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Armenia will allow employers to fire workers unvaccinated against COVID-19

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Armenia’s parliament approved a law Friday that would allow employers to fire workers who refuse to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative test result.

Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbor has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the Caucasus region.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

The new rule follows an August order by the ministry of health which required Armenian citizens to provide their employers with proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test every two weeks or face a fine.

“If the employee is not providing a vaccination certificate, or a negative COVID-19 test, the employer is given the right to turn the employee away from the workplace, suspend their pay and fire the employee, if they are off for 10 working days because of that,” Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Ruben Sargsyan said Friday.

The new vaccination requirement will not apply to the country’s president, prime minister, members of parliament or the National Assembly, the ombudsman, judges of the Constitutional Court and a number of other officials, Sargsyan said.

“This exception was established for the reason that these positions are either (institutional), as in the case of parliamentary deputies, or their holders are appointed in accordance with the Constitution,” he said.

Armenia began its mass vaccination campaign in April with authorities planning to inoculate 700,000 of the country’s 2.9 million citizens by the end of the year. However, only 516,989 citizens had been fully vaccinated by Dec. 6.

In Armenia, citizens can choose to get vaccinated with the Sputnik V, AstraZeneca, CoronaVac, Sinopharm or Moderna jabs.

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Abbas rival Dahlan delivers one mln COVID-19 vaccine doses to Gaza

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One million doses of coronavirus vaccine arrived in Gaza from the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday, the latest donation facilitated by an exiled rival of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

Mohammed Dahlan, a Gaza native now based in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi, was once a top Palestinian Authority official who served as Abbas’s security chief in the territory before its takeover by the Islamist Hamas movement in 2007.

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Gaza health ministry spokesman Mahmud Hammad told journalists that the consignment of one million doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine marked the largest single shipment of COVID-19 vaccines to the Israeli-blockaded territory.

The vaccines were delivered through Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt, the only one not controlled by Israel.

The same route was used for previous shipments organized by Dahlan, who has increasingly sought to position himself as a benefactor for the Palestinian people.

Dahlan had been expected to emerge as a key player from Palestinian elections scheduled for last year but the polls were postponed indefinitely by Abbas in a move that also infuriated Hamas.

The ministry’s head of preventive medicine, Magdy Duhair, warned that Gaza’s health system was under increased strain due to the fast-spreading omicron variant of the coronavirus.

While Gaza’s beleaguered medical system has struggled at times during the pandemic, coronavirus transmission has been limited by the tight controls Israel and Egypt enforce on travel in and out of the coastal enclave.

Gaza, which has a population of roughly 2.3 million, has recorded 196,578 COVID-19 cases and 1,744 deaths. So far, 578,000 residents have received two doses of a vaccine.

Read more:

First omicron variant case detected in Gaza, says Palestinian health ministry

Israel’s president to make first-ever state visit to UAE

Egypt pushes for calm after flare-up in Gaza hostilities

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Saudi Arabia records 4,526 COVID-19 cases, three deaths in 24 hours

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Saudi Arabia has recorded another minor dip in COVID-19 transmissions with 4,526 cases and three virus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, according to the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health.

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In that time, 5,772 recoveries were also recorded.

There have now been 666,259 COVID-19 infections and 8,927 deaths in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of the pandemic.

Case numbers have risen sharply in January amid global reports of the omicron variant spreading.

Saudi Arabia detected its first case of the more transmissible variant in early December.

It was thought to have been transmitted by a traveler from an undisclosed north African country.

Daily case numbers reached an all-time high of 5,928 on January 19.

Read more:

Omicron risk remains very high: WHO

Abu Dhabi says vaccinated tourists need no boosters to enter

Saudi Arabia sees slight increase with 4,838 new COVID-19 cases

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COVID-infected Australian navy unloads aid in virus-free Tonga

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The Australian navy’s largest ship docked at disaster-stricken Tonga on Wednesday and was allowed to unload humanitarian supplies in the South Pacific nation despite crew members being infected with COVID-19, officials said.

Nearly two dozen sailors aboard the HMAS Adelaide were reported infected on Tuesday, raising fears the mercy mission could bring the coronavirus to the small archipelago devasted by an undersea volcanic eruption and a tsunami on January 15.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

Since the pandemic began, Tonga has reported just a single case of COVID-19 and has avoided any outbreaks. It’s one of the few countries in the world currently completely virus free. About 61 percent of Tongans are fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

The 27,500 metric ton ship had completed the 3,300-kilometer voyage from Brisbane and would deliver supplies without contact with the local population to avoid infections, the Australian government said in a statement.

“We appreciate the decision of the government of Tonga to enable HMAS Adelaide to dock and offload the humanitarian and medical supplies, and the high priority it has placed on COVID safety throughout the recovery process,” the statement said. “The ship is undertaking an entirely contactless delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief supplies.”

With restoration of the drinking water supply a major priority, the ship brings a desalination plant. It’s also carrying helicopters and engineering equipment.

Australia said it was widening its disaster support to include restoration of power and communications.

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Tonga usually requires visitors to quarantine for three weeks on arrival and the tough pandemic measures complicate the international disaster response. All international aid is to be delivered without local contact.

Tongan authorities have been wary that accepting international aid could usher in a bigger disaster than the huge eruption of the volcano. The tsunami has claimed three lives.

The ship is the second aid mission from Australia in which at least one crew member tested positive. A C-17 Globemaster military transport plane was earlier turned around midflight after a person aboard was diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Read more:

Why Tonga eruption was so big, how tsunami traveled far, what’s next

All homes on one Tonga island destroyed, three dead as government shares first update

Australia suffers deadliest day of pandemic as omicron drives up hospital cases

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