One day after the U.K. lifted its COVID-19 restrictions and allowed its citizens to gather maskless in bars, restaurants and night clubs, the U.S. upgraded travel warnings to urge Americans not to travel there as long as the delta variant continues to spread rapidly.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ignored the advice of hundreds of scientists and health experts in moving ahead with a full reopening on Monday, dismissing their warnings that the highly transmissible delta variant makes it too soon to end face-mask mandates and other public safety measures.
Johnson himself — 15 months removed from a serious COVID case that landed him in intensive care — has been forced to isolate after being exposed to his virus-positive health secretary, but he has allowed businesses and individuals to resume normal activities and ended mandates on face masks on public transport and in other settings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department responded by issuing advice to U.S. travelers alerting them to increased risk of contracting COVID-19 in the U.K., along with Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Fiji and the British Virgin Islands, the Associated Press reported. Previously, all had been covered by a less severe advisory that Americans “reconsider” any travel plans.
The advisories are recommendations that are constantly being reviewed. The warning for the U.K., for example, has fluctuated between Level 3, or “reconsider travel,” and Level 4, or “do not travel,” several times this year already.
Fears about the fast-spreading delta variant sent global equity markets down sharply on Monday, although they were in recovery mode early Tuesday.
The delta variant is also pushing cases higher across the U.S. with states including Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Nevada currently suffering serious outbreaks that are filling hospitals. The seven-day average of new cases stood at 35,035, up 198% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker.
And while hospitalizations and deaths are far below the peak levels seen earlier this year, they are also rising. The seven-day average for hospitalizations with COVID stood at 24,291 on Monday, up 43% from two weeks ago, while fatalities averaged 324, up 75% from two weeks ago.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky reportedly told Congress that the delta variant is now responsible for 83% of all COVID cases sequenced in the U.S.
Most of the new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, and President Joe Biden and his COVID team are urging such people to get their shots.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who was head of the Food and Drug Administration between 2017 and 2019 and now sits on Pfizer’s board, added his voice to the chorus on Sunday. “[F]or most people who get this delta variant, it’s going to be the most serious virus that they get in their lifetime in terms of the risk of putting them in the hospital,” Gottlieb told CBS news program “Face of a Nation.”
The CDC’s vaccine tracker shows how difficult that push has become with the numbers barely budging from day to day.
The tracker shows there are 161.4 million Americans who are fully vaccinated, equal to 48.6% of the overall population, unchanged from Monday. That means they have had two shots of the vaccines developed by Pfizer
with German partner BioNTech
or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s
single-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca
vaccine that was widely used in the U.K. and other places has not received emergency-use authorization in the U.S.
Among adults 18 and over, 59.5% are fully vaccinated and 68.3% have received at least one shot, still narrowly below the target set by Biden of having at least 70% of adults receive at least one shot by the July 4 holiday.
Elsewhere, the U.S.-based Center for Global Development said a study has found that excess deaths in India from the start of the pandemic through June were up to 10 times higher than official numbers of around 400,000 at around 4 million.
“Understanding and engaging with the data-based estimates is necessary because in this horrific tragedy the counting — and the attendant accountability — will count for now but also [in] the future,” the authors wrote.
China reported the highest number of new COVID cases since January, counting 65 new cases on Monday, or more than double the 31 reported a day earlier, Reuters reported. Officials said most of the new cases were imported from neighboring Myanmar.
Indonesia is extending its restrictions to July 25, as it works to contain high caseloads and record daily death tolls, also per Reuters. COVID-19 cases in the nation of about 170 million are among the highest in the world due to the rapidly spreading delta variant.
In Tokyo, the number of COVID cases among athletes preparing to compete in the coming Olympic Games has climbed to 71, the AP reported, after an American gymnast and a Czech beach volleyball player were added to the tally.
The head of the organizing committee has not ruled out canceling the Games if cases continue to rise, the Guardian reported.
“We will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases,” Toshiro Muto told reporters at a briefing. “We have agreed that, based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again. At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”
The global tally of the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 191 million cases on Tuesday, while the death toll climbed above 4.09 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with a total of 34 million cases and in deaths with 609,268.
India is next with 31 million cases and is third in deaths at 414,482, according to its official numbers.
Brazil is second in deaths at 542,756 but is third in cases at 19.4 million.
Mexico has fourth highest death toll at 236,469 but has recorded just 2.7 million cases, according to its official numbers.
In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 147,457, while the U.K. has 129,007, making Russia the country with the fifth highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 104,362 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.