Delta’s spread seen pushing herd immunity threshold above 80%

A sign advises shoppers to wear masks outside of a store Monday, July 19, 2021, in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles. (MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ / FILE / AP)

WASHINGTON / BERLIN / MEXICO CITY / DAKAR / LUSAKA / NAIROBI / LONDON / PARIS / DUBLIN / DAR ES SALAAM / HAVANA / RABAT / TUNIS / SANTIAGO / TRIPOLI / MOSCOW – The spread of the Delta coronavirus variant has pushed the threshold for herd immunity to well over 80 percent and potentially approaching 90 percent, according to an Infectious Diseases Society of America briefing on Tuesday.

That represents a “much higher” bar than previous estimates of 60 percent to 70 percent, because delta is twice as transmissible, said Richard Franco, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“It is becoming clear that this is a very dangerous, way more dangerous virus than the original one,” Franco said.

Herd immunity is based on the idea that when a certain percentage of the population has been vaccinated against the virus or gains immunity by a previous infection, it helps protect the broader population and reduce transmission.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and about 50 percent have been fully vaccinated, representing about 165 million individuals, according to CDC data. Some 35 million people in the US, meanwhile, have tested positive for the virus over the course of the pandemic.

A healthcare worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the American Museum of Natural History in New York on July 22, 2021. (MARY ALTAFFER / AP)

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Louisiana and Florida have surged to their highest points of the pandemic, leading overwhelmed doctors on Monday to plead with the unvaccinated to get inoculated against the Delta variant.

More than 10,000 patients were hospitalized in Florida on Sunday, surpassing that state's record. The surging Delta variant led Louisiana's governor to reinstate a statewide indoor mask mandate, with that state expected to break its record on COVID-19 hospitalizations within 24 hours. Hospitalizations in Arkansas are also soaring and could eventually break records.

In California, political leaders in eight San Francisco Bay Area counties reinstated mandatory indoor mask orders in public places as of midnight Tuesday morning.

Governors of New York and New Jersey said transport, jail, hospital and nursing home workers would be required to get vaccinated or submit to regular testing. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said inoculation would be mandatory for the city's more than 11,000 employees.

The developments came as the US reached its target of having 70 percent of its adult population vaccinated, a month behind President Joe Biden's Fourth of July goal.

Peter Marks, head of the US Food and Drug Administration division reviewing Pfizer’s application for full approval of its vaccine, said in an interview that the agency was moving with urgency to reach a decision on the matter.

In another development, Lindsey Graham, a veteran US Republican Senator, said on Monday afternoon that he has tested positive for COVID-19 even after being fully vaccinated.

Separately, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned against travel to Greece, Ireland, Iran, the US Virgin Islands and other destinations because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases in those places.

Other locations being raised to the CDC's "Level 4: Avoid Travel" include Libya, Kazakhstan, Andorra, Saint Barthelemy, Lesotho, Martinique, Malta, the Isle of Man and Curacao, the CDC said.

Similarly, the State Department on Monday raised its advisories to "Level 4 – Do Not  Travel" for destinations including Curacao, the French West Indies, Greece, Ireland, Kazakhstan and the Marshall Islands.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 198.93 million while the global death toll topped 4.23 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Nigeria

Nigerian doctors began an indefinite strike to protest the non-payment of salaries and demand increased hazard allowances as coronavirus cases surge in Africa’s most-populous nation.

The National Association of Resident Doctors, which represents more than 90 percent of physicians at the nation’s teaching hospitals, said its members are owed as much as 19 months’ salary by state governments. Some public-teaching hospitals have failed to pay COVID-19 allowances or to increase a 5,000-naira (US$12) per month hazard stipend, the body said in a July 31 statement.

A lack of incentives is leading many doctors to practice outside Nigeria, leading to an “acute manpower shortage” in public teaching hospitals, said the doctors' association.

The work stoppage comes after coronavirus infections in Nigeria climbed to the highest level since March in July, raising fears of a third wave in the country. Nigeria has more than 7,000 active COVID-19 cases, and 2,149 people have died from the disease.

Nigeria on Sunday received 4 million doses of Moderna's vaccines donated by the United States government, its health minister said on Monday.

A jump in COVID-19 deaths over the last week in Lagos, Africa’s biggest city, is a “worrying trend” and steps need to be taken to reverse rising infection rates, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of Nigeria’s Lagos State, said.

The positivity rate of those tested has risen eightfold to 8.9 percent over the last month and six people are dying on average every day at isolation centers in the city, he said in a statement on Monday.

While vaccines have been available since March, only 1 percent of the population has been inoculated, with 40 percent of those who obtained a first dose of AstraZeneca’s shot failing to return for their second jab, Sanwo-Olu said.

UK

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the country will lift most coronavirus restrictions on Aug 9, in line with the government’s plan and after a drop in infections.

The move “beyond level zero” means there will be no more social distancing measures and no business will be required by law to close. Sturgeon warned, though, that the virus was still prevalent. Face masks will still be mandated for indoor public places and working from home should remain for those who can.

“It does not signal the end of the pandemic or a return to life exactly as before the pandemic struck,” she told the Edinburgh Parliament in a virtual address.

There will also be changes to self-isolation rules to avoid people having to stay at home for 10 days.

Separately, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that he wanted to get the travel industry moving again with a simple user-friendly system to allow for trips abroad without importing new variants of the coronavirus.

Johnson's travel regulations have angered some of Britain's European allies, frustrated millions of sun-seeking Britons and brought warnings from airports, airlines and tour companies.

Under rules to be reviewed on Thursday, double-vaccinated travelers can return without quarantining from countries rated "amber" on a "traffic-light" list assessing the COVID-19 risk.

READ MORE: UK's Delta rollercoaster flips between virus horror, hope

In another development, England's COVID-19 mobile phone app will be tweaked so that fewer contacts of asymptomatic people who test positive for the disease will need to self-isolate, UK's health ministry said on Monday.

Under the change, if someone tests positive but is asymptomatic, the app will look for their close contacts in the two days prior to the positive test, rather than looking for the contacts of the positive person in the five days before the test.

The change comes as the UK reported 21,952 new cases and another 24 deaths, bringing the tally to 5,902,354 and the toll to 129,743.

Tunisia

Tunisian President Kais Saied said on Monday that his country has received 6 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine as donations from friendly countries, as Tunisia struggles to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Saied's remarks came as a new batch of Sinovac vaccines and protective medical equipment donated by China arrived in Tunisia on the same day.

Saied said that Tunisia's vaccination rate will be accelerated. The number of deaths due to the pandemic has exceeded 20,000 in Tunisia.

Tunisia reported on Monday 2,651 new infections and 209 more deaths, bringing the tally to 595,532 and the death toll to 20,067.

ALSO READ: US CDC says Delta variant 'as contagious as chickenpox'

Morocco

Morocco will lengthen its night curfew, starting two hours earlier at 9 pm (2000 GMT) from Tuesday, as it tightens restrictions to counter a surge in coronavirus infections, the government said on Monday.

The business and tourist hubs of Casablanca, Agadir and Marakech will be closed except to holders of the vaccine pass or those on necessary travel, the government said in a statement.

The move is expected to hurt tourism business which pinned hopes on the summer season to attract national tourists after travel receipts dropped 70 percent in the first half this year.

Morocco on Monday reported 4,206 new COVID-19 cases and another 52 deaths, taking the tally to 633,923 and the toll to 9,885.

A total of 13,973,650 people have received one COVID-19 shot while 283,660 have gotten two doses.

Passengers arrive at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, Aug 2, 2021. (MATT DUNHAM / AP)

France

The French government redoubled its efforts to get the UK to reverse COVID-19 restrictions on visitors from France, ahead of a British reassessment of those rules later this week.

French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said the UK’s policy announced last month requiring travelers from France to isolate for up to 10 days and take two tests is based on questionable science. The requirement was dropped for most European countries starting this week.

While Djebbari urged the government to reverse course quickly, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson refrained from offering much hope.

“What I want to see is something as simple and as user-friendly for people as possible,” Johnson told Sky News on Monday when asked about the likelihood of changes to UK rules this week.

“I hope this week during their weekly review there will be a positive change,” Djebbari told CNews TV station on Monday, in a reference to a possible assessment of UK rules on Thursday. He said he’s been talking with his UK counterpart Grant Shapps every week.

In a separate interview with CNews, French Junior Minister for EU Affairs Clement Beaune said the UK restrictions are “a little bit political,” regrettable and discriminatory.

ALSO READ: WHO: COVID-19 cases top 60 million in Europe

In another development, Alain Fischer, coordinator of France's COVID-19 vaccination campaign, said Monday that the country could reach herd immunity against COVID-19 by this autumn, calling on the still reluctant segments of the French population to get vaccinated to help cope with highly transmissible Delta variant.

To date, France has fully inoculated more than 35 million citizens out of around 67 million, according to the health ministry.

Brazil

Brazil had 15,143 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours and 389 deaths from COVID-19, the lowest death toll for a Monday since early December, according to Health Ministry data.

The South American country has now registered 19,953,501 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 557,223, according to ministry data, in the world's third worst outbreak outside the United States and India and its second-deadliest.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Monday reported 6,506 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 245 more fatalities, bringing its total to 2,861,498 infections and 241,279 deaths.

Senegal

Senegal's government warned employers on Monday not to refuse entry to workers who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, calling such measures discriminatory.

Fewer than 1 million of Senegal's roughly 16 million people have been vaccinated, but some employers have begun to ask unvaccinated workers to stay at home as infections and deaths hit record numbers during the ongoing third wave.

Last week, Senegal's public electricity company said unvaccinated workers would be placed on annual leave beginning on Aug 16. Some private employers have announced similar measures.

Labour Minister Samba Sy said in a circular to employers that because Senegalese law does not require vaccination, employers could not penalize workers based on vaccination status.

"These measures, which are discriminatory and violate the rights of workers, have no legal basis," Sy said.

Senegal's total number of COVID-19 cases jumped 44 percent in July to over 62,000, leaving hospitals in the capital Dakar nearly overrun. 

Zambia

The Zambian government on Monday said it will reopen schools for examination classes following a reduction in COVID-19 cases in the southern African nation.

Schools for examination classes will reopen on Aug 5, instead of the earlier announced Aug 16, after being closed due to a spike in cases during the third wave.

"The decision to open the classes will enable exam classes to adequately prepare for their final examinations," the health ministry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the ministry said in the statement that casinos and nightclubs, as well as gymnasiums, will remain closed for the next 21 days while restaurants, bars and taverns will be operating on a takeaway basis during the same period.

In the past 24 hours, Zambia recorded 197 new cases and six deaths, bringing the cumulative cases to 196,490 and the toll to 3,412. 

A woman receives a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination center of CHEMPARK operator CURRENTA in Leverkusen, western Germany, on June 22, 2021. (INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

Germany

Germany will in September start to offer a booster shot against COVID-19 to vulnerable individuals such as pensioners and people with weak immune systems, the health ministers of the country's 16 states said in a statement on Monday.

The vaccinations will be done using mRNA-vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna regardless of what was used previously, the ministers concluded after talks with Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn.

They also agreed to make vaccination available to all children aged 12 to 17.

About 10 percent of the 4.5 million children in this age group have been fully vaccinated.

Overally, just over 52 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated and about 62 percent have received at least one shot.

Germany's tally of coronavirus infections rose by 1,766 to 3,773,875, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Tuesday.

The reported death toll rose by 19 to 91,679, the figures showed.

Kenya

Kenya could be on the verge of a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, as the capital Nairobi and eight other counties grapple with a record spike in new cases and fatalities.

The Ministry of Health acknowledged recently that a surging COVID-19 caseload, largely driven by the Delta variant and lax observance of containment measures, could have ushered the fourth wave. Mutahi Kagwe, cabinet secretary for health, said on Friday that a sudden upsurge in coronavirus positive cases after a brief lull could reverse progress towards flattening the curve.

He said health facilities in Nairobi were getting overwhelmed amid an influx of COVID-19 patients, adding that demand for oxygen had shot up as mild cases became severe at a faster rate.

The ministry warned that new upticks in Nairobi, several counties in central Kenya, Rift Valley, eastern and the coastal region, had reversed gains achieved previously toward containing the pandemic. 

Mercy Mwangangi, chief administrative secretary of the ministry, said that surging COVID-19 cases in Nairobi, adjacent counties and the coastal region were an indicator the country was on the verge of a fourth wave that could extend throughout August in the absence of mitigation measures.

As of Monday, Kenya has reported a total of 204,271 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 189,692 recoveries and 3,970 deaths.

ALSO READ: Virus contained among Olympic athletes despite Tokyo surge

Ireland

Ireland is preparing to include 12- to 15-year-olds in its COVID-19 vaccination campaign from August, a senior public health official said on Monday.

An estimated 280,000 people are in this age group in Ireland, and they will be administered the first vaccine dose starting this month, said Paul Reid, chief executive of the Health Service Executive (HSE), a state agency responsible for the vaccine rollout in Ireland.

The Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been recommended for use for 12- to 15-year-olds, according to Karina Butler, chair of Ireland's National Immunisation Advisory Committee.

Tanzania

The government of Tanzania is planning to supply refugee camps in Kigoma, Tabora and Katavi regions with COVID-19 vaccines, a senior official said on Monday.

"The distribution of vaccines is among efforts by the government aimed at protecting the refugees from the pandemic," said Khamis Hamza Chilo, the country's Deputy Minister of Home Affairs.

He said refugee camps officials have started to register names of refugees who are ready to receive the jabs, adding that the refugees will be vaccinated voluntarily.

However, Chilo did not state when the vaccines would be available for the refugees.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Tanzania hosted about 253,000 refugees, mainly from Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as of June 30, 2021.

Cuba

Cuba's COVID-19 tally on Monday surpassed 400,000 after recording 9,279 new infections in the last 24 hours.

The cumulative caseload now stands at 403,622, the Ministry of Public Health said.

There were also 68 newly reported deaths in the last day, taking the death toll to 2,913, the ministry said.

The Caribbean nation wrapped up its vaccination process against COVID-19 in Havana, with about 1.7 million people receiving three doses of one of the nationally-produced vaccine candidates.  

Chile

Chile reported on Sunday 1,185 new COVID-19 infections and 80 more deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the total caseload to 1,616,942 and the death toll to 35,528, according to the Ministry of Health.

Health Minister Enrique Paris said in a statement that the positivity rate in the Santiago Metropolitan Region remained at 2 percent, while 15 regions have reported positivity rates of less than or equal to 2 percent.

Sweden

A large part of Sweden’s population is likely to be offered a top-up dose of a COVID-19 vaccine next year, according to the Public Health Agency, with some risk group potentially getting their shots this autumn.

The agency also said vaccinations in coming years are likely to be made using one or two mRNA vaccines and, potentially, also an adjuvant protein-based vaccine as complement. It estimated access to shots will be good for the foreseeable future.

Libya

Libya received a batch of China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccines on Monday amid the country's stepped-up effort to vaccinate as many people as possible.

Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah said another shipment of the vaccine is expected to arrive on Tuesday.

Dbeibah called on people to get vaccinated as soon as possible "as this is the only way to stop the virus".

Health Minister Ali Zanati said that the infection rate in the country has dropped from 68 percent to 24 percent, thanks to the recently imposed protective measures against the virus, which include banning public gatherings and public transportation, and imposing a curfew. 

Libya has so far registered 256,328 COVID-19 cases, 193,144 recoveries and 3,579 deaths, according to the National Center for Disease Control.  

Russia

Russia on Tuesday reported 22,010 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,952 in Moscow, taking the total to 6,334,195 since the pandemic began.

The government coronavirus task force also confirmed 788 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours.

Greece

Greece is ready to start administering third COVID-19 vaccine doses for vulnerable groups, the elderly or for those with compromised immune systems starting in September once the vaccination commission gives the green light, Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias said Tuesday.

Sanofi 

Sanofi has agreed to buy US biotech company Translate Bio in a US$3.2 billion deal, as it bets on next-generation mRNA vaccine technology beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, confirming a Reuters exclusive report.

The French pharmaceuticals firm said it would acquire all outstanding shares of Translate Bio for US$38.00 per share in cash, representing a total equity value of about US$3.2 billion.

The boards of both companies have approved the deal, and the chief executive of Translate Bio and the US company's largest shareholder have backed it, Sanofi and Translate Bio said in a joint statement.

"Translate Bio adds an mRNA technology platform and strong capabilities to our research, further advancing our ability to explore the promise of this technology to develop both best-in-class vaccines and therapeutics," Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson said.

Eli Lilly and Co

Eli Lilly and Co and partner Incyte Corp said on Tuesday additional results from a late-stage study showed their COVID-19 drug baricitinib reduced the risk of death in patients on mechanical ventilation.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first approved Lilly's arthritis drug, baricitinib, in combination with Gilead Sciences' remdesivir, to treat COVID-19 patients. The FDA last month expanded the drug's authorization for lone use or with remdesivir. read more

Latest data from 101 patients in Lilly/Incyte's study shows patients put on ventilators, who received baricitinib plus standard of care were 46 percent less likely to die, compared with patients who received placebo plus standard of care.

Lilly said the new data from the study will be shared with regulatory authorities in the United States, European Union and other geographies.