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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
UK bans flights from South Africa region, EU plans similar; Variant has a protein dramatically different to original; Epidemiologist wards travel cubs may be too late; Parts of Europe already battling record daily COVID cases.
Countries should consider recommending that passengers wear masks on long-haul flights, given the rapid spread of the latest Omicron subvariant of COVID-19 in the United States, World Health Organisation officials said.
"Our results are important in this context because they show that being able to spend time outdoors under conditions of lockdown has a beneficial impact on psychological well being," said co-lead author Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University.
This includes suspending the entry of travellers who were in these countries 14 days before coming to the UAE. Flight operations will continue to transport passengers from the UAE to these seven countries.
Kyiv had been mostly spared since the beginning of the year, but this month its residents have been forced to grapple with almost nightly air raid sirens and explosions. The attack on the city overnight Saturday was the largest since the invasion in February last year, Ukraine said.
Ahead of the talks starting Monday in Paris, many countries have said a goal of the treaty should be "circularity" - or keeping already-produced plastic items in circulation as long as possible.
During the visit on Sunday, Filippo Grandi thanked the Egyptian government for having received thousands of Sudanese and other people fleeing the "terrible violence" in Khartoum, Xinhua news agency reported.
The accident took place on Sunday evening between the towns of Sesto Calende and Arona, the BBC reported citing Italian news outlets. Italy's fire service said 19 people were safe but a search continued for the two missing persons.