Scotland tops Europe’s virus hotspots as Delta cases surge

A blue envelope containing information about a COVID-19 vaccine appointment is seen at the Vaccine Clinic in the Blairgowrie Town Hall, Blairgowrie and Rattray, north east Scotland on March 27, 2021. (ANDREW MILLIGAN / POOL / AFP)

PARIS / CAIRO / LONDON / KIGALI / SAO PAULO / SOFIA / MILAN / BUENOS AIRES / SANTIAGO / DAR ES SALAAM / RABAT / TUNIS / HAVANA / ACCRA / CARACAS / MEXICO CITY / BERLIN / LISBON / LUSAKA / ATHENS / ADDIS ABABA / MOSCOW / KYIV / OSLO / WINDHOEK – Scotland is recording the highest rates of coronavirus cases in Europe a little over a month before the government plans to lift most restrictions on society and the economy.

The regions covering the cities of Dundee and Edinburgh were top of the World Health Organization’s latest heat map, the BBC reported, as the delta variant rips through the country. Scotland last week reported daily infections exceeding 4,000 for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Despite the rising numbers, Scotland’s government is counting on vaccinations breaking the link between infection and serious illness. So far, the data appears to back up that approach, with hospitalizations rising at a much slower rate than new cases.

The administration in Edinburgh, which is responsible for public health policy, plans to ease restrictions on July 19 in line with the rest of the UK before phasing out just about all of them on Aug 9. The goal is to fully vaccinate all over 40s before then, while the government is also accelerating doses for all adults after opening drop-in clinics.

More than half of Scotland’s 5.5 million people have now received both jabs, though the government has expressed concern that the rate of vaccination has started to slow with younger generations not getting their shots.

Jason Leitch, Scotland’s national clinical director, told the BBC that fans gathering to watch the country’s three matches in the Euros soccer championship had contributed to the jump in infections. He also said Scotland lacked the “natural immunity” seen in some other parts of the UK after relatively fewer cases earlier in the pandemic.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is urging Britons to “exercise judgement” to protect themselves from COVID-19 as the government prepares for the final unlocking of the economy in two weeks.

“I must stress that the pandemic is not over and that cases will continue to rise over the coming weeks,” Johnson said in a statement. “As we begin to learn to live with this virus, we must all continue to carefully manage the risks from COVID and exercise judgment when going about our lives.”

Johnson will use a press conference on Monday to set out the final stage of his roadmap out of lockdown for England ahead of a formal announcement next week, according to his office. The update is aimed at giving businesses and the public more time to prepare.

The wearing of face coverings in England will become a personal choice and the data that will determine if lockdown restrictions can be lifted this month was looking "very positive", Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said, adding that legal lockdown restrictions are due to be removed on July 19 under the government's roadmap.

ALSO READ: British royal Kate self-isolating after COVID-19 contact

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 183.90 million while the global death toll topped 3.97 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

France

Health Minister Olivier Veran on Sunday urged as many French people as possible to get a COVID-19 vaccine, warning that France could be heading for a fourth wave of the epidemic by the end of the month due to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

"For five days, (the infection rate) hasn't come down – it's rising again. Because of the Delta variant, which is very contagious. The British example shows that a fourth wave is possible from the end of July," Veran said on Twitter.

"We must move even faster (on vaccination). Our country is in a race against time."

Egypt

Egypt's cabinet on Sunday eased guest limits for hotels, restaurants, cinemas and theaters to 70 percent of their capacity from 50 percent at present as coronavirus infections slow, according to a cabinet statement.

Egypt has been gradually easing pandemic restrictions since June 1. Official figures showed 181 new COVID-19 cases were recorded on Saturday, with 27 deaths from the disease.

Ghana

At least 136 students in a high school have been infected with the COVID-19 Delta variant, the Ghana Health Service (GHS) confirmed on Sunday.

During the latest national COVID-19 update, 136 out of 550 samples taken from students in Achimota School returned positive, said Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, director general of the GHS.

Aboagye said three students from the school went to the hospital last month with symptoms of influenza, but ended up testing positive for COVID-19.

"Subsequently, other symptomatic students and contacts were identified, listed, and also tested for COVID-19. The majority of the students who tested positive are, however, day students." he added.

As of Sunday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country has increased to 96,317.

Sanofi

Sanofi’s COVID-19 vaccine will be available in December, Olivier Bogillot, the drugmaker’s French chief, said in an interview with France Inter on Monday. 

Bogillot said there’s room for another vaccine as so many people still need to get the jabs.

Russia

Russia's powerful Orthodox Church admonished people refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19, calling them sinners who would have to atone for the rest of their lives, as the country reported another jump in new infections and deaths.

Speaking on state television, Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's department for external church relations, said those refusing to vaccinate were committing "a sin for which they will have to atone throughout their lives".

He added: "I see situations every day where people visit a priest in order to confess that they had refused to vaccinate themselves or their close ones and unwillingly caused someone's death.

"…The sin is thinking of oneself but not of another person."

Russia reported 24,353 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, including 6,557 in Moscow, taking the official national tally since the pandemic began to 5,635,294.

The government coronavirus task force said 654 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the national death toll to 138,579.

US President Joe Biden delivers a speech during an Independence Day celebration on the South Lawn of the White House, in Washington, on July 4, 2021. (PATRICK SEMANSKY / AP)

US

A triumphant President Joe Biden all but announced an end to the pandemic in the US on Sunday, celebrating what he called a “heroic” vaccination campaign on the country’s Independence Day holiday.

Speaking at a party on the White House’s South Lawn with more than 1,000 people in attendance, Biden declared that the US had achieved “independence” from the coronavirus, though he cautioned against complacency with more transmissible variants circulating in the country.

“Today, while the virus hasn’t been vanquished, we know this: It no longer controls our lives, it no longer paralyzes our nation and it’s within our power to make sure it never does so again,” Biden said.

He appealed for Americans who have not yet been vaccinated to get their shots, noting that the country’s battle against the virus had been costly, with more than 603,000 Americans dead. “It’s the most patriotic thing you can do,” Biden said.

The US government is ready to deploy booster shots if scientists and health officials determine they’re needed in the fight against Covid-19, White House pandemic response coordinator Jeff Zients said.

The US has administered 330,604,253 doses of COVID-19 vaccines in the country as of Sunday morning and distributed 383,068,740 doses, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

The CDC said 182,412,776 people had received at least one dose while 157,323,738 people are fully vaccinated as of Sunday.

READ MORE: Euro 2020 crowds driving rise in virus infections, says WHO

Rwanda

Rwandan President Paul Kagame on Sunday said his country was building the capacity to manufacture vaccines to reduce dependence on "unpredictable" supply sources.

"In keeping with our goal of self-reliance in all important aspects, we are working to build our capabilities to manufacture vaccines and other medications in Rwanda. This will reduce our dependence on supply sources that are unpredictable or dependent on other interests," Kagame said in a televised video message to mark the 27th Liberation Day, while acknowledging the process will take time.

"This year, we could not celebrate Liberation Day in the usual manner. This is why we must continue our fight against the current surge in COVID-19 cases," said the president.

It is now more important than ever to follow the measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 and save lives, he said, adding that fighting and overcoming COVID-19 is a continuation of the work of liberation.

As of Saturday evening, Rwanda has reported 41,696 COVID-19 cases, including 27,606 recoveries and 465 deaths. So far, 391,888 people have been vaccinated.

ALSO READ: S. Africa hits new record with 26,000 daily COVID-19 cases

Luxembourg

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was hospitalized on Sunday, a week after testing positive for COVID-19. 

He had tested positive days after attending a June 24-25 summit meeting with fellow European Union leaders in Brussels.

Bettel, 48, will remain in the hospital as a precaution for 24 hours for tests and observation, the Luxembourg government said in a statement on its website.

He received his first vaccine dose on May 6, the premier announced in a tweet at the time. Local media reported that he received the AstraZeneca shot.

Greece

Greece's economy would not close again because of the coronavirus pandemic if it was just to protect an unvaccinated minority, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a newspaper interview released on Sunday.

Greece has fared well in the first wave of the COVID-19 last year. But a resurgence in COVID-19 infections has forced the country to impose lockdown restrictions since November which have cost many billions of euros to an economy slowly emerging from a decade-long crisis.

Greece, where about 35 percent of its 11 million population is fully inoculated, has been easing restrictions as infections fall, but concerns are rising about the spread of the more contagious Delta variant.

"When we imposed across-the-board measures, there were no vaccines," Mitsotakis told Kathimerini newspaper. "We do have vaccines now."

Mitsotakis said he can't make vaccinations mandatory. "But everyone assumes his responsibility. The country will not close again for the protection of a few unvaccinated."

Brazil

Brazil registered 27,783 new COVID-19 cases and 830 new deaths in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Sunday.

That brought the total in Brazil to 18,769,808 cases and 524,417 deaths.

So far, more than 103.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered nationwide, and over 27 million people have received two jabs, the ministry said.

READ MORE: Brazil top prosecutor to probe Bolsonaro over vaccine deal

Bulgaria

Bulgaria is considering offering incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, interim Prime Minister Stefan Yanev said on Sunday.

"We do not plan to force anyone. But we are considering the possibility to offer people who are getting the second shot some vouchers," Yanev said.

Sofia has opened special vaccination units in parks to make it easier for busy people to get a shot and is planning campaigns in Roma neighborhoods to try to convince those communities of the benefits of the vaccines.

Failure to boost vaccine uptake may force the country to destroy shots that are nearing their expiration dates.

Yanev said Bulgaria may face such a risk at the end of August and was working with Brussels to see how it may also donate some 150,000 shots to western Balkan countries.

A healthcare worker inoculates an inmate with a dose of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination campaign at the women's prison in Los Teques, Miranda state, Venezuela, July 2, 2021. (MATIAS DELACROIX / AP)

Venezuela

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday he will give the COVAX system an ultimatum this week to send the country's share of coronavirus vaccines as all pending payments had been made to the global vaccine-sharing scheme.

Venezuela received word from COVAX in June that the last four payments had been blocked by UBS. The payments to cover the US$120 million fee have already been made, he said.

Maduro said in a live appearance on state television that officials had been instructed to "give the COVAX system an ultimatum: they send us the vaccines or they give us the money back, period."

"The COVAX system has failed Venezuela," the president said. "They don't answer us."

Earlier this year, COVAX set aside 2.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Venezuela. But Maduro's government prohibited its use due to concerns about blood-clotting, a very rare side-effect which the World Health Organization said was not sufficient to warrant halting its use.

Venezuela has recorded more than 277,635 cases of the novel coronavirus and 3,190 deaths, according to official data. 

Chile

Chile reported another 3,368 cases of COVID-19 and 130 more deaths from the disease, bringing the total to 1,569,784 infections and 33,103 deaths, the Ministry of Health said Sunday.

The ministry said 2,823 people were hospitalized in intensive care units, including 2,363 on ventilators.

Minister of Health Enrique Paris said that in the last seven days, there was a decrease in infections in 13 of the 16 regions in the country.

In contrast, in the northern regions of Antofagasta and Atacama, there was an increase in cases, as well as in the southern region of Magallanes.

Ukraine

Ukraine has approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson, the health ministry said on Monday.

Ukraine has already approved several COVID-19 vaccines, including those by AstraZeneca and Pfizer.

Argentina

Argentina reported 9,000 more cases of COVID-19 and another 310 deaths from the disease, bringing the tally to 4,535,473 and the toll to 95,904, the Ministry of Health said Sunday.

The percentage of occupancy of intensive care unit beds stood at 64.9 percent nationwide and 62.2 percent in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area, said the ministry.

A total of 22,382,746 doses of vaccines have been administered through Argentina's national vaccination program. 

Germany

A rising number of Germans are not showing up for COVID-19 vaccination appointments, prompting calls for fines to be imposed as Germany races to get shots in arms to counter the rapid spread of the more infectious Delta variant.

Mario Czaja, head of the Berlin Red Cross, said 5 percent-10 percent of people were skipping appointments at the city’s vaccination centres – with second doses particularly affected – up from a no-show rate of less than 0.5 percent at the start of the year.

With around 15,000 vaccinations planned per day at the centres, the number of wasted appointments is having a “massive effect on Berlin’s vaccination coverage”, Czaja told Deutschlandfunk radio on Monday.

People might be skipping second shots because they have been vaccinated by their family or company doctor, or may be on holiday, Christian Fuellers, medical director of a vaccination centre in North Rhine-Westphalia, told ARD television.

Young men in particular also appear to think getting one dose will be sufficient, he added.

Whatever the reasons, no-shows pose a headache to Germany’s plan to speed up vaccinations to try and get ahead of the more contagious Delta variant, now responsible for half of German coronavirus cases and expected to dominate later this month.

Czaja has suggested that a fine of between 25-30 euros (US$30-36) be levied on those who miss appointments. But others have warned that such action could be counterproductive.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday penalties for vaccination no-shows were not envisaged.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 212 to 3,731,124, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Monday.

The reported death toll rose by 1 to 91,031, the tally showed.

Tanzania

Tanzanian health authorities on Sunday urged the management of schools and other learning institutions to strictly observe COVID-19 protective guidelines as they prepare to reopen.

"School authorities should ensure they follow COVID-19 guidelines to protect students from the pandemic," said Abel Makubi, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, a day before schools across the country reopen.

Speaking at a news conference in the capital Dodoma, Makubi said school authorities should install facilities for washing hands with soap and ensure that face masks and sanitizers are available and used at all times.

"The health status of students should be monitored frequently," said Makubi.

Cuba

Cuba’s daily COVID-19 tally on Sunday hit a new record with 3,519 new reported cases, bringing the tally to 204,247, the Ministry of Public Health said.

The country also reported 14 more deaths, taking the toll to 1,351, the ministry said.

The province of Matanzas continued to be the epicenter of the disease in the country, with a case incidence rate of 1,051.8 infections per 100,000 inhabitants.

So far, 6.57 million doses of Soberana-02 and Abdala vaccines have been administered, and over 2.83 million Cubans have received at least one shot.

This photo taken on July 3, 2021 shows an empty street in Tunis, Tunisia, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (ADEL EZZINE / XINHUA)

Tunisia

Tunisia's health ministry on Sunday reported 4,686 new COVID-19 cases, raising the tally in the North African country to 443,631.

The death toll rose by 116 to 15,377 while the total number of recoveries reached 362,236, the ministry said in a statement.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 stood at 3,568, including 602 in intensive care units, it said.

So far, 1,942,431 people have been vaccinated, of whom 574,505 haved received both doses, according to the latest figures published by the ministry.

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 534,550 on Sunday as 605 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The death toll rose by four to 9,319, and 246 people were in intensive care units, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

The total number of recoveries increased to 519,696 after 557 new ones were added, according to the statement.

A total of 10,067,573 people have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 9,162,460 haved received both shots.

Portugal

The popular Portuguese islands of Madeira will allow entry to visitors with any of the COVID-19 jabs being administered worldwide and not only with those approved by Europe's drug regulator, the regional government said on Sunday.

The European Union, which launched its digital COVID certificate last week, has so far authorized only four vaccines – those of Pfizer and BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Mainland Portugal only accepts the four vaccines, but Madeira, an autonomous region popular for its wine and green landscape, said those who received other shots, such as those of China's Sinovac or India's Covaxin, could visit the Atlantic islands.

Pedro Ramos, Madeira's health secretary, said all would be accepted "because if millions have been vaccinated with these vaccines (not approved by the EU), their level of protection is similar to others".

Zambia

Zambia has seen a remarkable reduction in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the past week compared to the previous week, its health ministry said on Sunday.

Kennedy Malama, permanent secretary in charge of technical services in the Ministry of Health, said a comparative analysis of the last two weeks showed a reduction in the overall number of new cases from 19,535 to 15,714.

"Similarly, our overall positivity for the week dropped slightly from 26 percent to 24 percent. It is, however, too early to tell as yet if the worst is behind us," he said.

He said the country also saw some reduction in daily admissions and deaths, but noted that the ministry was committed to ensuring that this continued.

Zambia recorded 1,795 new cases and 46 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the tally to 164,282 and the toll to 2,443.

Malama said the country would be receiving 228,000 additional doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Monday.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Sunday reported 2,611 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 42 more fatalities, bringing its total to 2,540,068 infections and 233,622 deaths.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 67 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 276,435 as of Sunday evening, the Ministry of Health said.

The ministry said one more death and 76 more recoveries were reported on the same, bringing the death toll to 4,331 and the total recoveries to 261,025.

Italy

Italian police said on Saturday they had broken up a number of online schemes offering to sell fake European Union digital COVID-19 status certificates or purported coronavirus vaccines.

The investigation, coordinated by the cybercrime prosecutor’s office in Milan, showed that thousands of people were ready to pay for false certificates, according to a police statement.

Police said they had seized control of 10 channels on the encrypted messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts on marketplaces in the so-called dark web, through which it was possible to contact the sellers, who required payment in cryptocurrency.

Prices ranged from 110 to 130 euros (US$130-155) for an "all inclusive" package of fake pass and purported vial of vaccine. Some buyers came from outside the EU.

"About 250,000 users had registered, and a hundred tried to interact with the sellers," said Gian Luca Berruti, head of the Milan tax police's cyber-fraud unit.

It is unclear whether any actual vaccine was handed over, but police said they had found several counterfeit COVID-19 certificates. These contained false identification data, the specially generated QR code and the batch number of a first and second dose of vaccine.

Norway

Norway is delaying the next major step in unwinding restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic to the end of the month at the earliest, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Monday.

“There is a risk that the Delta variant will cause a fourth wave of infection in the unvaccinated part of the population, among those who have only received one dose or are in vulnerable groups,” Solberg said.

In Norway, it could become the dominant variant in Norway this month, the Norwegian health minister has said.

Almost two-thirds of adults have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 37 percent of adults are fully vaccinated, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

Sanofi

Sanofi’s COVID-19 vaccine will be available in December, Olivier Bogillot, the drugmaker’s French chief, said in an interview with France Inter on Monday. Bogillot said there’s room for another vaccine as so many people still need to get the jabs.

Namibia

Namibia's Health Ministry on Monday announced that the latest genome sequencing exercises covering the months of May and June have revealed that in 17 out of 18 samples done in the country, the Delta variant was identified.

In a statement, Namibia's Ministry of Health executive director Ben Nangombe said the samples were obtained from positive COVID-19 cases from the central Khomas region.

"This is the first report on the detection of the Delta variant in Namibia," he said, adding that more genomic sequencing activities will be carried out in the coming weeks to determine the extent to which the variant may be present in the rest of the country.