New York becomes first US city to mandate Covid-19 vaccines to enter restaurants, gyms

New York state this year launched a digital vaccine passport called the Excelsior Pass that businesses and venues can scan to verify proof of negative Covid-19 tests results or proof of vaccination. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - New York City will become the first major US city to require proof of Covid-19 vaccination for customers and staff at restaurants, gyms and other indoor businesses as the country enters a new phase of battling the highly contagious Delta variant.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday (Aug 3) issued a new 60-day moratorium on residential evictions in areas with high levels of Covid-19 cases, despite a Supreme Court ruling in June suggesting that such a move would require Congress to pass new legislation.

Unlike the surges last year and in January, highly effective vaccines are now widely available against the virus that has killed over 600,000 people in the United States, lessening the need to close businesses and for people to stay home.

The federal government and several states have already required public employees to get vaccinated as have some hospitals and universities.

Meatpacker Tyson Foods on Tuesday became one of the largest private employers to require all workers be immunised.

New York City's policy requires proof of at least one dose and will be enforced starting Sept 13. Like past policies over masks and stay-at-home orders, the plan will likely meet resistance. In France, the requirement of a nationwide health passport proving vaccination has resulted in police using tear gas to disperse protesters.

Government vaccine passports are controversial among Americans as well, especially conservatives.

"It is time for people to see vaccination as literally necessary to living a good and full and healthy life," de Blasio told a news conference.

About 60 per cent of all New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to city data. But certain areas, largely poor communities and communities of colour, have lower vaccination rates.

Hot spots

The city's announcement comes as cases surge nationwide with Florida and Louisiana emerging as major virus hot spots where hospitals are once again straining with the influx of Covid-19 patients.

Florida and Louisiana are both reporting record numbers of hospitalised Covid-19 patients, as one doctor warned of the "darkest days" yet.

More than 11,300 patients were hospitalised in Florida as of Tuesday, with Covid-19 patients filling 22 per cent of the state's hospital beds, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

In highly vaccinated Vermont, 0.4 per cent of its hospital beds are occupied by coronavirus patients.

Louisiana was also dealing with one of the worst outbreaks in the nation, prompting Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, to order residents to wear masks again indoors.

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In California, political leaders in eight San Francisco Bay Area counties reinstated mandatory indoor mask orders in public places as of midnight on Tuesday morning. Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, late last month mandated all state employees to get vaccinated starting Aug 2 or undergo Covid-19 testing at least once a week.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has taken the opposite stance. He issued an executive order last week barring schools from requiring face coverings, saying parents should make that decision for their children.

The Sunshine State claimed another grim record with the highest number of paediatric Covid-19 hospitalisations - 138 as of Tuesday, more than those recorded in Texas despite the much larger population of the latter.

As of Aug 3, 66.2 per cent of New York City residents are fully vaccinated, according to city data. PHOTO: REUTERS

DeSantis doubled down during a press conference on Tuesday, defending the state's approach.

"We're not shutting down. We're going to have schools open. We're protecting every Floridian's job in this state. We're protecting people's small businesses."

In Arkansas, another state were hospitalizations for Covid-19 have spiked, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson said he will ask state legislators on Wednesday to provide an exception to a law that prohibits state and local governments, including school boards, from mandating masks.

The private sector, including many large US companies, have also taken some steps in response to the Delta variant threat.

Detroit's Big Three automakers and the United Auto Workers (UAW) union said on Tuesday they will reinstate requirements to wear masks at all US plants, offices and warehouses beginning on Wednesday but are not requiring workers to be vaccinated.

Big Tech companies like Alphabet's Google and Facebook have said all US employees must get vaccinated to step into offices.

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