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German parliament rejects mandatory COVID-19 shots for over 60s in blow for Scholz  

Germany’s lower house of parliament on Thursday voted against a bill requiring anyone aged 60 and over to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in a defeat for Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Germany’s vaccination campaign is faltering with around 76.6 percent of Germany’s population having received at least one dose – lower than the more than 80 percent in other western European countries such as France, Italy and Spain.

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In an attempt to avoid another wave of the virus in the autumn, the cross-party proposal required citizens aged 60 and over to be vaccinated from October 15.
Daily infections are at a high level in Germany but have dipped in the last week or so, with 201,729 new cases reported on Thursday.
Of the 683 parliamentarians who voted, 378 voted against the bill and 296 in favor, triggering cheers from far-right AfD lawmakers. It was a free vote, with lawmakers not told to follow party lines.
However, the defeat is a setback for Scholz who had even summoned his foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, to leave a NATO meeting in Brussels to return for the vote.
Scholz had last week been forced to drop plans for mandatory vaccinations for over 18s as he could not muster a parliamentary majority.
Dirk Wiese, a lawmaker involved in initiating the bill, blamed opposition conservatives, saying they blocked the bill to hurt the government.
“The CDU/CSU (conservatives) have unscrupulously answered a question of conscience,” Wiese said in a statement.
The bill's failure reflects the challenging policy-making dynamics of the ruling coalition, comprising Scholz's Social Democrats, the Greens and liberal Free Democrats who disagree on many issues.
The Chancellery declined to comment but Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who backed the bill, said it would be far more difficult to fight the pandemic in the autumn.
“Political finger pointing doesn’t help. We continue,” Lauterbach said on Twitter.
Three additional motions either calling for only advising people to get vaccinated or rejecting the mandate altogether were also voted down after a lively four-hour debate.
Imposing vaccinations on citizens violates the second article of the constitution, which guarantees citizens’ control over their own bodies, the AfD motion argued.
Austria last month suspended its vaccine mandate, six days before fines for breaches were due to start being imposed, on concerns about infringing rights.
The German Hospital Federation (DKG) said the failure of the draft bill was the responsibility of all parties.
“In the end, we now face a shambles for which all parties are responsible,” DKG Chairman Gerald Gass told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

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WHO: Over 4.1 million new COVID-19 cases reported globally, 18 pct increase 

The number of new coronavirus cases rose by 18 percent in the last week, with more than 4.1 million cases reported globally, according to the World Health Organization.

The UN health agency said in its latest weekly report on the pandemic that the worldwide number of deaths remained relatively similar to the week before, at about 8,500. COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

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The biggest weekly rise in new COVID-19 cases was seen in the Middle East, where they increased by 47 percent, according to the report released late Wednesday. Infections rose by about 32 percent in Europe and Southeast Asia, and by about 14 percent in the Americas, WHO said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said cases were on the rise in 110 countries, mostly driven by the omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

“This pandemic is changing, but it’s not over,” Tedros said this week during a press briefing.

He said the ability to track COVID-19’s genetic evolution was “under threat” as countries relaxed surveillance and genetic sequencing efforts, warning that would make it more difficult to catch emerging and potentially dangerous new variants.

He called for countries to immunize their most vulnerable populations, including health workers and people over 60, saying that hundreds of millions remain unvaccinated and at risk of severe disease and death.

Tedros said that while more than 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally, the average immunization rate in poor countries is about 13 percent.

“If rich countries are vaccinating children from as young as 6 months old and planning to do further rounds of vaccination, it is incomprehensible to suggest that lower-income countries should not vaccinate and boost their most at risk (people),” he said.

According to figures compiled by Oxfam and the People's Vaccine Alliance, fewer than half of the 2.1 billion vaccines promised to poorer countries by the Group of Seven large economies have been delivered.

Earlier this month, the United States authorized COVID-19 vaccines for infants and preschoolers, rolling out a national immunization plan targeting 18 million of the youngest children. American regulators also recommended that some adults get updated boosters in the fall that match the latest coronavirus variants.

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France’s new wave of COVID-19 infections expected to peak end of July

A new wave in France of COVID-19 infections fueled by emerging variants of the disease should peak toward end-July, the French government’s top scientific adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy said on Thursday.
“The peak is not yet here, this peak of infections will probably be for end-July,” Delfraissy told RTL radio.
“Then the BA.5 variant will reappear, if it is not overtaken by another variant… in autumn,” he added.
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France reported new 124,724 coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, against 77,967 a week ago.
The French government also recommended this week that people should start wearing face masks again in crowded areas, especially in public transport, to counter the latest surge in COVID-19 cases.
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Shanghai Disneyland theme park re-opens after three-month COVID-19 closure 

More than a thousand visitors streamed in on Thursday as Walt Disney Co’s Shanghai Disney Resort theme park opened after a closure of three months, with face masks and social distancing the order of the day.
The park shut on March 21 as cases rose in the Chinese business hub, leading to a two-month-long citywide lockdown that eased on June 1. Just over a week later, the resort began opening some areas, with the theme park the last to re-open.

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Among the first of Thursday's visitors was Zhang Yudong, a 19-year-old student wearing a Mickey Mouse wizard hat and T-shirt donned for the occasion.
“It really feels like coming back home. I was so excited,” said Zhang, who holds a Disneyland annual pass. “I had been looking forward to the day. One question I would ask everyday is, ‘When will it reopen?’”
Before its March closure, the park had enforced COVID-19 measures required by the authorities, such as face masks and regular disinfection.
After the re-opening, it requires guests to show proof of a negative COVID test taken within the last 72 hours, in line with rules for public areas in Shanghai and other cities.
The park has also said it will limit capacity, but gave no details, adding that some attractions, such as Marvel Universe, will stay closed.
Shanghai Disneyland is a joint venture with Chinese state-owned Shendi Group, which holds a 57 percent stake.

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