Delta Variant Doubles Hospitalisation Risk, Infection Rates Declining in Europe: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

June 17, 2021

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

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a 4-week delay to the next step in easing England's lockdown from next Monday to July 19. His plans were blown off course by the rise in Delta variant cases, now found to be rising "exponentially". The vaccination programme is being accelerated during the delay. Similar cautious approaches are being taken in Scotland and Wales. Data from Scotland published in The Lancet  found the Delta variant approximately doubles the risk of hospitalisation compared with the Alpha variant. Public Health England data show the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 96% effective against Delta variant hospitalisation after two doses, and protection was 92% with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Oxford University's RECOVERY trial demonstrated that Regeneron's investigational antibody combination reduces the risk of death when given to patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19 who have not mounted a natural antibody response of their own.

In France, the situation continues to improve with 12,008 patients currently hospitalised, and this has been steadily declining since mid-April. Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that curfew will end on June 20, 10 days ahead of the Government's plan. The need to wear a mask outdoors is being lifted except in certain circumstances. As of June 15, 45.9% of the general population has received a first dose of vaccine and 22%, two doses. Twelve to 16-year-olds can now also be vaccinated.

The incidence of infections in Germany continues to subside. On Wednesday, the nationwide 7-day incidence was 13.2, down from 20.8 the previous week. It hasn't been this low since September. A moderate infection rate is expected over the summer. The prevalent virus variants are more contagious than last summer but an increasing proportion of people have been vaccinated. There's a discussion about ending mask wearing. Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn is advocating a gradual approach, as scientists fear a resurgence of the pandemic if the mask requirement is lifted across the board. 

In Switzerland, 282 people were tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday (June 16). The 7-day incidence is currently 27.3. Meanwhile, the Federal Office of Public Health believes that vaccinations are effective for one year rather than 6 months. More than a quarter of the population is now fully vaccinated, and with decreasing case numbers, further relaxations to restrictions will take effect on June 28.  

COVID-19 infection rates also continue to decline in Austria. The most recent 7-day incidence was 15.5. Meanwhile, about 55% of the population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccination dose, and 28% of the population is fully vaccinated.

In Italy, an 18-year-old woman died from thrombosis after the first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine. It’s not clear yet if she was affected by undeclared hereditary thrombocytopenia. This resulted in changes to the vaccination schedule. The Scientific Committee restricted the use of the vaccine to people over 60. Caution is also recommended for the Janssen vaccine, produced with the same adenoviral vector technology. People under 60 should receive only mRNA vaccines, even if they’ve already had a first dose of another vaccine. Although other European and non-European countries have adopted the 'mix & match' strategy, experts are divided on its safety. Italy's R number remains below one. For several days now, the daily bulletin has been reporting a number of daily deaths below the psychological threshold of 100. Currently, 3500 people are still hospitalised with COVID-19 while 565 are in an intensive care unit. More than 1 in 4 Italians aged over 12, has now received both vaccine doses. The first outbreak caused by the Delta variant, involving 19 people, has been reported in a gym in Milan.

In Portugal, the capital Lisbon registered more than 973 cases in the last 24 hours, according to the bulletin of the Directorate-General for Health (DGS). It’s been more than 3 months since the last time the country registered that many infection cases in a single day. The number of people hospitalised rose again for the fifth consecutive day. Planned easing of restrictions in the region is not going ahead.

In Spain the incidence at 14 days per 100,000 habitants of COVID-19 infections remains at around 100. On Wednesday the central government along with the regional authorities discussed the COVID-19 measures, including the summer vaccination campaign, and the use of masks in open spaces. The Delta variant represents less than 1% of cases. According to the latest vaccination report from the Ministry of Health, 45.8% of the population (21.7 million people) have already received at least one dose and 27.4% (13 million) have had two doses.

Though cases and deaths have decreased dramatically since the pandemic’s January peak in the US, CDC data show they have now both plateaued.  On average, the US is seeing about 14,000 new COVID-19 cases a day and had 347 deaths last week. The numbers are being driven down by vaccinations, and up by variants, which are mostly affecting unvaccinated people.  CDC statistics show nearly 65% of American adults have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. The pace of vaccination has slowed dramatically, even as the Delta variant has begun to make its presence felt.  Delta now accounts for approximately 10% of all infections in the US, according to the CDC.  President Biden has set a July 4 goal to have 70% of adults with at least one dose of the vaccine. Some states, like New York and California, which had set vaccination benchmarks for reopening, dropped all remaining restrictions this week, even as the nation tallied 600,000 people dead over the last 16 months.

As of June 15, more than 61% of the Canadian population has already received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, with 8% being fully vaccinated. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised that "all Canadians who wish to be vaccinated could be vaccinated by September 30, 2021", the goal could now be reached early as August.

In Mexico, 29% of the population over 40 years of age has been vaccinated. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been approved for use in the population aged 12 years and over, and the Government has given the green light for the private sector to participate in the vaccination programme.

According to statements by the PAHO Director, only 1 in 10 people in Latin America and the Caribbean are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, mainly due to lack of access to vaccines. Infections continue to increase in the Central American region among young people aged 25-40.

In Brazil, 26.32% of the adult population received a vaccine first dose, and 11.21% has been vaccinated with both doses. A study by the University of São Paulo (USP) and São Paulo State University (Unesp) released earlier this week revealed that the vaccination of 2 million people a day would be enough to save 20 thousand lives a month. The researchers made a projection between April and June, based on actual vaccination data from Brazil in the first quarter of the year. In that period, 60,000 lives could have been saved.

Nine states are accelerating vaccination to halt a new spike, the so-called third wave, and the spread of variants.

Holding the Copa America in Brazil remains a matter of concern. Since the start of the football tournament, there have been 33 cases among players and members of national teams, with another 19 among tournament officials.

India has witnessed a significant drop in daily COVID-19 infections with 62,224 new cases reported on June 16, compared with more than 400,000 daily cases reported in early May. Few health experts remain worried that sudden easing of restrictions in several states could fuel another spike in infections.

Shi Zhengli, leading virologist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, China, has dismissed the speculation that SARS-CoV-2 may have leaked from her institute. She also denied the allegations that a few of the scientists at the institute had fallen ill before the outbreak emerged.

Indonesia reported more than 10,000 new daily COVID-19 infections this week, the highest daily figure since February. Occupancy of hospital beds in the capital, Jakarta, has reached 75%. The current wave of infections is estimated to peak in early July.

Vietnam has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, making it the fourth approval after AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, and Sinopharm.

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

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