Rocky COVID-19 path in UK as it eases final restrictions

Boris Johnson virtual press conference
Boris Johnson virtual press conference

Simon Dawson, No 10 Downing Street / Flickr cc

As cases rise in the United Kingdom, including its health secretary testing positive and the prime minister going into isolation, the country eased its remaining COVID-19 restrictions.

In other parts of the world, countries in Southeast Asia reported more daily record highs, Tunisia's surge has toppled its healthcare system, and other African countries reported more steep rises.

UK pins hopes on vaccination

After more than a year of lockdowns, Britain today eased its final restrictions that include indoor masking and gathering limits, pinning its hopes on strong vaccination coverage preventing surges in hospitalizations and deaths.

The step comes even as cases rise steadily due to the more transmissible Delta (B1617.2) variant, which makes up nearly all of the recently sequenced viruses.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the country's finance minister, after exposure to someone diagnosed as having COVID-19, were slated for 10-day isolation. In public comments, Johnson said the time was right to end the restrictions, but he warned that people still need to be cautious, according to Reuters. "We've got to remember that this virus is sadly still out there."

Britain's health minister Sajid Javid announced 2 days ago that he tested positive for COVID-19 and is experiencing mild symptoms, despite having had two doses of the vaccine.

UK cases are up 41% compared with the week before, though health officials have said the increasing activity doesn't seem to be driving similar rises in hospitalizations and deaths.

In a related development, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) included the United Kingdom and several other countries in its highest-level COVID-19 travel advisory today. The CDC today also added Fiji, Indonesia, the British Virgin Islands, and Zimbabwe to its highest travel advisory list.

Surges in Asia, Africa

In Southeast Asia, where some countries won praise for keeping virus levels low in earlier surges, COVID-19 cases reached new daily highs. For example, Thailand reported a new daily high, with 11,748 new cases, as did Vietnam with 5,926 new cases, amid tightened restrictions in Hanoi.

In Indonesia, currently the world's worst hot spot, daily cases are averaging about 50,000 a day, but the real total is probably four times higher, Australian epidemiologist Dicky Budiman, MD, told the Washington Post. Today the country recorded a single-day high for deaths, 1,338, as officials consider extending current COVID restrictions.

Elsewhere, Tunisia—in the midst of its worst surge—is facing overwhelmed hospitals and oxygen shortages, with medical teams having to make difficult choices about whom to treat, according to France24. Several countries in the Middle East have stepped in with vaccine and other medical supplies as diplomatic and goodwill gestures, according to the Washington Post.

In sub-Saharan Africa, another part of the world where cases are rising in several countries, Nigeria put six of its states on red alert and ordered COVID restrictions, and Senegal reported that its cases doubled to its highest level of the pandemic, making it likely that the government will impose restrictions.

More global headlines

  • In Tokyo's Olympic Village, just days before the Games begin on Jul 23, three athletes have tested positive for COVID-19, according to media reports.

  • Australia's Victoria state extended its lockdown, as local cases are still being reported but have declined, according to Reuters.

  • The global total passed 190 million and is at 190,402,229 cases with at least 2,088,208 deaths, according to the New York Times

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