Fast-spreading Delta Variant, Vaccination Rates, Reintroduction of Indoor Masks: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

July 01, 2021

These are the global coronavirus stories you need to know about this week.

In the UK, England got a new Health Secretary after Matt Hancock resigned for breaching his own social distancing rules, embracing an aide in his office  with the images caught on CCTV. Despite rising Delta variant cases, the new minister, Sajid Javid, said there'd be no delay to lifting restrictions next month: "We see no reason to go beyond July 19, because in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for COVID." As of Tuesday, 62.4% of the UK adult population is fully vaccinated. Public Health England data show that of 117 Delta variant deaths, 50 people had received both doses of a vaccine. UK vaccine advisers said that any potential COVID-19 vaccine booster programme should be offered in two stages from September, alongside flu vaccination.

In France, the pressure on hospitals continues to decrease. On Tuesday, 8627 patients with COVID-19 were hospitalised with 134 new admissions, and 1250 patients in intensive care, including 29 admitted during the last 24 hours, and 28 people died in hospital. The Delta variant is spreading in France. The incidence of new cases has doubled from last week to 20%, said Health Minister Olivier Véran. The vaccination campaign continues with half the population receiving one dose of a vaccine, and a third  fully vaccinated. Vaccination certificates are now available in the EU format.

In Germany, health officials reported 808 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday. A week ago, the figure had been 1016 infections. The 7-day incidence is currently at 5.2 per 100,000 population nationwide. According to the Robert Koch Institute, so far travellers from abroad account for only a fairly small proportion of all recorded COVID-19 infections in Germany (about 2%). More than half of Germans have received at least one dose 6 months after the start of the vaccination campaign, and more than a third have been fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, experts expect an increasing need for rehabilitation for people with long COVID. Health policy expert Karl Lauterbach has called on the Standing Commission on Vaccination (Stiko) to reconsider its limited recommendation for COVID-19 vaccination of children in light of the Delta variant. In addition, the so-called federal emergency brake ended on Wednesday, ending the need for home working.

In Switzerland, 129 people tested positive for coronavirus on Tuesday. So far, 34% of the population is fully vaccinated. The Delta variant is also expected to become the dominant variant in Switzerland. Officials are therefore targeting vaccination rates of 80% to avert a severe wave in the autumn. An evaluation from Swiss hospitals has shown that fewer than 1% of hospitalised COVID-19 patients were fully vaccinated. Only one fully vaccinated person was treated in an intensive care unit.

In Austria, around 38% of the population is currently fully vaccinated, and almost 60% has received at least one vaccination dose. From July 1, far-reaching relaxations will came into force throughout Austria.

In Italy, the pandemic is now under control, although some outbreaks confirm the presence of the Delta variant. The incidence is below the threshold of 50 new cases per week per 100,000 population, and the R number remains below 1 everywhere. Just over 1700 patients are hospitalised, and fewer than 300 are in intensive care. The pace of the vaccination campaign has slowed down. Three quarters of cases are still caused by the Alpha variant but Delta cases have grown from 4% in May to nearly 17% in samples examined as of June 21.

In Portugal, the Delta variant is spreading rapidly, driving a new wave of COVID-19 in the country. The Delta variant is expected to become the dominant variant in mainland Portugal in 2 to 3 weeks. Travellers from Brazil, India, Nepal, South Africa, and the UK must now complete a 14-day isolation period on arrival. So far, 46% of the population has received a first dose of a vaccine, and 29% are fully vaccinated.

The Delta variant, which has been gaining ground in Belgium, is mainly spreading via young people who are less likely to be fully vaccinated. The variant accounted for around 15.7% of the cases in Belgium last week, up from 6.1% the week before, and this number is expected to rise to 80-90% by the end of July.

After some weeks with a decreasing incidence (less than 100 cases per 100,000 population), the number of new infections is starting to rise in Spain, especially among young people. More than 200 students aged 17 to 19 were put into isolation in a hotel in Palma de Mallorca in the Balearic islands, and almost 1200 students tested positive for COVID-19 after an outbreak on an end-of-year trip. So far, 52.8% of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and 36.1% are fully vaccinated.

In the US, the Delta variant is gaining ground, spurring a national debate about whether people need to be wearing masks again. Nationwide, Delta now causes about 1 in 4 new COVID-19 cases according to the CDC.  Midwestern states like Missouri and Kansas are being hit hardest. In those areas, Delta is causing about half of cases. These states also have lower vaccination coverage.  Missouri has fully vaccinated only 39% of it’s population.  Nationally, 46% of the population has been fully vaccinated. 

In Mexico, cases have increased throughout the country but mainly in Mexico City. So far, only 14% of the population is fully vaccinated, and some healthcare workers are still waiting to be vaccinated. The Federal Commission for Protection against Health Risks (COFEPRIS) has approved the emergency use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for people 12 years of age and older. In Campeche, in the south of the country, the Alpha, Gamma, and Epsilon variants have been detected.

The Chilean government announced an increase in its health budget of $2 billion. So far, 82% of the population has received one dose of a vaccine, and 70% of the population is fully vaccinated. Cases have increased due to the Delta variant. 

In Argentina, the National Ministry of Health published the preliminary results of a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the different vaccines applied to people aged 60 years and over. One dose of the Sputnik V or AstraZeneca vaccine reduced mortality by 70-80%.

The PAHO director stated that last week 1.1 million new cases of COVID-19 and 30,000 COVID-19-related deaths were reported in the Americas region. Cases in South America and the Caribbean have increased. So far, only 1 in 10 people in Latin America and the Caribbean are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In the coming days, the United States is expected to ship 20 million doses of vaccine to the Latin American and Caribbean region.

Brazil registered its first death from the Delta variant. It was a 42-year-old pregnant woman in the state of Paraná (Southern region). After returning from a trip to Japan, she developed symptoms, was hospitalised for 8 days, underwent an emergency C-section, and died. The baby tested negative for SARS-CoV-2. It was the first Brazilian death from the new variant. The second victim was a crew member of a Chinese ship docked in Maranhão, after a 43-day hospital stay. Results published in The Lancet of phase 1 and 2 studies indicate that CoronaVac, developed by the Chinese laboratory Sinovac Biotech is safe and able to produce an immune response in children. The studies were carried out in China with 552 volunteers aged between 3 and 17 years. There were two doses applied with an interval of 28 days.

First vaccine doses have been given to 33.70% of the Brazilian population, and 12.09% are fully vaccinated.

Israel has reintroduced its indoor mask mandate following a spike in COVID-19 cases, just days after the measure was lifted. Reopening of the country to vaccinated tourists has also been put back by a month. The country recorded more than 100 daily cases for 4 consecutive days, the majority of them linked to the Delta variant.

Sydney, Australia went into a strict 2-week lockdown on June 26 to contain the spread of the Delta variant. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that COVID-19 vaccinations will be made mandatory for high-risk care workers, and individuals employed in quarantine hotels.

Japan will provide one million additional doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine each to Taiwan and Vietnam. On June 30, Tokyo recorded 714 new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily number since May 26 when 684 cases were reported.

Indonesia reported a record 21,095 daily cases of COVID-19 on June 26. The ongoing surge of infections has been attributed to millions travelling across the country towards the end of Ramadan.

Hong Kong has banned all passenger flights from the UK to restrict the spread of the Delta variant.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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