Lockdowns and travel restrictions return as Delta variant races across the globe

WHO warns the world is in ‘a very dangerous period’ as variant is found in nearly 100 countries

The Delta variant has continued to spread in the UK and is now responsible for more than 90 per cent of new infections in the country | Image: Immayabharathi K

The World Health Organization said on Friday the world is in “a very dangerous period” of the COVID-19 pandemic after the contagious Delta variant, first identified in India, was found in nearly 100 countries. The rapid spread of the variant has forced a growing number of countries to reimpose lockdowns and other public health measures.

The Delta variant has continued to spread in the UK and is now responsible for more than 90 per cent of new infections in the country, putting in jeopardy plans to ease remaining restrictions in England on July 19. Concerns about the variant have prompted the authorities to shorten the time between vaccine doses for those over 40.

Germany, which has completely vaccinated 35 per cent of its population, has declared Portugal a “virus-variant zone”. It has banned most arrivals from the country except its own citizens and imposed a mandatory two-week quarantine for all travellers.

Portugal, in turn, imposed stricter rules last week, including ordering restaurants in Lisbon and Albufeira to shut earlier over the weekend.

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Spain has been reporting a 20 per cent increase in incidence of Delta variant cases, with regional health officials predicting that the strain could be dominant within two to four weeks. But the country has stopped compulsory wearing of mask outdoors.

In Australia the Delta mutation has raced across the country. Half of Australia’s 25 million people have been ordered to stay home as the caseload, now at around 200, grows every day. State borders are closed. On Friday Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia will cut international arrivals by 50 per cent in a bid to halt the surge.

Indonesia reported a new daily record number of coronavirus cases on Saturday, with 27,913 infections. The government has imposed restrictions on Java and Bali, including tighter travel checks, a ban on restaurant dining and outdoor sports and the closure of non-essential workplaces. They will be in place until July 20 and could be extended.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has imposed a countrywide lockdown for a month that is likely to continue. Thailand declared a month-long limited lockdown in the capital, Bangkok, and neighbouring provinces.

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Taiwan, which reported its first Delta case last Saturday, announced new restrictions for people arriving from seven “high-risk countries”: Bangladesh, Britain, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel and Peru.

Hong Kong also said on Monday that it was banning all passenger flights from the UK starting July 1, because of the growing number of new coronavirus cases and “widespread delta variant virus strain there.”

The Saudi Arabian interior ministry said the country had halted flights to the United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia and Vietnam. The move came seven weeks after the kingdom opened up overseas travel for fully vaccinated citizens after a ban that lasted more than a year.

Bangladesh pointed to a “dangerous and alarming” rise in Delta-related infections and halted all public transportation starting Monday.

In South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa extended a nightly curfew and introduced a ban on gatherings, alcohol sales, indoor dining and some domestic travel for 14 days.