British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hopes of ending England’s coronavirus lockdown on June 21 hung in the balance on Friday as data showed a further rise in cases of the rapidly spreading delta variant, which was first detected in India.
Johnson is due to announce on Monday whether the planned lifting of restrictions, which would see an end to limits on social contact, can go ahead on time.
But the rapid spread of the delta variant, officially a “variant of concern,” has thrown those plans into jeopardy, prompting speculation that the June 21 date will be pushed back, or that some restrictions will remain.
“We have to be really careful. We had a very big opening on the 17th of May where people could meet friends indoors, in a restaurant, in a pub, and socialize indoors as well,” COVID-19 vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told Times Radio.
“And I think it’s important that we look at the data very carefully over this weekend and then share it with the nation.”
Total British cases of the delta variant, first identified in India, have jumped by 29,892 to 42,323, Public Health England said on Friday, adding the variant currently accounted for over 90 per cent of new COVID-19 cases.
The figure was a big jump on the 12,431 cases of delta reported last week, although it was not directly comparable as new genotyping tests were used this week, meaning that cases of the variant can now be confirmed within 48 hours.
A top British epidemiologist said on Wednesday that the delta variant is believed to be 60 per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant alpha variant, which was first detected in the U.K. Some scientists have urged a delay to restrictions being eased so more people can receive a second vaccine dose.
A widely watched prevalence survey showed that the number of people with COVID-19 was estimated to have risen in the week to June 5, though not as sharply as the week before.
Johnson has said that an increase in cases was always expected after the most recent stage of lockdown easing in May, but the key to whether Step 4 can proceed on June 21 will be the extent to which Britain’s vaccine rollout has broken the link between cases and deaths.
Britain’s total COVID-19 death toll is over 127,000 but the number of daily deaths have fallen following a third national lockdown and a rapid vaccine rollout. More than three-quarters of adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
-From Reuters, last updated at 9:25 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 11:20 a.m. ET on Friday Canada had reported 1,399,036 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 18,843 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 25,878. More than 27.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered so far across the country, according to CBC’s vaccine tracker.
Ontario on Friday reported four additional deaths and 574 new cases of COVID-19. Hospitalizations in the province, which entered its first phase of reopening on Friday, stood at 489, with 440 people in intensive care due to COVID-19.
Across the North on Friday, Nunavut reported four new cases of COVID-19, according to Premier Joe Savikataaq. Health officials in Yukon and the Northwest Territories had not yet provided updated information for the day.
Nunavut is announcing 4 news case of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> today. These individuals are unvaccinated, and contact tracing is ongoing. There are 6 active cases in Iqaluit.<br><br>So far, 17,885 people in Nunavut have their 1st dose of Moderna & 15,707 are now fully vaccinated.⤵️ <a href=”https://t.co/jAyKbOJFhf”>pic.twitter.com/jAyKbOJFhf</a>
In Quebec on Friday, health officials reported 180 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.
In Atlantic Canada on Thursday, health officials reported 23 new cases of COVID-19, including:
- 15 new cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, including another case linked to a high school in Halifax.
- Five new cases of COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador, with three connected to a cluster in the Western Health region.
- Three new cases of COVID-19 in New Brunswick, where health officials are still working toward a goal of getting 75 per cent of eligible people a first dose of vaccine before the province moves into the first phase of its reopening.
- There were no new cases reported in Prince Edward Island.
Saskatchewan, meanwhile, reported one additional death and 77 new cases of COVID-19.
Alberta on Thursday reported its lowest active case count of COVID-19 since October with about 3,810 active infections in the province. Of those, 178 cases were new from Thursday, with six additional deaths.
British Columbia reported 153 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday as its vaccination rate hovers just below 75 per cent for eligible adults.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 11:20 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, the COVID-19 case tracking tool from Johns Hopkins University showed a total of more than 174.8 million cases reported worldwide.The global death toll stood at more than 3.7 million.
In Europe, leaders from the Group of Seven industrialized nations are set to commit at their summit to sharing at least one billion coronavirus shots with struggling countries around the world — half the doses coming from the U.S. and 100 million from the U.K.
The G7 leaders have faced mounting pressure to outline their global vaccine-sharing plans, especially as inequities in supply around the world have become more pronounced. In the U.S., there is a large vaccine stockpile and the demand for shots has dropped precipitously in recent weeks.
A government official said on background Friday that Canada would share up to 100 million doses of vaccine, with more details expected over the weekend on how the government would meet this target.
The world’s leading democracies are expected to announce a one billion-dose sharing plan at the G7. From <a href=”https://twitter.com/Murray_Brewster?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Murray_Brewster</a><a href=”https://t.co/6lcgWDnBOi”>https://t.co/6lcgWDnBOi</a>
In the Asia-Pacific region, the Indian state of Bihar has increased its COVID-19 death toll after the discovery of thousands of unreported cases, raising concerns that many more fatalities were not officially recorded. The health department in Bihar, one of the poorest states, on Thursday revised its COVID-19 fatality count to more than 9,429 from 5,424 — a jump of more than 70 per cent.
Officials said the 3,951 unreported fatalities had occurred in May and reflect “deaths reported at private hospitals, in transit to health facilities, under home isolation and those dying of post COVID-19 complications.”
Health experts say many COVID-19 fatalities remain unrecorded in India, more so during the latest surge in April and May, when hospitals ran unbearably full and oxygen supplies were low.
In the Americas, Chile has announced a blanket lockdown across its capital again and said it had approved the emergency use of the vaccine developed by Belgian laboratory Janssen for U.S. pharmaceutical Johnson & Johnson.
In Africa, Tanzania has asked the International Monetary Fund for a $571 million US loan to help it tackle the challenges caused by the pandemic.
In the Middle East, people in Kuwait were seeking second doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, local media reported, as the ministry of health embarks on a major push to get more people their critical second shot.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 9:20 a.m. ET