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WHO reports highest weekly COVID cases, healthcare workers face mandate deadlines, and more virus news

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The World Health Organization said there were 21 million new coronavirus cases reported globally last week, the highest weekly number of COVID-19 cases recorded since the pandemic began. The number of deaths was largely unchanged, at more than 50,000.

In its weekly assessment of the pandemic, issued late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said the number of new coronavirus infections rose by 5% and that the rate of increase appears to be slowing; only half of regions reported an increase in COVID-19. Earlier this month, the previous highest number of cases — 9.5 million — was recorded amid a 71% spike from the week before, as the hugely contagious omicron variant swept the world.

Health care workers in about half the states face a Thursday deadline to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine under a Biden administration mandate that will be rolled out across the rest of the country in the coming weeks.

While the requirement is welcomed by some, others fear it will worsen already serious staff shortages if employees quit rather than comply.

And in some Republican-led states that have taken a stand against vaccine mandates, hospitals and nursing homes could find themselves caught between conflicting state and federal demands.

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that it will “soon” be time to start raising interest rates, a key step in reversing pandemic-era policies that have fueled hiring and growth but also high inflation.

The Fed is expected to lift its benchmark short-term rate from zero as soon as March, when it also plans to phase out monthly bond purchases that have been intended to anchor longer-term rates.

Chair Jerome Powell said at a news conference that these actions will help prevent high inflation from becoming entrenched and that the central bank can manage the process in a way that prolongs economic growth and keeps unemployment low.

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