Biden touts lead role in vaccinating world as Indian variant surges
New Covid restrictions in France as virus cases rise
The United States has distributed more than 100 million Covid-19 vaccine doses overseas -- more than all other countries combined, President Joe Biden said Tuesday as he touted his record on countering the Indian Delta variant cutting a deadly swath across the planet.
The announcement, which follows the administration belatedly achieving its July 4 target for getting 70 percent of American adults at least one shot, marked "just the beginning" of US efforts to help the world battle the pandemic, the White House said.
"As of today, we have shipped over 110 million doses to 65 nations," Biden said in a national address.
"These vaccine donations from America are free. We're not selling," he added. "There's no favoritism and no strings attached. We're doing this to save lives. That's it."
Since it began in late 2019 the coronavirus outbreak has killed at least 4.2 million people globally, including 613,679 people in the United States, which is the worst-affected nation.
The availability of vaccines saw the daily toll of new cases drop dramatically in many countries earlier this year, but the highly contagious Delta variant has since been driving surging infections.
The United States has shipped 111.7 million doses mostly through the international vaccine distribution system known as Covax, but also in conjunction with organizations such as the African Union and the Caribbean Community, or CARICOM.
"According to the United Nations, this is more than the donations" of all other countries combined, Biden added.
Major recipients of donated vaccine shots include Indonesia, the Philippines, Colombia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan and South Africa.
Starting late this month, the United States will begin sending 500 million Pfizer doses that it has pledged to buy and donate to 100 low-income countries.
Even as the United States stepped up its bid to send shots overseas Biden again appealed to Americans to get vaccinated, warning that the virus is "moving like wildfire through the unvaccinated community."
"It's heartbreaking, particularly because it's preventable," he said.
As cases rise the inoculation drive is slowly picking up steam again after slumping for several months, especially in traditionally conservative areas such as the South and Midwest and among young people, poor people and ethnic minorities.
But in a country where both masks and vaccines have become politicized, Biden also called on local authorities such as Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida -- which is once again a virus hotspot -- to stop blocking businesses and schools from implementing mask mandates.
"If you aren't going to help at least get out of the way of the people that are trying to do the right thing," he said.
- Disney, Google, Facebook -
Disney, Google, Walmart and Facebook have said they will obligate employees to get vaccinated -- as has Tyson Foods, which was forced to close many of its meatpacking plants early in the pandemic after its frontline workers were exposed.
Meanwhile New York City announced Tuesday it would require proof of vaccination for people attending indoor venues such as restaurants, gyms and shows.
Biden has seen his approval rating drop recently, although it remains above 50 percent.
He is looking to seize back the initiative after a difficult week in which the nation's top health authority changed course to recommend that vaccinated people mask up again indoors in areas of high Covid transmission.
The White House has also been criticized for inaction as a moratorium on evictions expired, leaving millions of American facing the possibility of homelessness as the pandemic rages.
The nationwide ban was intended to extend until September, but a recent Supreme Court ruling meant it had to end early unless renewed by Congress, which failed to do so.
Biden said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was expected to have an announcement on a possible extension on the moratorium shortly, suggesting that even if it is struck down by the Supreme Court it will still "give some additional time" to distribute billions in aid which has already been sent to states.
France reeling again
Health officials in France on Tuesday activated an emergency plan on the Mediterranean island of Corsica as a fourth wave of Covid infections spread across the country.
The government also announced it was reactivating a package of measures designed to support medical staff as they brace for a fresh intake of cases.
More of France's popular coastal areas meanwhile reintroduced the compulsory wearing of masks in a bid to stem the incoming coronavirus tide.
Health officials on Corsica said they were providing more intensive care beds for Covid patients and mobilising medical staff as hospital occupancy in Bastia, one of the island's two main cities, passed 79 percent.
The news came a day after Guadalupe became the third of France's overseas territory to announce a return to partial lockdown because of a "catastrophic" surge in Covid cases there.
An overnight curfew and some daytime restrictions start from Wednesday.
Martinique, another French Caribbean island 190 kilometres (120 miles) to the south, returned to lockdown on Friday, while the island of Reunion entered partial lockdown this weekend.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jean Castex chaired a meeting of the interministerial team handling the crisis.
They agreed to use the army to provide more intensive care beds to the overseas territories, his office said.
The government also announced Tuesday it would reintroduce overtime bonuses for hospital workers, as well as compensation for paid holidays they could not take because of pressure of work.
- Compulsory mask use returning -
The situation in Corsica was likely hurt by the traditional surge of departures and arrivals of holidaymakers at the end of July: more than 130,000 people were on the move there last weekend.
Corsica had already reintroduced compulsory mask wearing in the island's main cities in mid-July.
Several coastal resorts around France have also reintroduced compulsory mask wearing less than two months after the authorities lifted the restriction.
In northwest France, Brittany's Finistere area, on Monday ordered people to cover their mouths and noses outdoors after an increase in Covid cases. Masks have been compulsory outdoors in the Morbihan area of Brittany since last week.
Officials in the foothills of the Pyrenees, on the border with Spain, and at Lake Annecy, at the foot of the Alps, have introduced similar measures.
Across France, the Delta variant of the virus is pushing up the number of hospital admissions, public health figures published Tuesday showed.
Patients in intensive care now number 1,331 compared with 978 a week ago, while the deaths of another 57 people over the last 24 hours pushed France's toll past 112,000.