BEIJING (AFP): Hundreds of thousands of people in China were in coronavirus lockdown 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 Organization 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.
At least 206 infections across China have been linked to the cluster, and the outbreak is geographically the largest in several months.
It challenges Beijing’s aggressive containment efforts which have relied on mass testing, lockdowns and swift contact tracing.
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 Centers 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, its Government said 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, with the city reported a record number of new cases the day before.
Meanwhile, Australia said Friday it would reopen borders and end lockdowns when vaccination rates reach 80%.