Delta Variant in Young Adults, Spectator-free Olympics: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

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

France announced mandatory vaccination for health workers by September 15 due to rising Delta variant cases. From early August it’s health pass is being extended to include restaurants and trains. A state of emergency with a curfew was declared in Martinique and Réunion.

The Haute Autorité de Santé announced the preferred vaccine regimens to best tackle the Delta variant. Also, it authorised the Janssen vaccine without an age limit for French people living abroad who do not have access to mRNA vaccines. New vaccination sites are being set up along motorways and supermarkets.

In Belgium, 56.1% of the adult population has been fully vaccinated so far, according to the latest figures by the national institute for public health (Sciensano) on July 14. Belgian hospitals and residential care centres are calling for mandatory vaccination for all care staff across the country.

In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed England’s COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted on July 19 despite rising Delta variant cases. Face coverings become recommended rather than mandatory. The British Medical Association called the unlocking decision “irresponsible and frankly perilous”. Government scientific advisers said the effect of lifting lockdown was “highly uncertain” but could lead to 1000 hospitalisations a day. The use of face coverings will remain mandatory in Scotland and Wales. There were 42,302 daily COVID-19 cases reported as of Tuesday and 49 deaths. More than two-thirds of adults are now fully vaccinated, and nearly 9 in 10 have received a first dose. 

COVID-19 cases have been rising again in Germany for about a week but remain at a low level. The 7-day incidence on Wednesday (July 14) is 7.1. Health officials have reported 1548 new COVID-19 infections in a single day. That’s about 550 more than a week ago.  Hospitals now have to report more details about COVID-19 hospital admissions under  new regulations , including age, type of treatment, and vaccination. The Ministry of Health wants to find out how well vaccinated patients are protected against severe disease. There are no plans to introduce compulsory vaccination. So far, 43% of the population is fully vaccinated, and 58.7% received a single dose. However, the vaccination rate is slowing down.  

In Austria the 7-day incidence on Tuesday is 13.7, up from 6.7 the previous week, and 82% of sequenced cases are from the Delta variant. Anyone entering Austria without a test or mask will face a fine of €90.

In Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 483 new cases occurred from Monday (July 12) to Tuesday (July 13). Five COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospital, and the 7-day incidence on Wednesday (July 14) was 25.3, up from 13.7 the previous week.

On Monday (July 12), Portugal had 476 active outbreaks, 18 of which were in nursing homes and two in health institutions. According to the country’s health authorities, the data “dramatically contrasts with the maximum number of active outbreaks recorded in February 2021, when there were 921 active outbreaks in mainland Portugal”. The country has fully vaccinated 95% of people aged 80 and over. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, 5% are fully vaccinated, and 8% have had a single dose.

Spain is already suffering the effects of a so-called fifth wave, the incidence at 14 days continues to rise and reached 436 cases per 100,000 population on Tuesday (July 12). Despite the increase in pressure on hospitals, a decision has been made, criticised by the nurses union, to close more than 9600 beds this summer, 2700 more than last year. Some regions are proposing the reintroduction of a curfew or the return of face masks in open spaces.

So far, 58% of the population has had at least one dose of vaccine and 44.3% are fully vaccinated.

A  trend of rising cases is also confirmed in Italy. The positivity rate on swabs had been stable for some weeks at around 0.2% but is now close to 1%. The Delta variant accounts for 27.7% of reported cases and is expected to reach 90% by the end of the month. Officials are concerned about vaccine hesitancy. So far, 43.24% of the population over 12 years old is fully vaccinated.

A new wave of infections caused by the Delta variant has caused COVID-19 case counts to climb again in the US after months of steady decline. Demand for vaccines has waned with just 48% of the population fully vaccinated, and health officials are now going door-to-door in some areas to increase coverage. Exhausted hospital workers are bracing for another surge of patients.  The majority of cases are now in young adults, a group that’s been less likely to be vaccinated.  Health officials are keeping a close eye on breakthrough infections and transmission in people who are fully vaccinated.  Most serious cases of COVID-19 now are in people who have declined to be vaccinated.

In Mexico, after 4 consecutive weeks of increased cases, the government has confirmed a third wave of infection. So far 4057 deaths of health workers have been due to COVID-19. Experts say the Delta variant will become predominant in the country.

The Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Carissa Etienne, reported that new cases of COVID-19 have increased in Central America, the Caribbean, and some South American countries. In El Salvador and Guatemala, COVID-19 deaths have also increased. Cuba has reported the highest number of weekly cases since the start of the pandemic. In the British Virgin Islands, cases have tripled. The Director expressed concern about Haiti, where “overcrowded shelters could become active hotspots for COVID-19 transmission”.

In Brazil, at least eight state capitals and Brasília decided to bring forward the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine by 30 days. Up to July 12, 14.61% of Brazilians were fully vaccinated. Experts say cases are easing due to vaccination and the 7-day average for COVID-19 deaths was 1296, the lowest since March 2. However, there have already been 20 confirmed Delta variant cases and two deaths.

Australia has extended its lockdown in Sydney until at least July 30, after 3 weeks of restrictions failed to curb the COVID-19 outbreak. The total number of cases in the current outbreak since mid-June has now reached just under 900.

Japan has imposed a state of emergency in Tokyo from July 12 for the fourth time. The Olympic organisers decided to ban all spectators at the Tokyo Olympics.

Indonesia has surpassed India to become the new COVID-19 hotspot in Asia, after recording more than 40,000 daily cases for 3 consecutive days. Authorities have decided to procure liquid oxygen and oxygen concentrators from abroad to meet the growing demand.

On July 13, India reported 31,443 new COVID-19 cases, the lowest daily count in nearly 4 months. However, the daily death count rose to 2020 after the state of Madhya Pradesh added a backlog of more than 1400 fatalities. 

Israel is offering a booster dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to adults with compromised immune systems who’ve previously received two doses. However, no decision has been made on extending this to the general population.

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

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