One variant, many approaches to masks

One variant, many approaches to masks

WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK

  • The Delta variant, a more transmissible and possibly more dangerous strain, now makes up more than half of all new infections in the United States. It is of global concern, forcing some Asian-Pacific nations to impose tough restrictions, yet countries are taking different strategies on masks.
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dropped the mask mandate for vaccinated people in May. But faced with rising infections, some areas are starting to reimpose the face covering and social distancing measures regardless of vaccination status — as Los Angeles County did last week.
  • Meanwhile in England, where the Delta variant is the dominant strain, the government will drop legal requirements for masks and other remaining restrictions in two weeks. The end to the mask mandate comes amid stern warnings from health experts, who say face coverings reduce transmission in crowded spaces and help prevent potentially vaccine-resistant variants from spreading.
  • Israel, one of the most vaccinated nations in the world, lifted most of its restrictions in early June. But an indoor mask mandate has since been reinstated along with other restrictions after a spike in cases caused by the Delta variant.
  • Meanwhile, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine appears to be less effective against infections caused by the Delta variant compared to other strains, according to the Israeli government. As of June 6, the vaccine provided 64% protection against infection, and was 93% effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalizations, the government said. The statement cited top line figures, but did not release underlying data or other details about its analysis. A team at Hebrew University said in a separate statement that it was too soon to tell how much the Delta variant was affecting vaccine efficacy.
  • And in other vaccine news, the Johnson & Johnson shot provides immunity that lasts at least eight months, and appears to protect against the Delta variant, the company said in a statement. Meanwhile, India’s homegrown Covid-19 vaccine, Covaxin, has an efficacy rate of more than 93.4% against severe Covid-19 infection and 77.8% against symptomatic infection, according to data released by its developer.
  • Europe is risking a new wave due to the relaxation of restrictions, the spread of the Delta variant and low vaccination coverage, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.
  • In a move that could help vaccine rollout problems, Germany issued what appears to be the strongest recommendation anywhere for the mixing of Covid-19 vaccines on efficacy grounds. It said people who receive a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine “should get an mRNA vaccine as their second dose, regardless of their age.

YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.

Q: Children younger than 12 in the US are not eligible for Covid-19 vaccines yet. How careful should I be with my kids?

A: “This is something I think a lot about as a parent of two young children, ages 1 and almost 4, and why I have been very concerned about the lifting of indoor mask mandates,” CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said.

“I’m not concerned about my children or other unvaccinated children who are around fully vaccinated people, but I’m very concerned about unvaccinated people being around others who are also unvaccinated — whether they’re children or adults.

“Because the Delta variant is so much more contagious, there is no room for error. If there is somebody who is infected who is unvaccinated and there are other unvaccinated people around, there is a higher likelihood that those unvaccinated people are going to contract Covid-19 — and that includes children. I would continue to urge unvaccinated people to behave as if there is high risk to them because the pandemic is not over for those who are unvaccinated.”

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TOP 3 READS OF THE WEEK

One of the world’s strictest lockdowns is lifting, but many are scared to go back to normal life

As Britain looks to shake off the last of its coronavirus restrictions — despite an ongoing battle to contain a shape-shifting virus that continues to spin off new variants — many Britons are finding the idea of returning to the office, taking crowded public transport or grabbing a pint with friends at a busy pub overwhelming, if not terrifying, Eliza Mackintosh reports.

This week, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his plan to shift the focus away from legal requirements, toward personal responsibility for things such as social distancing and mask wearing. But he also issued a stark warning that “this pandemic is far from over,” explaining that Covid-19 cases are still rising across the United Kingdom.

It comes as more than 60,000 fans are being allowed to attend the semifinals and final of the Euro 2020 soccer championship in London under the UK government’s roadmap for allowing large crowds at events without social distancing. European lawmakers are calling it “a recipe for disaster” amid surging cases of the Delta variant.

India’s billionaires got richer while coronavirus pushed millions into poverty

India has been hobbled by an economic slump and a brutal wave of coronavirus that new research shows pushed millions of people into poverty. But as these Indians struggle to live on a few dollars a day, the country’s ultra-wealthy have gotten even richer and more influential, as their combined fortunes soared by tens of billions of dollars in the last year.

Meanwhile, thousands of people have fallen prey to an elaborate scam selling fake Covid-19 vaccines in India, with doctors and medical workers among those arrested for their involvement, authorities say.

Vaccine inequality is hurting Asia’s poor and the rest of the world

The spread of Covid in some Asian nations that had been praised for their early success in containing the virus has exposed the gaps in their vaccination rollouts, affecting vulnerable migrant workers who work long hours in close quarters to support families back home. Mass outbreaks in major businesses are putting pressure on the workforce and straining the supply of goods, just as demand is increasing around the world, Jessie Yeung and Kocha Olarn report.

TOP TIP

Why Covid-19 outbreaks in countries using Chinese vaccines don’t necessarily mean the shots have failed

In Mongolia, hospitals are overwhelmed. In the tiny archipelago of the Seychelles, more than 100 new Covid-19 cases are being reported each day. And in Chile, a nationwide lockdown was lifted this week — but the country is still reporting thousands of daily cases. What links these countries is that they have each fully inoculated more than 50% of their populations, largely with Chinese-made coronavirus shots. And that’s raised questions over the vaccines’ efficacy.

Read why experts say that while Chinese vaccines might not be as effective as some, they’re not a failure. No vaccine gives 100% protection against Covid-19, so breakthrough cases are to be expected.

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