Hundreds of people demonstrated Tuesday in Australia’s second-largest city to protest coronavirus restrictions the government imposed on the construction industry.
Officials announced construction sites in Melbourne would be closed for two weeks amid concerns that the movement of workers was contributing to the spread of COVID-19.
Construction workers are also now required to have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine before being allowed to return to work.
Victoria state, where Melbourne is located, reported 603 new cases on Tuesday, the most infections there in a single day this year.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Tuesday that fines for breaking coronavirus protocols would increase starting in November.
The changes would change the fine for someone intentionally failing to comply with a COVID-19 order from about $2,800 to $8,400. Those breaking the restrictions could also face up to six months in prison.
Businesses that violate coronavirus restrictions could face fines of up to $10,500.
“Our success has been really based on the fact that people by and large have been compliant,” Ardern said at a news conference. “However, there has been the odd person that has broken the rules and put others at risk.”
Meanwhile, Governor Jay Inslee, of the western U.S. state of Washington, is asking the federal government for help dealing with the strain on hospitals as the delta variant drives large numbers of infections.
Inslee sent a letter Monday to Jeffrey Zients, the White House pandemic coordinator, saying hospitals in his state are at or beyond capacity and that he is requesting military personnel to help staff hospitals.
“Once the Delta variant hit Washington state, COVID-19 hospitalizations skyrocketed,” Inslee said. “From mid-July to late August, we saw hospitalizations double about every two weeks. The hospitals have surged to increase staffed beds and stretch staff and have canceled most non-urgent procedures but are still over capacity across the state.”
New daily infections and the number of people hospitalized in Washington are at or near their highest levels during the pandemic.
Washington health officials report 69% of people aged 12 years and older in the state are fully vaccinated.
That is higher than the national figure, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting 64% of the population age 12 and older being fully vaccinated.
The Pfizer and BioNTech drug companies said Monday that lower-dose shots of their two-dose COVID-19 vaccine are safe and effective for 5- to 11-year-old children.
The U.S. company and its German partner BioNTech said trials showed the vaccine was well tolerated and robust, neutralizing antibody responses at the lower dose levels necessary in younger children.
Pfizer said it planned soon to seek authorization to use the vaccine in younger patients in the United States, Britain and the European Union, a move that could greatly expand the scope of the vaccination effort. About 28 million U.S. children fall into the age range, and millions of adults have still declined to get the jab.
Pfizer said it studied a lower dose — one-third the strength of the adult dose — in tests involving more than 2,200 kindergartners and elementary school students. Two-thirds of the children were given the vaccine, and the remaining third were given saltwater shots. The company said the vaccinated children developed antibody levels that were just as strong as those exhibited by teenagers and young adults.
With students now back in school and the delta variant spreading throughout the United States, many parents have been anxious for government health officials to approve the vaccine for their young children.
Compared with older people, children are at lower risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, but more than 5 million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 460 have died, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
U.S. vaccine maker Moderna is also studying its shots in young children. Both Pfizer and Moderna are studying using the vaccine in infants as young as 6 months, with results expected later this year.
On Monday, deaths in the United States from COVID-19 reached 675,975, surpassing deaths from the 1918 Spanish flu.
(Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.)