment that involves visits to some 40 countries and 70 engagements.
The carrier group, which also includes a U.S. destroyer and 10 Marine Corps F35-B fighters, is currently in the Indo-Pacific region.
News of the coronavirus infections comes a day after Britain’s Ministry of Defense confirmed an investigation was being undertaken into the death of a a crew member of the Type 23 frigate HMS Kent, which is part of the carrier group. The cause of death was not revealed.
GENEVA — The World Health Organization reported there were nearly 3 million coronavirus cases globally last week, a 10% increase that was accompanied by a 3% rise in deaths, reversing a nine-week trend of declining COVID-19 incidence.
In its weekly report issued on Wednesday, the U.N. health agency says the highest numbers of new cases were from Brazil, India, Indonesia and the United Kingdom. WHO says the easier-to-spread delta variant has now been identified in 111 countries since first being detected in India and it expects the variant to become globally dominant in coming months.
WHO says more transmissible versions of COVID-19 could emerge and “coupled with the relaxation and inappropriate use of public health and social measures and increased social mobility and mixing,” numerous countries would see higher cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
The organization acknowledged many countries are now facing “considerable pressure” to lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions but warned that “improper planning or assessment of the risk of transmission during any gathering or travel provides opportunity for the virus to spread.”
MOSCOW — Daily coronavirus deaths in Russia continue to hit record-highs this week, with the authorities reporting 786 deaths on Wednesday. The previous record, of 780 deaths, was registered on Tuesday.
Daily new infections in Russia have soared from around 9,000 in early June to more than 25,000 last week. On Wednesday, officials reported 23,827 new coronavirus cases. For the first time in the pandemic, the daily death toll exceeded 700 last Tuesday and remained at that level ever since.
Officials blamed the surge on the spread of the delta variant and sought to boost vaccine uptake, which has remained lower than in many Western countries. As of Tuesday, 28.6 million Russians — or just 19.5% of the 146 million population — have received at least one shot of a vaccine.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force has reported 5.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases and a total of 145,278 confirmed deaths in the pandemic. However, reports by Russia’s state statistical service Rosstat, which tallies coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively, reveal much higher numbers.
BRUSSELS — Coronavirus infections, driven by the delta variant among the young, have almost doubled over the past week in Belgium, raising concerns that the summer could see a return of more restrictions.
Virologist Steven Van Gucht said infections had tripled over the past three weeks and increased by 83% over the past seven days. The delta variant is now responsible for almost two thirds of infections. More than half the cases are among the under-24 age group.
Unlike previous infection spikes, this one is not accompanied by a parallel rise in hospital admission or deaths, mainly because Belgium has one of the best vaccination rates in Europe. About 8 of 10 adults have had at least one shot by now
In the past week, Belgium, a nation of 11.5 million, only had two deaths per day on average.
LONDON — London’s mayor has asked the body overseeing transport in the capital to enforce the use of face masks on buses and trains as a “condition of carriage” after legal restrictions in England are lifted on July 19.
Sadiq Khan said Wednesday he is “not prepared” to put transport users in the capital “at risk” by removing the rules on face coverings after the legal obligation to wear them are lifted.
Conditions of carriage are contractual conditions between passengers and Transport for London, which oversees public transport in London. Under their terms, enforcement officers would be able to deny access or eject passengers not wearing masks while using the subway, buses and trams.
Earlier this week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that most of England’s coronavirus restrictions, including compulsory mask wearing in many indoor public settings, will end as part of the final stage of his road map out of the coronavirus lockdown. However, Johnson urged people to remain cautious and to exercise “personal responsibility.”
SINGAPORE — A ship operated by Genting Cruise Lines has returned to Singapore port after a suspected COVID-19 case on board sparked a health scare. Some 2,900 passengers and crew members remain on board pending test results.
Singapore Tourism Board cruise director Annie Chang says a 40-year-old passenger was isolated Tuesday after being identified as a close contact of a confirmed case on land. She says he subsequently tested positive on board the World Dream cruise ship, and has been sent to a hospital for further testing. His three travelling companions tested negative.
Chang says all leisure activities on board the World Dream cruise ship have ceased, with the vessel undergoing a thorough disinfection process after returning to port early Wednesday. All passengers are confined in their cabins until test results are out and contact tracing is completed.
Dream Cruises, a unit of Genting Cruise Lines, says the ship departed Sunday on a three-night cruise with 1,646 passengers and 1,249 crew members. The company says that as a precautionary measure, World Dream’s subsequent two-night cruise scheduled to depart late Wednesday was canceled.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has confirmed 1,615 new COVID-19 patients, a new domestic record for daily cases, as authorities struggle to curb a viral resurgence that has placed its capital region under the toughest distancing rules.
The newly reported cases Wednesday took the total to 171,911 and 2,048 confirmed deaths.
Senior health official Lee Ki-Il says 1,179 of the cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, marking the first time the capital region surpassed 1,000 daily cases since the pandemic began.
He urges the public to refrain from travelling or attending nonessential gatherings and stay at home until next week.
Private gatherings of three or more people after 6 p.m. were banned in the Seoul area as of Monday. Nightclubs and other high-risk nightlife facilities have been ordered closed for two weeks.
LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles County is reporting the fifth straight day of more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases.
Health officials warned Tuesday that the more contagious delta variant of the virus continues to spread rapidly among unvaccinated people in the state.
Los Angeles County is home to a quarter of California’s 40 million people. County officials reported new cases totaling 1,103 for the previous 24 hours. County officials said the five-day average of cases is 1,095 — a jump of more than 500% in just one month.
The state, meanwhile, reported 3,256 newly confirmed coronavirus infections — the highest one-day total since early March.
SYDNEY — Officials in Sydney say Australia’s largest city will remain in lockdown for at least five weeks due to the continuing spread of the coronavirus.
New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Wednesday that Sydney’s 5 million people will remain locked down until at least July 30, two weeks longer than had been planned.
The extension comes after 97 new infections were reported Wednesday in the latest 24-hour period, including 24 who had been infectious in the community.
Berejiklian says the daily tally of people who are infectious while in the community will have to be close to zero before the lockdown can end.