LONDON – With the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreading rapidly across the world, countries are fighting against time to vaccinate their populations, with plans to reopen after long, risky shutdowns.
And while the United States and Western European countries cautiously ease social restrictions, other countries that have had relative success in tackling the spread of the virus are now faltering.
France lifted its strict “deconfinement” on Wednesday after weeks of closures, giving the country a semblance of normalcy.
All restrictions on theaters, cinemas, museums and sports venues were lifted on Wednesday, along with a return to full capacity for restaurants. To boost tourism, the ports will also reopen for cruises and the Cannes Film Festival is preparing to return in July.
Austria will begin allowing the return of vaccinated American tourists to the country from Thursday, while the new UK health minister hinted this week that the country is on track to remove the last of its social limits by mid-July, despite the increase in the number of cases among unvaccinated youth. .
People in relatively wealthy countries with successful vaccination programs shouldn’t be too comfortable, said Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London.
“If you start to relax the restrictions while it is spreading, all you will do is speed up its spread,” she told NBC News.
“Once it becomes dominant it’s hard to get out of it because you need some tough restrictions to contain a variant like this. It’s not the kind of variant you can live with. you can’t contain it… it’s changing the future of the pandemic in this country. “
With much of the world still unvaccinated, even newer, more contagious and vaccine-resistant variants could still emerge, Gurdasani said.
Health experts warn that despite vaccinating more than 40% of its population with at least one dose, France may not be spared another spike in infections as the delta variant rages on.
The chief scientific adviser to the French government, Jean-François Delfraissy, warned on Wednesday that France could face a fourth wave of coronavirus this year, possibly because of the delta variant, which was first identified in India and now represents around 20% of cases in France.
If that happens, the government has said it may have to reimpose regional restrictions, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said on French radio on Tuesday.
In Australia, which has recorded just over 30,000 Covid-19 cases and 910 deaths since the start of the pandemic, lockdown and social distancing measures were extended to more of the country this week, with four major cities now under hard lockdown in a race to contain a delta outbreak.
About 1 in 2 Australians are subject to stay-at-home orders, with millions of people subject to movement restrictions and mandatory masks amid the outbreaks in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Darwin.
Quick contact tracing and high community compliance have helped Australia reverse past outbreaks and keep cases relatively low. But less than 5 percent of its 20 million adults have been fully immunized, prompting criticism of the slowness of the national immunization campaign.
“It is worrying that this threatens even countries which had very strict control policies in place,” Gurdasani said of the delta variant.
“The only way to contain this virus is to contain the transmission in a globally coordinated fashion, otherwise we will have a virus that adapts quickly.”
Russia reported 669 coronavirus-related deaths nationwide on Wednesday, the most confirmed in a single day since the start of the pandemic, amid an increase in cases authorities attribute to the delta variant. Moscow is pushing reluctant residents to get vaccinated.
In South Korea, which has also had relative success in containing epidemics, the government is now seeing the need for further control measures. Authorities said they would delay easing social distancing rules in the capital, Seoul, and neighboring areas by a week due to a sudden increase in cases.
South Korea has inoculated nearly 30% of its 52 million inhabitants with at least one dose of a vaccine against Covid-19.
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Japan, which is due to host the Tokyo Summer Olympics in less than a month, is also considering extending its near-state of emergency which is due to be lifted on July 12 in the capital, due to an increase in infections. And in Indonesia, President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday that emergency social restrictions were being finalized amid a “very high” spike in coronavirus cases.
Even the secret North Korea, which has never openly confirmed the existence of Covid-19 cases, this week saw leader Kim Jong Un berating ruling party officials for failures in anti-epidemic work that led to an unspecified “great crisis”, state media reported. Wednesday.
The Middle East is also seeing an increase in cases of delta variants, particularly in Iraq and Tunisia, authorities said.
The rampant spread of the delta has prompted world leaders to push for faster delivery of vaccines to the many countries that have yet to receive sufficient stocks, in a bid to vaccinate the virus.
At their first face-to-face meeting in two years, G20 foreign ministers on Tuesday called for better cooperation to fight the pandemic and boost vaccines.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed the need to deliver far more vaccines to poorer countries, which have so far received far fewer doses than rich countries.
“To end the pandemic, we need to get more vaccines to more places,” he said.
Earlier this week, the State Department said America will send 2.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Pakistan, which has significant vaccine hesitation and a growing number of cases.
Pakistan has relied heavily on the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines donated by the Chinese ally and has now launched a mass vaccination campaign open to all adults, with the aim of curbing the growing number of cases.