Delta Variant Dominance, Renewed Lockdowns: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

August 19, 2021

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

Israel is seeing a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and has extended its green pass scheme so everyone over 3 years of age has to prove vaccination status or have a negative test result before entering many indoor spaces. The country had lifted its restrictions in June. It has also started giving Pfizer/BioNTech booster doses to people over 50, health workers, and those with underlying health conditions.

New Zealand announced a 3-day national lockdown after the country reported a new locally-transmitted case of COVID-19, possibly involving the Delta variant. By August 18, the cluster of cases had risen to 10, the majority of which were linked to the original case. The country earlier announced plans for a phased reopening of its borders by early 2022, starting with vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries being allowed to enter the country without being quarantined.

Melbourne, Australia extended its lockdown for 2 weeks on August 16, with tougher restrictions. An overnight curfew has been implemented from 9 PM to 5 AM. New south Wales reported a record number of 633 new daily cases of COVID-19 on August 18.

The UK's COVID-19 vaccination programme has now fully vaccinated 77.5% of adults, and 89.6% have received a first dose. However, cases are still rising after restrictions were lifted last month. The rate per 100,000 population is 296. Moderna's Spikevax COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for 12 to 17-year-olds but no decision has yet been made on deploying it in this group. An analysis by the medicines regulator MHRA found there was no evidence to support concerns that menstrual disorders and unexpected vaginal bleeding were caused by COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, doctors in Northern Ireland reported increasing cases of aggression from patients and hospital visitors refusing to wear face masks during appointments.

In the United States, there were 139,393 fewer deaths from COVID-19, and about 3.1 million fewer confirmed cases from mid-December 2020 through early May 2021 due to vaccination, according to a report in Health Affairs. New York City now requires proof of vaccination for restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues. A programme of booster doses is due to begin in the week of 20 September, pending FDA and CDC authorisation.

However, the World Health Organisation's Health Emergency Programme Director, Dr Mike Ryan, criticised wealthy countries offering boosters before millions in poorer countries receive a single dose. "We’re planning to hand out extra lifejackets to people who already have lifejackets, while we’re leaving other people to drown without a single lifejacket," he said.

Due to the rapid progression of the Delta variant in France, the number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients now exceeds 10,000, including an increase in those in intensive care. Santé Publique France said figures are "confirming the hospital impact of this fourth epidemic wave". Hospitalisations are highest in the South of France, the Paris region, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Reunion. New cases have risen to 5829, with a positivity rate of 3.5% over the last 7 days. First vaccine doses have been administered to 69.3% of the population and the vaccination is focussing on adolescents and people who are vaccine hesitant.

In Germany the Standing Commission on Vaccination at the Robert-Koch-Institute (STIKO) issued a recommendation for vaccination of all 12 to 17-year-olds. Previously vaccination was only recommended for at-risk children and teenagers. Booster vaccinations have begun in Bavaria for elderly people and those in care who had their second vaccine dose 6 months ago. On August 18 the Robert Koch Institute reported 8324 new infections. The 7-day incidence rose to 40.8 this week, up from 25.1 the previous week.

In Austria, the 7-day incidence on August 17 was 70. So far, 60.41% of the population have received at least one vaccine dose, and 56.15% are fully vaccinated.

In Switzerland, an average of 2154 new infections per day has been recorded over the last 7 days. The 7-day incidence is 174.3. The vaccination rate for first doses is 55.31%, and 49.68% are fully vaccinated.

In Belgium, Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke called for mandatory vaccination of healthcare personnel in response to the low vaccination rate in the capital. In the Brussels region, just 59% of the adult population is fully vaccinated, putting it behind Flanders (87%), Wallonia (77%), and the German-speaking region (72%).

In Portugal, the Delta variant is the most prevalent in the country, with a relative frequency of 99.5% in the week ending August 8. The Alpha variant accounts for most other cases. The incidence rate in the last 14 days has fallen to 314.5 per 100,000 population. So far, 62% of the population is fully vaccinated and 71% have received a first dose.

In Italy the pace of the epidemic seems to have slowed down compared with the past few weeks . The rate of new weekly cases nationwide dropped from 68 to 62 per 100,000 population. However, the tourist regions of Sicily, Calabria, and Sardinia are seeing an increase in COVID-19 hospitalisations. The median age of people who contracted COVID-19 remains low (27 years). In the last 2 weeks, almost 30% of total cases were in under-19s. Vaccination is estimated to have reduced the risk of infection by 82%, the risk of being hospitalised by 95%, and the risk of intensive care admission or death by 97% compared to unvaccinated people. So far, 65.82% of those aged over 12 are fully vaccinated but the pace of vaccination is slowing down.

In Spain the incidence of COVID-19 continues to go down, with 14,336 new cases this week compared with 15,680 last week. The 14-day incidence is 399 cases per 100,000 population. The Spanish Agency of Medicines and Health Products (AEMPS) announced the authorisation of a clinical trial of the PHH-1V COVID-19 vaccine from the Spanish pharmaceutical company Hipra. So far, 63.2% of the population is fully vaccinated, and the Government looks set to miss its target of 70% full vaccination by the end of August.

In Mexico, the third wave is continuing. Many of the new and severe cases are occurring in unvaccinated people and more medical facilities are being prepared for COVID-19 patients.

PAHO Director, Dr Carissa Etienne said that "over the last week, 1.4 million COVID-19 cases and nearly 20,000 deaths were reported" in the Americas region. COVID-19 cases and deaths are on the rise in Central America and across the Caribbean. In Haiti, Dr Ousmane Touré, a PAHO epidemiologist, was one of the thousands of victims of last weekend’s earthquake. He died in a collapsed building.

Due to vaccination Brazil is seeing a significant decrease in the number of COVID-19 deaths. However, there are still interruptions in the vaccination programme due to supply problems. In Rio de Janeiro, the Delta variant accounts for 66% of analysed samples. The city has seen a 10% increase in hospital admissions. Officials have authorised second vaccine doses with Pfizer/BioNTech in people who had Oxford/AstraZeneca first doses. So far, 23.85% of Brazilians have been fully vaccinated and 54.77% have received a first dose. The Minister of Health said seven million Brazilians have not returned to have their second vaccine doses.

Japan has extended its "state of emergency" in some regions of the country, including Tokyo, until mid-September. The current state of emergency was due to expire at the end of August. The city is due to host the Paralympic Games next week.

China is seeing a decline in new COVID-19 cases, with 13 new domestically transmitted infections reported on August 15. The Government has rejected renewed calls for a new investigation by the World Health Organisation into the origins of the pandemic. 

Amidst the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections driven by the Delta variant, Iran recorded 655 deaths on August 16, its highest toll ever.

Malaysia reported a record number of 22,242 new daily cases of COVID-19 on August 18. Just about 34% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated.

India reported 25,166 new cases of COVID-19 on August 17, its lowest number since March 16. More than 8.8 million COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in the country on August 16, the second highest after 9.2 million doses administered on June 21.

The island nation of Fiji in the Pacific has implemented a "no jab, no job" policy, under which unvaccinated public servants have been told to go on leave.

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


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