UK health minister resigns after breaching coronavirus rules; Massachusetts releases vaccine lotto details: Latest COVID-19 updates

Proof of vaccination requirements could be the key to allowing hard-hit businesses across the U.S. to fully reopen. However, many businesses have been reluctant to demand proof of vaccination from customers, as the public and politicians in many places have made it clear they don’t care for the idea.

In fact, far more states have banned proof-of-vaccination policies than have created smartphone-based programs for people to digitally display their vaccination status.

Hawaii is the only state enforcing some version of a vaccine passport, requiring travelers to upload a photo or PDF of their Hawaii vaccination document or pass a pre-arrival COVID-19 test to avoid having to quarantine for 10 days.

By contrast, at least 18 Republican-led states prohibit the creation of so-called vaccine passports or ban public entities from requiring proof of vaccination. Several of those — including Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota and Texas — also bar most businesses from denying service to those who aren’t vaccinated.

Also in the news:

► AMC Theatres is continuing its return to business as usual. AMC Stubs A-List, the movie theater chain’s membership program, is set to be reactivated July 1 after being suspended in March 2020.

► The bakery-café chain Panera Bread is the latest business to roll out a COVID-19 vaccine freebie. From July 2-4, the chain is giving away free bagels to vaccinated customers at participating locations nationwide — without proof of vaccination.

► Even though 40% of Americans said they preferred to work from home full time last month, major companies across the country are encouraging or demanding that their staff return to the office by Labor Day.

► Russia has reported its highest daily COVID-19 death toll of the year – 619 people – as the country grapples with a sharp spike in infections that has brought new restrictions in some regions. 

►  Finland is experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases that has been traced to soccer fans returning from neighboring Russia, following European Championship matches in St. Petersburg. 

 While the Houston Methodist hospital system remains in the national spotlight for forcing out 153 employees who refused to get vaccinated, dozens of hospitals have quietly begun following the Texas hospital’s lead of mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for their employees.

► Southwest Airlines plans to raise minimum pay to $15 an hour for about 7,000 employees, citing the need to attract and keep workers as the airline industry continues to recover from the pandemic.

📘 What we’re reading: American tourists will soon be able to travel to Sweden, as the country plans to reopen its borders to the U.S. on June 30. 

📈 Today’s numbers: The U.S. has more than 33.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 603,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. The global totals: More than 181 million cases and more than 3.92 million deaths. More than 153 million Americans have been fully vaccinated — nearly 46% of the population, according to the CDC. 

Keep refreshing this page for the latest updates. Want more? Sign up for our Coronavirus Watch newsletter for updates to your inbox and join our Facebook group.

Deleted gene sequences confirm coronavirus circulated before Wuhan seafood market

The virus that causes COVID-19 did not originate at the Wuhan seafood market, confirms a new study of deleted gene sequences from the virus’s earliest days. 

The sequences had been posted to a website run by the National Institutes of Health, but were removed for unknown reasons.

Jesse Bloom, who studies viral evolution at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, does not suggest an answer to the question of whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus jumped directly from animals to people or was accidentally leaked from a research lab in Wuhan, China in his new report, which has not yet been peer reviewed.

But by studying how the viral genes mutate over time, researchers like Bloom can reconstruct their history, figuring out which cases came first and how the virus changed as it moved through the population.

“These sequences are informative for understanding early SARS-CoV-2 spread in Wuhan,” Bloom said. “They’re not transformative, but they fill in some really important gaps.”

Bloom knows that the deletion of the sequences will raise suspicions in the public, but he says there are many reasons a researcher might ask for material to be taken offline, including the fact that the week the study was posted, the Chinese government instituted a requirement that it review all scientific information related to SARS-CoV-2 before publication. Read more.

— Karen Weintraub and Elizabeth Weise

UK health minister resigns after breaching coronavirus rules

U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has led the country’s response to the coronavirus, resigned Saturday, a day after apologizing for breaching social distancing rules with an aide with whom he was allegedly having an affair.

Hancock had been under growing pressure since the tabloid Sun newspaper published images showing him and senior aide Gina Coladangelo kissing in an office at the Department of Health. The Sun said the closed circuit television images were taken May 6 – 11, days before lockdown rules were eased to allow hugs and other physical contact with people outside one’s own household.

In a resignation letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Hancock said the government owed it “to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down.”

Hancock is the latest in a string of British officials to be accused of breaching restrictions they imposed on the rest of the population to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Dominic Cummings, who once served as a top aide to Johnson, was accused of undermining the government’s “stay home” message when he drove 250 miles across England to his parents’ home during the spring 2020 lockdown.

Johnson said he was sorry to receive Hancock’s resignation and that he “should leave office very proud of what you have achieved – not just in tackling the pandemic, but even before COVID-19 struck us.”

“The last thing I would want is for my private life to distract attention from the single-minded focus that is leading us out of this crisis,” Hancock said in his letter. Read more.

— The Associated Press

Massachusetts announces details of $1M vaccine lottery

The first of five drawings for the Massachusetts coronavirus vaccine lottery is scheduled for July 26, state officials announced Friday.

Additional drawings for either a $1 million prize or a $300,000 college scholarship will be held on the four Mondays following that date through the end of August, according to a statement from the office of Gov. Charlie Baker.

The winners will be announced three days after each drawing. The state is using federal coronavirus relief funds to pay the winners. 

Residents must be fully vaccinated before registering, but if they are not vaccinated by the registration date for a certain drawing, they can still complete vaccination and register for subsequent drawings. Residents will only have to enter once to qualify for all drawings after their registration date.

Residents age 18 and older are eligible for the $1 million prizes, while residents ages 12 to 17 are eligible for the scholarships, which are in the form of grants via a 529 College Savings Plan managed by the Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority.

The lottery is designed to spur more people into getting vaccinated, Baker has said. Already more than 4 million state residents have been fully vaccinated.

— The Associated Press

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