Citi to Fire Unvaccinated; N.Y. Sets Booster Plan: Virus Update

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(Bloomberg) — Citigroup Inc., the first major Wall Street bank to impose a strict vaccine mandate, will place office workers who don’t comply by Jan. 14 on unpaid leave, according to a message to staff seen by Bloomberg. Their last day of employment will come at the end of the month.

New York will become the first state in the U.S. to require a booster shot for its health-care workers, Governor Kathy Hochul said. 

The U.S. Supreme Court cast doubt on President Joe Biden’s push to vaccinate millions of workers, questioning whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had authority to require that 80 million workers get shots or regular tests. Biden, meantime, said soaring caseloads won’t be the “new normal.”

A South African study showed the omicron variant moved with “unprecedented speed” and caused milder illness, indications that the pandemic could be coming to an end. 

Key Developments: 

  • Virus Tracker: Cases exceed 302.3 million; deaths pass 5.48 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 9.39 billion shots administered
  • NYC return plans on hold as Schwarzman cancels birthday bash
  • ‘Just going to get worse’: U.S. hospital workers quit in droves
  • Vaccines can delay women’s periods, study finds
  • China cases span country, even after Xi’an’s drop

Louisiana Court Upholds Vaccine Mandate (5:31 p.m. NY)

Louisiana’s Supreme Court ruled Friday in favor of a vaccine mandate imposed by a health-care company on its employees, even as the larger question of mandates around the U.S. remains unsettled. 

The court ruled in favor of Ochsner Health, which faces challenges in two parishes. The court ruled in part that the mandate was legal because Louisiana law allows either employer or employee to end their relationship at will, with narrow exceptions that include discrimination based on race, sex or religion. 

“This court finds employer is entitled to terminate employees for failure to comply with the vaccine mandate,” the decision read. In December, Ochsner said it fired about 280 of its 30,000 employees for failing to comply with the mandate. 

Puerto Rico Requires Boosters for Baseball (4:55 p.m. NY)

Baseball fans in Puerto Rico will have to show proof they’ve had a booster shot in order to get into games, the government announced Friday.

The new rule comes after the island’s baseball league protested a recent executive order that banned all public events of more than 250 people. As of Friday, up to 1,200 people will be allowed to attend baseball games as long as they wear masks, follow social distancing rules and can prove that they’ve received a booster.

The commonwealth of 3.3 million people has one of the highest vaccination rates of any U.S. jurisdiction, but has fallen behind on administering booster shots. Only 31% of those eligible for a booster have received one, according to CDC data, putting the island behind 43 U.S. states.

Iowa Nursing Chain Files for Bankruptcy (4:26 p.m. NY)

Staffing shortages helped push an Iowa chain of nursing homes into bankruptcy as health-care providers continue to struggle with pandemic pressures. 

QHC Facilities LLC filed for bankruptcy last week, citing “crippling staffing and employee retention issues” in a court filing. The Clive, Iowa-based company operates eight skilled nursing facilities and two assisted living homes with a total of about 750 beds in the state and 300 workers. 

Finland Rejects Remote-Only School (4:23 p.m. NY) 

Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s cabinet said students in Finland should return to classrooms for in-person learning, overruling a Health Ministry proposal for remote learning as many schools prepare to reopen next week after a holiday break.

Mask-wearing requirements will be broadened and kids will be given two home tests a week as soon as possible to limit the spread of Covid-19 in schools, Krista Kiuru, the government minister in charge of the pandemic response, told reporters on Friday. 

Sickness Snarls Mexico City Flights (2:59 p.m. NY)

Travelers at Mexico City’s airport on Friday had to withstand lines that stretched far outside the hub’s doors and onto the sidewalk just to drop off their bags as airlines were hit with staffing shortages due to Covid-19.

At least 65 Mexico City flights were canceled over the past 24 hours, according to tracking site FlightAware. Over the past week, 71 Aeromexico pilots have tested positive for Covid, as have four Aeromar pilots, according to Captain Jose Suarez, spokesperson at pilot union ASPA, which represents 1,900 pilots at Grupo Aeromexico SAB and Grupo Aeromar SA. 

Boosters Protect Against Omicron: UK Study (2:56 p.m. NY)

Booster shots are providing high levels of protection against hospitalization and severe disease from the omicron Covid variant among older people, according to the latest data from the U.K. Health Security Agency. 

Figures show that around three months after the third shot, protection against hospitalization among those 65 and older remains at about 90%. With just two doses, protection against severe disease drops to about 70% after three months and to 50% after six months, the agency said Friday. 

The panel concluded that there’s no immediate need to introduce a second booster dose to the most vulnerable, with priority remaining rolling out first booster doses to all age groups. 

N.Y. Mandates Boosters for Health Workers (12:31 p.m. NY)

New York will become the first state in the U.S. to require a Covid-19 booster shot for its health-care workers, Governor Kathy Hochul said on Friday. 

While the state will allow medical exceptions, there will be no test-out option. Health-care employees will be required to get a booster shot within two weeks of when they are eligible. The governor still needs approval from the state’s health planning council but expects “swift approval,” Hochul said during a Friday briefing.

Biden Says Surge Not ‘New Normal’ (12:21 p.m. NY)

President Joe Biden said surging cases won’t be the “new normal,” though the virus is likely to endure and can be managed with newly developed tools.

“Covid — as we’re dealing with it now — is not here to stay,” Biden said to reporters at the White House on Friday. “Having Covid in the environment here and in the world is probably here to stay.”

The U.S. recorded a record one million cases on Monday, and hundreds of thousands each day since, including nearly 800,000 on Thursday, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Biden Mandate Questioned in Top Court (11:55 a.m. NY)

The U.S. Supreme Court cast doubt on President Joe Biden’s push to vaccinate millions of workers amid a Covid-19 surge, questioning whether the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had authority to require that 80 million workers get shots or regular tests.

In a special session that lasted more than two hours, the court’s conservative justices voiced skepticism about the rule, which business groups and Republican-led states say exceeds the workplace-safety agency’s authority.

Austrian Leader Tests Positive (11:18 a.m. NY)

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday and is in quarantine. 

The chancellor announced via Twitter that a member of his security team was responsible for the transmission. He’ll continue carrying out government duties remotely via through video links, he said.

Omicron May Mark Pandemic End: Study (10:46 p.m. NY)

A study of patients infected with Covid-19 at a large hospital in the South African city where the first outbreak of the omicron variant was recorded showed an infection wave that moved with “unprecedented speed” and caused much milder illness than earlier strains.

That, the researchers who analyzed data at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria said, could be an indication that the pandemic is coming to an end. 

“If this pattern continues and is repeated globally, we are likely to see a complete decoupling of case and death rates,” the researchers said. That suggests “omicron may be a harbinger of the end of the epidemic phase of the Covid pandemic, ushering in its endemic phase.”

HK Probes Officials Who Attended Party (10:30 a.m. NY)

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has asked for a disciplinary inquiry into the 13 officials who attended a banquet which has so far turned up two positive cases, according to a government statement Friday night.

Lam has instructed Eric Chan, director of Lam’s office, and Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip to conduct the probe, which will review how long they stayed at the party, whether they used the government contact-tracing app and wore masks.

Citi to Fire Unvaccinated Workers (10:06 a.m. NY)

Citigroup Inc. was the first major Wall Street bank to impose a strict Covid-19 vaccine mandate: Get a shot or face termination. With its deadline fast approaching, the company is preparing for action.

Office workers who don’t comply by Jan. 14 will be placed on unpaid leave and a message to staff seen by Bloomberg said their last day of employment will come at the end of the month. While some of the employees will be eligible for certain year-end bonus payments, they’ll have to sign an agreement that states they won’t pursue legal action against the company to receive the funds, the company said in the message.

“You are welcome to apply for other roles at Citi in the future as long as you are compliant with Citi’s vaccination policy,” the company said in the memo.

FDA Shortens Gap for Moderna Booster (9:16 a.m.)

U.S. regulators amended the emergency authorization for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine to allow Americans to get a booster shot five months after receiving the initial first two shots.

The decision by the Food and Drug Administration echoes a similar move it made earlier this week to reduce the recommended interval between the second and third doses of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine for all adults to five months

Romania Tweaks Restrictions (9:05 a.m. NY)

Romania will change quarantine rules for people who are direct contact with a person discovered positive with Covid-19 as new cases surge. Vaccinated people are no longer exempt and will need to quarantine for five days, while the unvaccinated will need to isolate for 10 days compared with 14 days previously.

Austria’s Vaccine Plan Delayed (8:21 a.m. NY)

Austria’s plan to make Covid vaccinations mandatory from February hit a roadblock after the agency implementing the measure said its systems won’t be ready until April.

Greece May Expand Mandatory Shots (6:18 a.m. NY)

Greece is considering the expansion of mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations to people aged 50 to 59, Alternate Interior Minister Stelios Petsas said Friday in an interview with Greece’s Skai TV. The government will make relevant announcements in the coming days, he said. Vaccinations are currently compulsory in Greece for individuals aged 60 and above, with a 100-euro fine for every month of non-compliance.

Armed Forces at London Hospitals (6:15 a.m. NY)

The U.K. sent 200 armed forces personnel into hospitals in London to help relieve staff shortages due to a surge in the omicron Covid-19 variant.

The Ministry of Defence said it will provide 40 medics and 160 general-duty personnel for three weeks to ensure National Health Service hospitals in the capital are able to cope with soaring numbers of cases.

Separately, England’s introduction of new mask rules in schools was based on a study that didn’t provide conclusive evidence of their effectiveness, according to a report from the Department of Education.

Moderna CEO Sees Boosters in the Fall (6:09 a.m. NY)

Moderna Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel said another round of vaccine boosters against Covid-19 will probably be needed this fall, even if the super-infectious omicron variant helps move the planet more quickly into a stage of living with the virus.

Germany to Restrict Restaurant Access (3:07 p.m. HK)

Germany is poised to tighten restrictions on access to restaurants and cafes in an effort to keep the rapidly spreading omicron strain of the coronavirus in check.

In a video call later on Friday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and regional leaders are expected to agree that people who are vaccinated or recovered will still have to provide a negative test. They’re seeking to tackle the latest surge in infections without resorting to sweeping lockdown measures like shuttering businesses and schools. 

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.





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