In the U.S., health officials said the the delta variant of the coronavirus continues to surge and now accounts for more than 80 per cent of the country’s sequenced COVID-19 cases.
That’s a dramatic increase from the week of July 3, when the variant accounted for about 50 per cent of genetically sequenced coronavirus cases.
“The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease, and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during a U.S. Senate hearing Tuesday.
The delta variant is a mutated coronavirus that spreads more easily than other versions. It was first detected in India but now has been identified around the world.
In Boston, health officials were urging recent visitors to Provincetown to self-isolate and get tested for COVID-19 after a cluster of 35 cases was linked to the popular Cape Cod tourist town.
Many of the new U.S. outbreaks were in parts of the country where COVID-19 vaccinations have lagged, prompting political leaders to ramp up pressure on reluctant Americans to get the inoculations.
The Mississippi State Department of Health said Monday that 2,326 new cases were confirmed Friday through Sunday. That is the largest three-day increase reported in the state since February.
Mississippi has one of the lowest coronavirus vaccination rates in the nation.
In Alabama, nearly 500 people were being treated for the virus, a rise from 166 people who were hospitalized a month ago with COVID-19 after thousands were vaccinated and before the new delta variant took hold.
Alabama hospitals are far from the critical point they reached in January, when some 3,000 people were being treated at one time. But the delta variant threatens to worsen the situation barring an increase in vaccinations.
“There’s just a sense of frustration,” said Dr. Donald Williamson, president of the Alabama Hospital Association and former head the Alabama Department of Public Health. “The fact that cases are rising is a self-inflicted injury.”
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 4:28 p.m. ET
What’s happening in Tokyo
The Tokyo Olympics should not be judged by the tally of COVID-19 cases that arise because eliminating risk is impossible, the head of the World Health Organization told sports officials Wednesday as events began in Japan.
How infections are handled is what matters most, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a speech to an International Olympic Committee meeting.
“The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible and onward transmission is interrupted,” he said.
The number of Games-linked COVID-19 cases in Japan this month was 79 on Wednesday, with more international athletes testing positive at home and unable to travel.
Health experts in Japan have warned of the Olympics becoming a “super-spreader” event bringing tens of thousands of athletes, officials and workers during a local state of emergency.
“There is no zero risk in life,” said Tedros, who began his keynote speech minutes after the first softball game began in Fukushima, and added Japan was “giving courage to the whole world.”
The WHO leader also had a more critical message and a challenge for leaders of richer countries about sharing vaccines more fairly in the world.
“The pandemic is a test and the world is failing,” Tedros said, predicting more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 worldwide before the Olympic flame goes out in Tokyo on Aug. 8.
It was a “horrifying injustice,” he said, that 75 per cent of the vaccine shots delivered globally so far were in only 10 countries.
Tedros warned anyone who believed the pandemic was over because it was under control in their part of the world lived in “a fool’s paradise.”
The world needs to produce 11 billion doses next year and the WHO wanted governments to help reach a target of vaccinating 70 per cent of people in every country by the middle of next year.
“The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it,” Tedros said. “It is in our hands.”
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 10:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Tuesday evening, more than 191.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University, with a reported global death toll of more than 4.1 million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Muslims across Indonesia marked a grim Eid al-Adha festival for a second year Tuesday as the country struggles to cope with a devastating new wave of coronavirus cases and the government has banned large gatherings and toughened travel restrictions.
Indonesia is now Asia’s COVID-19 hot spot with the most confirmed daily cases, as infections and deaths have surged over the past three weeks and India’s massive outbreak has waned.
Most of Indonesia’s cases are on the densely populated island of Java, where more than half of the country’s 270 million people live. Authorities in the world’s most-populous Muslim-majority nation have banned many of the crowd-attracting activities that are usually part of Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice that marks the end of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
Authorities allowed prayers at local mosques in low-risk areas, but elsewhere houses of worship had no congregations, including Jakarta’s Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia.
Indonesia’s health ministry reported 34,257 new coronavirus cases and 1,338 deaths on Monday, making it the country’s deadliest day since the start of the pandemic. Overall, Indonesia has reported more than 2.9 million cases and 74,920 fatalities. Those figures are widely believed to be vast undercounts due to low testing and poor tracing measures.
In the Middle East, Iran imposed a one-week lockdown in the capital and a nearby province as daily caseloads hit a record high amid a fifth wave of the pandemic, state television reported.
Restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 during the Muslim hajj in Saudi Arabia have also reduced the risk of the deadly crowd crushes that have marred the pilgrimage’s symbolic stoning of the devil in past years, worshippers said.
In Africa, South African health officials on Monday reported 7,209 new cases of COVID-19 and 221 additional deaths. Health workers in the country on Monday administered 200,000 vaccine doses in one day, according to local media — a record high for South Africa.
In Europe, Britain has recorded its highest daily number of coronavirus-related deaths in four months, following a spike in infections amid the spread of the delta variant and lifting of lockdown restrictions.
Government figures Tuesday showed 96 new virus-related deaths, the highest since March 24. The U.K. also recorded 46,558 confirmed cases. The numbers on Tuesday have traditionally been higher because of a weekend reporting lag.
The increase in deaths comes a day after the British government ended lockdown restrictions in England, including on social distancing and mask-wearing. Critics warn it will lead to further spread of the coronavirus and potential deaths in the coming weeks. Britain’s confirmed virus-related death toll stands at 128,823.
In the Americas, the COVID-19 pandemic is slamming Cuba like never before, even as the country races to roll out its homegrown vaccines — the only locally developed shots being widely used in Latin America.
The first three weeks of July have accounted for about 100,000 of the nearly 300,000 infections recorded altogether in Cuba. Cuba’s national director of epidemiology said Tuesday that 717 people have died so far this month in Cuba — a heavy share of the 2,019 who have died in all.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 10:30 p.m. ET
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