BEIJING: Hundreds of thousands of people in China were in coronavirus lockdown on Friday as the country battled its worst outbreak in months, while the United States intensified vaccination efforts in the face of a Delta variant-fuelled surge.
The World Health Organisation has warned that the highly transmissible strain, first detected in India, could unleash more Covid-19 outbreaks in a high-risk area from Morocco to Pakistan where vaccination rates are low.
In China, a cluster of infections in Nanjing city linked to airport workers who cleaned a plane from Russia earlier this month had reached the capital Beijing and five provinces by Friday.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been locked down in Jiangsu province, of which Nanjing is the capital, while 41,000 came under stay-at-home orders in Beijing’s Changping district.
Japan extends state of emergency
At least 206 infections across China have been linked to the cluster, and the outbreak is geographically the largest in several months.
The Delta variant is more transmissible than the pathogens that cause SARS, Ebola and smallpox, and as easily spread as chickenpox, according to an internal US Centres for Disease Control presentation reported by The Washington Post and The New York Times.
It has driven recent surges around the world, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.
The Philippines next week will send more than 13 million people in the national capital region back into lockdown because of a Delta-linked increase, the government said on Friday.
The variant has also been linked to around half of new cases in Tokyo.
Japan on Friday extended a virus state of emergency in the capital a week into the Olympics, as the city reported a record number of new cases the day before.
Meanwhile, the United States ramped up efforts to get people vaccinated in the face of a Delta variant-fuelled surge.
With infections and hospitalisations rising, President Joe Biden asked every US federal worker to either declare they are fully vaccinated or wear masks and be tested.
“People are dying — and will die — who don’t have to die,” Biden said on Thursday. “If in fact you are unvaccinated, you present a problem — to yourself, to your family, and to those with whom you work.”
The president also said he would ask the Pentagon to consider making the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for active duty military personnel, and asked state and local governments to offer $100 to holdouts who get the shot.
The CDC has already asked people in virus hotspots — including the vaccinated — to wear masks indoors again.
The moves stop short of a politically sensitive vaccination mandate for federal workers, but mark a dramatic return to restrictions after a rapid vaccination phase.
The surge across America — which has the highest known Covid-19 death toll in the world — has left early vaccine adopters angry at those who have so far opted against the shot.
“It’s almost like they don’t care about the rest of the world,” said Alethea Reed, a 58-year-old healthcare administrator in Washington. “They’re being selfish and self-centred.”
Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2021