Delta variant forces new lockdowns as Europe eases coronavirus restrictions - GulfToday

Delta variant forces new lockdowns as Europe eases coronavirus restrictions

Mask-No

People walk without their masks on as they are no longer required outdoors from Saturday in Madrid, Spain. Reuters

Australia's largest city Sydney entered a two-week lockdown on Saturday to contain a sudden coronavirus surge and Russia's Saint Petersburg announced a record death toll, as several European nations lifted restrictions despite the worrying spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

While vaccination drives have brought down infections in wealthy countries, the Delta strain, which first emerged in India, has fuelled fears that the pandemic may be far from over after claiming nearly four million lives.

Mask1-SpainPeople walk along La Bola street after the Spanish government approved the easing of mask usage in Ronda. Reuters

Bangladesh announced that it would impose a new national lockdown from Monday over the variant, with offices shut for a week and only medical-related transport allowed.

Sydney's normally bustling harbourside centre was nearly deserted after people were ordered to stay home except for essential trips to contain on outbreak of the variant.

NoMask-touristsWomen walk without wearing face masks in Madrid. Reuters

New Zealand, citing "multiple outbreaks" in Australia, announced a three-day suspension of its quarantine-free travel arrangement with its larger neighbour.

The Sydney lockdown, affecting more than five million people in the city and nearby towns, was met with dismay after months of very few cases. "Today just feels like another kick while you're slowly getting up," said Chris Kriketos, 32, who works at a bakery in central Sydney.

The Delta variant has also been fuelling rising case numbers in Russia, where Saint Petersburg on Saturday reported the country's highest daily Covid-19 death toll for a city since the start of the pandemic.

Russia's second city, which has hosted six Euro 2020 matches and is due to host a quarter-final next Friday, recorded 107 virus deaths over the last 24 hours.

Europe unmasks

Globally the pandemic is still slowing down, with the World Health Organisation reporting the lowest number of new cases worldwide since February and decreasing deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Tourist-SpainmaskfreePeople walk without wearing face masks in Barcelona. Reuters

But there is rising concern over the Delta variant, which has now spread to at least 85 countries and is the most contagious of any COVID-19 strain identified, according to WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Some European countries are nonetheless easing restrictions as mass vaccination campaigns continue. Spain brought an end to mandatory outdoor mask-wearing on Saturday, although many residents in Madrid, where a major coronavirus cluster has been discovered, are keeping their faces covered for now.

"I really like walking around and I sweat a lot so for me, taking off the mask is a pleasure," 76-year-old Antonia Maldonado said with a smile.

NoMask-SpaingirlsWomen not wearing face masks walk in Barcelona. AFP

The Netherlands also ended its rules on outdoor mask-wearing, while easing restrictions on indoor dining and reopening nightclubs to people who have tested negative.

And Switzerland scrapped most of its remaining restrictions after Health Minister Alain Berset said that the country's use of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines gave adequate protection against the Delta variant.

In Britain, where the rapid progression of the Delta variant has forced the government to delay its full reopening, thousands of anti-lockdown protesters meanwhile took to the streets of London to voice their frustration.

Lockdown-protestUKAnti-Vaccine and anti-lockdown protestors march through central London. AFP

"This lockdown has come at the cost of our liberty and rights," said protester Iain McCausland. "Our freedom to assemble, our freedom to travel, and work. I'm really quite angry with the government."

South African warning

The Delta variant is so contagious that experts say more than 80 per cent of a population would need to be jabbed in order to contain it — a challenging target even for nations with significant vaccination programmes.

South Africa, the continent's hardest-hit country, warned Saturday that soaring caseloads linked to the Delta variant were forcing authorities to consider tighter restrictions.

"We are in the exponential phase of the pandemic with the numbers just growing very, very, extremely fast," warned top virologist Tulio de Oliveira.

In India meanwhile, where the Delta variant was first detected around April, the human impact of the pandemic has been laid bare after seasonal flooding of the Ganges River flushed out shallow graves where hundreds were buried at the peak of the crisis.

India-virus-June26-main1-750Municipal corporation workers move a body buried in a shallow grave on the banks of the Ganges River. AFP

Neeraj Kumar Singh, an official in the northern city of Allahabad, said that almost 150 bodies have had to be cremated after resurfacing from the river in the past three weeks.

Agence France-Presse

Related articles

Other Articles