Delta surges lead nations to question protracted lockdowns

Of countries that successfully knocked back earlier surges, Vietnam is the latest to weigh easing restrictions as part of a strategy aimed at reducing transmission, but no longer with the goal of zero cases.

In other developments, African health officials said though vaccine supply is increasing, the region is struggling to meet its end-of-September vaccination coverage goal of 10%.

Vietnam, Australia eye more balanced approach

In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City—the country's main hot spot— is considering easing restrictions on Sep 15, as it continues to build its vaccine coverage, according to Reuters. The city has been on lockdown since the end of July. Over the past weeks, it deployed troops to help enforce the measures.

In a draft plan, the city said the plan is designed to balance economic recovery with "living with COVID-19." Ho Chi Minh City and the region around it, which has also been hit hard by COVID-19, is one of the main industrial hubs of the country and is home to factories that make products for international companies.

Australia is also weighing eased restrictions once a greater percentage of the population is vaccinated. In New South Wales state, the Sydney area has been on lockdown for about 2 months, but cases continue to rise.

New South Wales today reported another record daily high with 1,431 new cases, mostly from Sydney, along with 12 more deaths, according to SBS, Australia's public television network. The state's Premier Gladys Berejiklian at a briefing today warned that the situation is likely to worsen in the coming days.

Currently, about 70% of eligible people have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and state officials have said restrictions will be eased once 70% are fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Australia's neighbor New Zealand is seeing a steep decline in cases, with 28 new cases reported today, according to Reuters. The city of Auckland, the main epicenter, remains on strict lockdown, though officials have eased measures in other areas.

African vaccine challenges

At a briefing yesterday, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) African regional office warned that 80% of the countries could miss the 10% vaccination goal.

Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, said nine countries, including South Africa, Morocco, and Tunisia, have already reached the goal set by the World Health Assembly, and three others are on track to meet the target. As a whole, about 3% of Africa's population is fully vaccinated.

She said Africa received 21 million doses from COVAX in August, equal to the amount received in the previous 4 months combined. Moeti added that the region expects to receive enough in the weeks ahead to meet its goal, but some countries have used less than half of their supply due to operational gaps. And she added that the WHO is providing assistance with logistics, planning, and tracking.

As for COVID-19 activity, the region's latest surge peaked in July and is retreating at a glacial pace, Moeti said, far slower than previous waves. "The pandemic is still raging in Africa and we must not let our guard down. Every hour 26 Africans die of COVID-19."

More global headlines

  • In its first air quality bulletin, the United Nations World Meteorological Organization said today that COVID-19 restrictions led to temporary local improvements in air quality. And though human-generated air pollution emissions fell during the economic downturn, air quality improvements were offset by climate and environmental changes resulting in sand and dust storms and wild fires.

  • The global total today topped 219 million and is at 219,456,675, with 4,547,782 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

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