Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday

Across the U.S., religious figures, doctors, public officials and other community leaders are trying to help people circumvent COVID-19 precautions.

People across the U.S. are being coached on how to circumvent COVID-19 precautions

A protester opposing mask and COVID-19 vaccine mandates holds a sign in Olympia, Wash., on Wednesday. Across the United States, religious figures, doctors, public officials and other community leaders are trying to help people circumvent COVID-19 precautions. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

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Across the United States, religious figures, doctors, public officials and other community leaders are trying to help people circumvent COVID-19 precautions.

While proponents of these workarounds say they are looking out for children's health and parents' rights, others say such stratagems are dishonest and irresponsible and could undermine efforts to beat back the highly contagious delta variant.

Mask and vaccine requirements vary from state to state but often allow exemptions for certain medical conditions or religious or philosophical objections.

In Oregon, superintendent Marc Thielman of the rural Alsea School District told parents they can sidestep the governor's school mask requirement by applying for an accommodation for their children under federal disabilities law.

Alsea School District superintendent Marc Thielman reads over the language of a federal disability anti-discrimination law in his office on Friday. (Gillian Flaccus/The Associated Press)

Thielman said he hit upon the idea after the governor's mandate generated "huge, huge pushback" from parents.

In Kansas, the Spring Hill school board is allowing parents to claim a medical or mental health exemption from the county's requirement that elementary school students mask up. They do not need a medical provider to sign off.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, a Republican who regularly spars with Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, posted sample letters that would allow parents to seek a philosophical or religious exemption from Edwards's mask rule at schools — or from a vaccine requirement, if one is enacted.

The letters have been shared by Republican lawmakers and thousands of others.

In California, the state medical board is investigating a doctor who critics say is handing out dozens of one-sentence mask exemptions for children in an attempt to evade the statewide school mask requirement.

WATCH | Number of children hit hard by COVID-19 surges in U.S.: 

Children hit hard by COVID-19 surge in U.S.

1 year ago
Duration 1:52
The latest surge of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. is mostly in the unvaccinated, especially children who aren’t eligible. With school about to begin, there is debate about how to protect them.

Dr. Michael Huang, who has a practice in the Sacramento suburb of Roseville, declined to answer questions from The Associated Press but told other news outlets that he examines each child and issues exemptions appropriately. The California Medical Association issued a statement condemning "rogue physicians" selling "bogus" exemptions.

In a neighbouring suburb, Pastor Greg Fairrington of Rocklin's Destiny Christian Church has issued at least 3,000 religious exemptions to people with objections to the vaccine, which is becoming mandatory in an increasing number of places in California.

He said in a statement that his church has received thousands of calls from doctors, nurses, teachers and first responders terrified of losing their jobs because they don't want to get vaccinated. His office declined to share the exemption letter.

Protesters against COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates demonstrate near the state Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., on Friday. (Cedar Attanasio/The Associated Press)

"We are not anti-vaccine," he said. "At the same time, we believe in the freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. The vaccine poses a morally compromising situation for many people of faith."

Health experts such as Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, warned that such stratagems will sow confusion about masks and vaccinations.

The virus is "looking for fractures in the system," he said, "and we have plenty of fractures in the system."

Have questions about this story? We're answering as many as we can in the comments.

What's happening across Canada

A sign directs people to a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal on Saturday. (Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada)

What's happening around the world

As of Saturday morning, more than 210.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide. According to the Johns Hopkins University tracking database, more than 4.4 million deaths had been reported worldwide.

In Asia-Pacific, authorities in Australia say more than 250 people have been arrested while protesting coronavirus lockdowns in the country. Many faced fines for defying health orders. The protests took place Saturday in several cities nationwide, with the largest and most violent protest in Melbourne. At least seven police officers were treated for injuries after skirmishes broke out at some of the protests.

In Europe, thousands marched Saturday in cities across France to protest the COVID-19 health pass that is now required to access restaurants and cafés, cultural venues, sports arenas and long-distance travel. For a sixth straight Saturday, opponents denounced what they see as a restriction of their freedom. Many criticized the measure, claiming the French government was implicitly making vaccines obligatory.

In the Americas, Cuba's drug regulator has granted emergency approval for the country's second homegrown vaccine. The Soberana 2 vaccine, which Cuba says has an efficacy rate of 91.2 per cent, has already been used to vaccinate some health workers and ordinary citizens in areas with high rates of transmission as part of early intervention studies.

In Africa, South Africans formed queues hundreds of metres long after the government made vaccinations available to all adults in order to hasten a rollout beset by challenges and delays. South Africa's campaign got off to a slow start, owing to bureaucratic hiccups, a failure to start early talks with pharmaceutical companies and bad luck — it ditched a million AstraZeneca-Oxford shots on evidence they may not work against its dominant variant, only for that evidence to be later overturned.

Have questions about this story? We're answering as many as we can in the comments.

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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