The US is battling a huge Covid wave but a Louisiana court has dealt a blow to efforts to improve vaccination coverage

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President Joe Biden’s order that US education workers be vaccinated against Covid-19 has been dealt a blow by a Louisiana judge, who ruled the White House cannot require employees in a federal education programme to be vaccinated.

US District Judge Terry Doughty said the Biden administration unlawfully bypassed Congress when it ruled that workers in Head Start programmes must receive Covid jabs by 31 January, and students age two and over wear masks indoors or in close contact with others.

The federally-funded program promotes education for children under age six from low-income families. Judge Doughty, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, said the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government is critical.

“If the Executive branch is allowed to usurp the power of the Legislative branch to make laws, then this country is no longer a democracy – it is a monarchy,” he wrote.

The case will affect 24 states involved in the lawsuit, coming ahead of a key Supreme Court hearing on vaccine mandates. Republican attorney generals praised the decision, with Alabama Attorney General Marshall saying it would “forestall the nonsensical and damaging practice of forcing masks on two-year-olds.”

The ruling will affect Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming and West Virginia.

On 7 January, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments relating to a raft of cases challenging government efforts to install vaccine mandates. President Biden announced a policy in September that requires businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure staff are vaccinated or require workers to wear masks and show a negative test result at least once a week. Companies can face fines for non-compliance.

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MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 28: Travelers make their way through Miami International Airport on December 28, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Over the holiday weekend, COVID-19 cases in the U.S. reached their highest level in nearly a year. More than 2,000 flights were canceled over the weekend as airlines dealt with a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Thousands of flights have been cancelled in the US due to a combination of Covid-19 and bad weather. Pictured, Miami International Airport on December 28, 2021 (Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

US battles record cases, Covid disruption

It comes as the US is battling record numbers of Covid cases, driven by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant and holiday travel. In the last week of 2021, the US broke records at least four times for the number of Covid cases, with an all-time high of 386,000 new daily infections on Friday according to Johns Hopkins University. It’s also leading to a surge in child hospitalisations, with an average of 378 children admitted to hospital with Covid-19 on any given day in the week to December 28, according to the CDC.

Dr Megan Ranney, emergency medicine at Brown University’s School of Public Health, told CNN “Omicron is truly everywhere.”

“What I am so worried about over the next month or so is that our economy is going to shut down, not because of policies from the federal government or from the state governments, but rather because so many of us are ill,” she said.

Already, the caseload has led to staffing problems in New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which was forced to suspend several subway lines last week. The mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, declared a state of emergency due to staff shortages in the fire department, while thousands of flights have been cancelled due to a combination of bad weather and staff illness.

Flight tracker Flight Aware said more than 2500 flights were cancelled on New Year’s Day, pushing the total number of cancellations this week to more than 12,000. The Federal Aviation Administration has warned the travel chaos could continue as it experiences staffing issues.

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