US CDC says Delta variant ‘as contagious as chickenpox’

This March 6, 2020 file photo, shows the headquarters of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. (RON HARRIS / AP)

NAIROBI / LISBON / TIRANA / LONDON / LUSAKA / ADDIS ABABA / HAVANA / WASHINGTON / ROME / QUITO / SANTIAGO / OTTAWA / RIO DE JANEIRO / BUENOS AIRES / ATHENS / BRASILIA / BERLIN / PRAGUE / MOSCOW / KIEV / NICOSIA / BUDAPEST – The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has described the Delta variant of the coronavirus as being as transmissible as chickenpox and cautioned it could cause severe disease, the Washington Post reported, citing an internal CDC document.

The variant was also more likely to break through protections afforded by the vaccines, but the CDC said such incidents were very rare, according to the document.

In its summary, the CDC said the Delta variant is highly contagious, likely more severe than other variants and breakthrough infections may be as transmissible as unvaccinated cases.

It also said that universal mask wearing was still needed to reduce transmission in addition to vaccines.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden urged local governments to pay people to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and set new rules requiring federal workers to provide proof of vaccination or face regular testing, mask mandates and travel restrictions.

The measures are Biden’s latest attempt to spur reluctant Americans to get vaccinated as the Delta variant of the coronavirus surges nationwide, infecting unvaccinated people in particular.

Following Biden's announcement, the Department of Defense (DoD) issued a mandate requiring that members of the military prove their vaccination status or be subject to strict safety protocols aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

According to the CDC, roughly 163.8 million people in the US are fully vaccinated out of a population of some 330 million.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 6,587,734 as of Thursday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union, said the death toll from the pandemic stands at 167,183 while 5,777,353 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease.

Albania

Every Albanian citizen above the age of 18 will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine throughout August, Minister of Health and Social Protection Ogerta Manastirliu said on social media on Thursday.

"We have decided that August will be an open month for all age groups over 18 to receive the vaccine in any health centre or at any vaccination site," Manastirliu said.

All those wanting to get vaccinated will have to register on e-Albania, the government's online portal, and reserve a spot.

A health worker administers an AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a health center in Buenos Aires on July 27, 2021. (VICTOR R. CAIVANO / AP)

Argentina

Argentina on Thursday registered 14,115 new COVID-19 infections and 291 more deaths in the past 24 hours, raising the total caseload to 4,905,925 and the pandemic death toll to 105,113, the Ministry of Health reported.

AstraZeneca

Canada and Mexico imported millions of doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine and offered them to the public without health officials properly inspecting the operations of the US manufacturer, according to inspection records and the regulators involved.

The Baltimore plant belonging to Emergent BioSolutions Inc was producing vaccines for both AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson under a US$628 million US government contract.

European regulators had certified Emergent's factory as complying with "good manufacturing practices," and on that basis both Canada and Mexico began using the vaccine, regulators in both countries told Reuters.

But the European Medicines Agency (EMA) told Reuters that the certification was based on a remote inspection that focused on a part of the facility that was not actually producing the AstraZeneca shots – a fact that has not been previously reported.

A medical worker shows a vial of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 13, 2021. (MICHAEL TEWELDE / XINHUA)

The US Food and Drug Administration halted production at the factory three weeks later, after J&J's vaccine was found to be contaminated with material used in the AstraZeneca shots.

FDA inspectors later documented unsanitary conditions and poorly-trained staff at the plant, which had been rapidly overhauled to make vaccines during the pandemic.

Production had remained halted, with tens of millions of doses of both vaccines in regulatory limbo.

No reports of illness have been linked to vaccines manufactured by Emergent, and regulators have not alleged that contaminated vaccines were given to anyone. Emergent said there has been no evidence of contamination in the AstraZeneca shots produced at its site.

But details of the flawed approval process show blind spots that can develop when national regulators share responsibility for overseeing a complex global pharmaceutical industry. Those were only exacerbated given the urgency of the pandemic.

Brazil

Brazil plans to cancel a contract signed in March for 10 million doses of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said on Thursday, as the South American nation struggles with one of the worst outbreaks in the world.

Queiroga said the move was due to lapsed deadlines in the registration process with Brazilian health regulator Anvisa.

He added that Brazil's national immunization program does not currently need the Russian vaccine, though that could change if Anvisa licenses Sputnik V.

The agreement to import the 10 million doses was signed with Brazilian pharmaceutical company Uniao Quimica, which is also planning to manufacture the vaccine locally for export to neighboring countries where Sputnik has been improved.

But the contract required emergency use approval by Anvisa, a process that has stalled because Uniao Quimica has not provided necessary data on the vaccine, the regulator said.

Brazilian Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga gives a second dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Chief of Staff Minister Luiz Eduardo Ramos at a vaccination center Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, July 14, 2021. (ERALDO PERES / AP)

Sixteen Brazilian state governments requested permits to import the Russian vaccine that were approved under a set of conditions that included testing in Brazil. Anvisa said only four of the states agreed to the conditions.

Brazil registered 1,318 more COVID-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, raising its national death toll to 554,497, the health ministry said on Thursday.

The total caseload rose to 19,839,369 after 42,283 new cases were detected.

Canada

Canada reported 897 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon, raising the cumulative total to 1,429,579 cases, including 26,575 deaths, according to CTV.

Canada reported 738 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Alberta province reported 233 new cases on Thursday while Ontario province reported 218 new cases of COVID-19, the most on a single day in about a month. Thursday's reported total went up from the 185 infections logged on the same day last week.

British Columbia province reported 204 new cases, the largest single-day jump since June 5 this year.

Some medical experts are sounding the alarm over increased new cases of COVID-19 and some provinces' recent decision to significantly ease its COVID-19 restrictions, warning the move could cause ripple effects across the country and the globe.

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Chile

Chile registered on Thursday 1,383 new COVID-19 infections and 119 more deaths in one day, for a total of 1,613,288 cases and 35,295 deaths.

According to the Ministry of Health, the country has seen 51 days of a sustained decrease in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, which has allowed for the gradual lifting of lockdowns and the resumption of in-person activities.

People sign up for vaccination using the Cuban Abdala COVID-19 shot in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2021. (RAMON ESPINOSA / AP)

Cuba

Cuba reported on Thursday 8,607 new COVID-19 infections and 68 more deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 366,985 cases and 2,628 deaths.

National director of hygiene and epidemiology of the Ministry of Public Health Francisco Duran highlighted the impact of variants of the novel coronavirus circulating on the island.

Of the total number of infections reported in the last day, 16 were imported cases, according to the report.

Cyprus

Cyprus on Friday said children aged 12 to 15 would be included in a mass inoculation program to curb the spread of COVID-19, as it tightened regulations for access to public areas.

The island has been experiencing an aggressive spike caused by the highly infectious Delta variant of the virus, which started manifesting in mid-June. Cyprus has recorded 416 deaths from the coronavirus since March 2020 and 100,784 infections.

Children would be eligible for vaccines using the mRNA technology manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and only with parental consent, Hadjipantelas said. The measure comes into effect on Aug 2.

According to data issued by the health ministry earlier Friday, new infections have shown a decline over the past two weeks, with the average age of persons affected at 28.

Curbing a spike in the Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy among a section of the population were 'two very high hurdles threatening public health', Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas said.

Authorities also tightened existing requirements that persons display a so-called 'SafePass' of either vaccination or a negative test to access public areas where a minimum of 10 persons gather. The previous requirement was for 20 people.

Some 65 percent of the population have completed their vaccination program.

Czech Republic

The Czech government approved on Friday offering two days of additional vacation to state employees who get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a way to spur vaccination effort, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Friday.

The European Union country of 10.7 million reported 10.19 million doses of vaccines given as of Thursday, with 4.74 million people fully vaccinated.

“The aim is to have maximum vaccination, to protect ourselves against infection from abroad,” Babis said. “This is the main task: inoculate, inoculate, inoculate.”

Ecuador

Ecuador is redoubling efforts to maintain control of at least six variants and other lineages of the novel coronavirus circulating in the country in order to avoid large-scale community outbreaks, as hundreds of confirmed cases are reported, Health Minister Ximena Garzon said on Thursday.

During a press conference, the official said that the ministry is implementing a strategy that includes three epidemiological monitoring rings to contain the variants, as well as controls at airports and ports for their early detection.

EU

The European drugs regulator on Friday approved a ramp-up in production of active substances used to make COVID-19 shots at Moderna's sites in the United States.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) estimates the European market could get 40 million doses from Moderna's two approved US facilities in the third quarter.

The agency said the approval reaffirms that the facilities – ModernaTX and Lonza Biologics – will help Moderna increase production capacity at the sites and will have a "significant" impact on the supply of the vaccine, known as Spikevax, in the EU.

EMA's human medicines committee has authorized a total of four manufacturing sites, two in the US and two in Switzerland, for the production of active substances for the Moderna vaccine.

Germany

Germany will require all unvaccinated travelers arriving in the country from Sunday to present a negative COVID-19 test result, stepping up health checks on returning holidaymakers amid concern over rising case loads in holiday destinations.

Previously, only airline passengers were required to produce a negative test if they were not vaccinated and had not recovered from COVID-19 in the previous six months. People entering by road, rail or sea were not required to do so, as were children under the age of 12.

Meanwhile, Germany no longer considers South Africa and eight other African countries as so-called 'virus variant' areas, the health ministry said.

The change, which takes effect on Sunday, comes after the Delta strain of COVID-19 became dominant in both Germany and South Africa, displacing the Beta strain originally found in the southern African nation.

Only German nationals and those with permanent residency are currently able to travel to the country from virus variant areas, subject to quarantine. The reclassification will make it possible for others to travel to Germany, subject to proof of vaccination or a negative test result.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 2,454 to 3,766,765, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday. The reported death toll rose by 30 to 91,637, the tally showed. 

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 196.62 million while the global death toll topped 4.19 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Greece

Greece's south Aegean islands were marked dark red on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control's COVID-19 map on Thursday after a rise in infections, meaning all but essential travel to and from the region is discouraged.

The cluster of 13 islands includes Greece's most popular destinations for foreign tourists – Mykonos, Santorini and Rhodes – which, combined, draw millions of people every summer.

Greek Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said later on Thursday Mykonos and Ios, another popular tourist destination, were "one step" away from authorities imposing restrictions.

He said the situation was also worrying on the islands of Zakynthos, Tinos, Lefkada, Santorini, Paros and Rhodes.

A picture taken on May 13, 2020 shows a general view of the main village in the Greek Cycladic island of Mykonos, in the evening. (ARIS MESSINIS / AFP)

Greece, which depends heavily on tourism, had relied on promoting "COVID-free" islands to draw visitors back this summer, hoping a rebound in international travel would resuscitate the sector after its worst year in decades in 2020.

Despite a strong June in terms of arrivals and expressions of optimism from ministers and tourism officials, uncertainty remains over how the season will unfold.

The dark red zones on the ECDC map help distinguish very high-risk areas and also help EU member states uphold rules requiring testing on departure and quarantine upon return.

Hungary

Although the majority of healthcare workers in Hungary have been inoculated against COVID-19, the government mandated that every employee in the health sector be vaccinated, it said Friday.

"In order to curb further waves of the coronavirus epidemic and protect patients, healthcare workers are now required to get the vaccine," the government said in the latest issue of the Official Journal.

The deadline for the first jab is Sept 1, except for those who have a medical condition forbidding them to take the vaccine.

As of Friday, 5,617,260 people in Hungary have received at least one vaccine dose, while 5,428,980 have gotten both, according to official data.

Hungary reported 64 new COVID-19 cases and one death in a 24-hour span on Friday. To date, the country has recorded a total of 809,491 cases and 30,026 deaths.

Italy

The highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus has gained dominance in Italy, the National Health Institute (ISS) said on Friday, releasing data showing it accounted for 94.8 percent of cases as of July 20.

In the previous such survey based on data from June 22, the Delta variant represented just 22.7 percent of cases. By contrast, the Alpha variant accounted for 3.2 percent of cases as of July 20 against a previous 57.8 percent.

Italy's coronavirus indicators have taken a turn for the worse this week, with the infection rate reaching its highest level since mid-May, while the mortality rate rose after 15 consecutive weeks of declines, according to health ministry data.

On Thursday, the ministry reported 6,171 new infections, the highest one-day figure since mid-May.  But that is still far below the daily peaks of more than 25,000 in March and more than 40,000 in November 2020. 

With 19 coronavirus-related fatalities recorded Thursday, the daily toll has not surpassed 35 registered during the last month.

Kenya

Kenya's health minister said on Friday the government had suspended all in-person meetings and public gatherings to try to contain COVID-19, whose spread in the country he now attributes to the more infectious Delta variant.

Mutahi Kagwe said in a televised address that the government had asked public and private-sector employers to allow their workers to work from home, unless they were classified as essential services.

"All public gatherings and in-person meetings of whatever nature are suspended countrywide. In this regard, all government, including intergovernmental meetings and conferences, should henceforth be converted to either virtual or postponed in the coming 30 days," he said.

Kagwe singled out politicians for holding meetings that turn out to be "super spreader" events.

Restrictions of movement from 10:00 pm to 4:00 a.m. will remain in place countrywide, he said.

As of Thursday, Kenya had registered 200,109 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,910 deaths, health ministry data showed.

It had vaccinated 1.7 million people, of whom 647,393, or 2.37 percent of adults, are fully vaccinated.

A man wearing a face mask crosses a street in Lisbon on July 14, 2021. (PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)

Portugal

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa announced on Thursday a gradual withdrawal of COVID-19 restrictive measures as the level of transmission in the country is decreasing in recent weeks.

After a meeting of the Portuguese Council of Ministers, Costa said here at a press conference that the "liberation" will take place in three phases, with the first starting on Aug 1, ending the curfew.

Costa explained that the digital immunization certificate or negative tests for COVID-19 will be required to enter closed spaces on weekends and holidays as well as to access tourist accommodations.

The second phase will begin in September, when 70 percent of the Portuguese population is projected to have full vaccination, which will determine the end of the mandatory use of face masks in public spaces, as well as a 75 percent capacity at ceremonies, meetings and shows.

The third phase will start in October, allowing for the reopening of bars and nightclubs, and an end to indoor capacity limitations, provided that digital COVID certificates or negative tests for COVID-19 are presented.

Russia

Trials mixing a first dose of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine with AstraZeneca's shot revealed no serious side effects and no subsequent cases of coronavirus among volunteers, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said on Friday.

The trial involved 50 people and began in Azerbaijan in February, RDIF, which is responsible for marketing Sputnik V vaccine abroad, said in the statement.

Full results of the trial, including data on the immune response produced by the combination vaccine, would be published next month, RDIF said.

Russia on Monday gave the green light for clinical trials combining the British shot and Sputnik V to go ahead across five Russian clinics.

Separately, Moscow on Friday abolished a widely-flouted requirement for people to wear gloves in public places and shops as daily coronavirus cases in the Russian capital stayed below 4,000, down from over 7,000 earlier this month.

The move came as Moscow reported 3,481 new infections and 76 deaths, even as the number of daily nationwide cases, at 23,564, remained close to levels recorded at the start of the month with 794 nationwide deaths in the last 24 hours.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the number of newly detected COVID-19 cases in Moscow was, however, 2.2 times lower than during the peak of a wave of infections in the second half of June, which authorities blamed on the contagious Delta variant and the slow rate of vaccinations.

UK

England’s COVID-19 infection rate rose last week, undermining hopes that the country was getting past the spike in daily cases earlier in the summer.

The percentage of people testing positive rose to 1.57 – the highest since January – from 1.36, the country’s statistics office said Friday. It had been expected to decline after daily case rates dropped in the second half of July.

The daily numbers had suggested the UK situation was improving after the highly contagious delta variant sparked a new wave of infections. But medical experts and the government said it wasn’t clear what was behind the shift and that it was too early to say if the trend would be sustained.

That caution seemed justified as the figures increased again in recent days. On Thursday, the UK reported 31,117 new cases, up from 27,734 on Wednesday. While that’s still down from almost 55,000 on July 17, it was the second consecutive daily gain. 

The tally now stands at 5,801,561. Deaths rose by 85 to 129,515.

The report from the Office for National Statistics on Friday showed that 1 in 65 people are estimated to have had the virus in the week to July 24, compared with 1 in 75 the previous week. The period includes the immediate days after July 19, when the UK government relaxed COVID-19 restrictions in what was dubbed “Freedom Day.”

READ MORE: WHO's chief scientist warns pandemic is not slowing down

Ukraine

The Ukrainian Ministry of Health has introduced new border crossing rules to contain the spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, Interfax-Ukraine reported on Thursday.

In particular, the new rules stipulate a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period for all unvaccinated people who had previously stayed more than seven days during the last two weeks in Russia or India.

"The foreigners must have an insurance certificate and one of the documents: negative PCR test, negative antigen test or a full course of vaccination," the ministry said on its Coronavirus Info Telegram channel.

Igor Kuzin, chief sanitary doctor of Ukraine, noted that 17 cases of the COVID-19 Delta variant were recorded in the country in a local media interview on Thursday.

A man receives a dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 at the Medium Correctional Center in Johannesburg, on July 20, 2021. (LUCA SOLA / AFP)

WHO

The shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine to Africa has accelerated, injecting fresh impetus in the continent's quest to limit infections and fatalities arising from the virus, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Thursday.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said that nearly 4 million doses arrived in the continent last week, as plans to ramp up deliveries and inoculate 30 percent of the population by the end of this year gathers steam.

"I urge all countries with surplus doses to urgently share more in the spirit of life-saving solidarity and enlightened self-interest because no country is safe until all countries are safe," Moeti said in a statement.

According to Moeti, 79 million COVID-19 doses have already arrived in Africa and 21 million people or 1.6 percent of the continent's population are fully immunized.

She said Africa required 820 million doses to inoculate 30 percent of its population by the end of 2021 even as multilateral initiatives plan to deliver the life-saving commodity in large quantities in the coming weeks.

Moeti said the COVAX facility will ship 520 million doses to the continent towards the end of this year while African Union's Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) plans to deliver 10 million doses each month from September, to hit a target of 45 million by year's end.

Zambia

The Zambian government said on Thursday that vaccination was a tool that could help attain herd immunity and bring COVID-19 under control.

Kennedy Malama, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health in charge of Technical Services said that it was evident that countries that have achieved high vaccination rates have seen reductions in severe disease and deaths due to COVID-19.