The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 climbed above 190.5 million on Monday, as the U.K., against the advice of hundreds of scientists and health experts, fully reopened its economy in a move it has dubbed “Freedom Day.”
Theaters, cinemas and night clubs can now operate at full capacity without any limits, and legal obligations to wear masks in public spaces such as transport have been removed. The move comes as the delta variant continues to spread and the number of people testing positive in the last seven days jumped to nearly 317,000, up 43% over the previous week, according to official numbers.
Scientists and public health experts both in the U.K. and abroad have raised concerns that “Freedom Day” could result in a large number of hospitalizations and deaths, and create the conditions for new vaccine-resistant variants of the virus to emerge.
The U.K. could have learned a lesson from the Netherlands, which suffered a 500% spike in new cases in the week after it reopened its economy on June 26. Experts have also expressed concern about the U.K.’s position as a global travel hub, which would allow it to export new variants across the world.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has joined the ranks of Britons who have been ordered to isolate because they have come in contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID, in this case, the health minister, Sajid Javid.
In the U.S., the delta variant continues to drive cases higher in all 50 states, and officials are pleading with unvaccinated people to get their shots. The U.S. Surgeon General said on Sunday that he’s concerned about what lies ahead, as millions of Americans refuse to get vaccinated. Right now, more than 99% of COVID deaths are in unvaccinated people.
“I am worried about what is to come because we are seeing increasing cases among the unvaccinated in particular. And while, if you are vaccinated, you are very well protected against hospitalization and death, unfortunately that is not true if you are not vaccinated,” Murthy said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” as the Associated Press reported.
While U.S. case numbers and hospitalizations are still far below levels from the worst of the pandemic early this year, Murthy said the worsening situation shows the need to convince more people to get inoculations.
“It is our fastest, most effective way out of this pandemic,” he said.
The seven-day average of cases rose to 31,745 on Sunday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 140% from two weeks ago. Hospitalizations are up 34% from two weeks ago, while deaths are up 33%.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that 161 million Americans are now fully vaccinated, equal to 48.6% of the overall population. That means they have had two shots of the vaccines developed by Pfizer
and German partner BioNTech
or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s
one-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca
vaccine, which was widely used in the U.K. and elsewhere, has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
Among adults 18 years-and-older, 59.4% are fully vaccinated, while 68.2% have had at least one shot, still short of President Joe Biden’s goal of having 70% of adults receive at least one shot by the July 4 weekend.
There was some positive news from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which said about a quarter of the people who said in a poll earlier this year that they would not get vaccinated have since had their shots. The pollsters found those people had changed their minds after seeing friends and family members get vaccinated without serious side effects, or after having conversations with their personal doctors.
“A small but meaningful share also say the easing of restrictions for vaccinated people was a factor in their decision to get a vaccine,” they found.
Elsewhere, Indonesia set another record one-day death toll at 1,338 on Monday, according to data from its COVID task force reported by Reuters.
In Tokyo, two South African soccer players became the first athletes inside the Olympic Village to test positive for COVID-19, and other cases connected to the Tokyo Games were also confirmed Sunday, highlighting the herculean task organizers face to keep the virus contained while the world’s biggest sports event plays out, the AP reported.
The British Olympic Association said six athletes and two staff in the track and field squad are isolating at the team’s pre-Olympic base in Yokohama after being deemed close contacts of a person who tested positive following their flight to Japan. U.S. tennis player Coco Gauff didn’t travel to Japan after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Cuba, which kept coronavirus infections low last year, now has the highest rate of contagion per capita in Latin America, according to Reuters. The Caribbean island of 11 million people counted almost 4,000 cases per million residents in the last week.
In Australia, the state of Victoria remains in lockdown after it failed to fully stamp out an outbreak of the delta variant after five days of restrictions. A woman in Sydney in her 50s has died of COVID, in the fifth death linked to the delta outbreak, the Guardian reported.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 190.5 million on Monday, while the death toll climbed above 4.09 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with a total of 34 million cases and in deaths with 609,021.
India is closing in on the U.S. in cases at 31 million but is third in deaths at 414,108, while Brazil is second in deaths at 542,214 but is third in cases at 19.4 million.
Mexico has fourth-highest death toll at 236,331 but has recorded just 2.6 million cases, according to its official numbers.
In Europe, Russia continues to pull ahead of the U.K. by deaths at 146,686, while the U.K. has 128,988 making Russia the country with the fifth-highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 104,290 confirmed cases and 4,848 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.