The Latest Pandemic Headlines

Greece Hospital Staff Protest Vaccination Mandate

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Staff at public hospitals have held protests around Greece Wednesday on the deadline to comply with a vaccination mandate for health care workers or face suspension without pay.

The government says the measure is needed to safeguard hospitals amid a third major surge in COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic.

But health care unions say it is unnecessary, noting that an estimated 95% of doctors and 90% of other staff at the country's largest hospitals are fully vaccinated.

Infection levels spiked in August to the highest level recorded in the country so far, and pressure on hospitals has been building in recent weeks.

Nearly 64% of Greece's adult population is now fully vaccinated, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, while the European Union average reached 70% Tuesday.

Health care unions in Greece say they support the government's vaccination campaign but oppose mandates. A three-hour work stoppage at public hospitals is planned Thursday.

No arrests were reported at the small and peaceful protests.


Turkish Family Offers to Participate in Genetic Study

ISTANBUL (AP) -- A Turkish family that lost eight members to COVID-19 over a five-month period is calling on scientists to examine their genetic make-up to determine if they are more prone to the virus.

Burak Genc, 24, was the first in the family to die, in early November last year, followed by his father Muhammet six days later.

Within six weeks they were followed by four other relatives, who are believed to have contracted the virus at the funerals or during visits to pay their condolences.

Two more members of the family died in February and April.

Fearing more bad news, the family prepared 10 fresh burial plots in their village of Gurgen in Rize, on Turkey's Black Sea coast.

After alerting the authorities, the remaining 25 members of the family were vaccinated and they have not suffered a loss since.

"We still want our genes to be investigated," Ali Genc told the Demiroren news agency. "We wonder why we react so strongly to this illness. That's why we call on the authorities."

His brother Ahmet, 43, was the last family member to die.

"He had just received his first vaccine and he contracted the disease," Ali said. "He died after 18 days in the intensive care unit. I was with him in the hospital for 18 days.

"If I didn't have my vaccinations, I would be sleeping next to him right now."

According to Turkish Health Ministry data, 60% of over-18s have received two doses of vaccine. However, the country has experienced rising case numbers since restrictions were relaxed in July, and daily infections now hover around 20,000. Some 21,900 cases were recorded on Tuesday and 252 people died.


Egypt: Daily COVID Cases Steadily Increase

CAIRO (AP) -- The number of daily COVID-19 cases confirmed in Egypt has grown steadily in recent weeks amid relaxed precautionary measures and the spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

The Health Ministry reported late Tuesday 279 cases in 24 hours and nine deaths, compared to 194 cases and seven deaths on the same day last week.

The delta variant first was detected in Egypt in July. Daily reported cases have gone up as authorities relaxed restrictions, allowing concerts and other large events where few participants wear face masks or maintain a distance from others.

Authorities have reported a total of 288,440 confirmed cases and 16,736 deaths since the start of the pandemic, but the actual numbers are believed much higher due to limited testing.


Palestinians Launch Vaccination Drive for Teens 16-18

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Palestinian health authorities are launching a vaccination drive for students in the Gaza Strip ages 16-18 as the territory contends with a third wave of coronavirus infections.

Health officials began giving the Pfizer vaccine in Gaza Strip schools on Wednesday and aim to inoculate more than 100,000 students in the coming weeks. Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank began a similar drive on Tuesday.

The Gaza Health Ministry reported six deaths and more than 1,400 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, the highest number since a new wave of infections began in August.

Less than half the population of the West Bank has received a first vaccine dose, and around 15% of Gaza's population has gotten a first shot.

The Palestinians received 500,000 doses of Moderna vaccine last week that were donated by the United States through COVAX, the global vaccine-sharing initiative distributing vaccines to poorer nations.

The Palestinian Authority and Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group have worked to secure their own vaccine supplies, partly through COVAX and donations from other countries. But the territories remain far behind neighboring Israel, which has a world-leading vaccination drive.


Germany Offers Booster Shots to Vulnerable Groups

BERLIN (AP) -- Authorities in Germany's capital have started offering booster shots against COVID-19 to vulnerable groups.

Dozens of mobile teams will be visiting elder care homes in Berlin starting Wednesday to administer third vaccine doses to residents.

Several other German states already are offering boosters to older adults or people who are immunocompromised. Those groups received their first shots six months ago.

Germany has seen a drop in public demand for vaccinations, with about 60% of the population fully vaccinated so far. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced last week that the country plans to more than double the number of doses it donates to poor countries this year, to 70 million, amid a supply glut.


Norway Set COVID Case Record

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) -- Norway has reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases of the pandemic, surpassing a record set last Friday.

The Norwegian Directorate of Health said the Scandinavian country confirmed 1,796 new cases in 24 hours. The number recorded Friday was 1,552.

"It has increased faster than we expected," Camilla Stoltenberg, chief of the Norwegian Directorate of Health, told broadcaster NRK.

Many cases can be attributed to infections spreading in schools, she said.

toltenberg's deputy, Espen Nakstad, told NRK: "I hope that we do not reach the same levels as last winter, when we had the third wave of infection."

The government has kept some restrictions in place until more people are vaccinated against the coronavirus.


South Korea: Send Vaccines to Those Who Need It

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea has proposed a U.N.-backed immunization program send its allotment of almost 3 million doses of a Chinese-made vaccine to countries with severe COVID-19 outbreaks while it continues to claim a perfect record in keeping out the coronavirus.

UNICEF, which procures and delivers vaccines on behalf of the COVAX program, said Tuesday that North Korea's Ministry of Public Health has communicated that the 2.97 million Sinovac shots COVAX planned to deliver to the North may be sent elsewhere.

The North Korean ministry also said it will "will continue to communicate with COVAX Facility to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the coming months," UNICEF said in an email to The Associated Press.

COVAX had also allocated 1.9 million AstraZeneca shots to the North but delivery has been delayed.

Experts say North Korea remains focused on tough quarantines and border controls to keep out the virus, and vaccines appear to be a secondary priority.

Some experts say North Korea could be questioning the effectiveness and rare side effects of the vaccines it's been offered and holding out for others.

The North claims to have not confirmed a single case of coronavirus infection, despite widespread skepticism.