More than half of all European adults are now fully vaccinated, the European Union said, but the milestone came as countries around the world battle new outbreaks attributed to the fast-spreading Delta variant.
The EU said on Thursday that 200 million Europeans had been fully vaccinated, more than half of the adult population, but still below the 70 percent target set for the summer.
The new data came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said cases in her country were increasing “exponentially” and urged more Germans to take hits.
“The number of infections has risen again for a few days, with a clear and, in my opinion, worrying momentum. It’s all driven by the Delta variant of the coronavirus, ”he told a news conference in Berlin on Thursday.
Germany has experienced an incidence rate of 12.2 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days, more than double the rates in early July.
“With an incidence rate on the rise, we may need to introduce additional measures,” he said.
Germany joins several European nations that have seen an increase in cases in recent weeks driven by the Delta variant, first detected in India.
The head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, warned of growing economic uncertainty caused by the Delta variant, as the bank kept its vast stimulus for the eurozone firmly in place following a meeting of its 25-member governing council.
“The euro zone economy is recovering strongly,” Lagarde said, but the Delta variant could slow the post-closure recovery “in services, especially tourism and hospitality,” he said.
France this week implemented new rules requiring a so-called health pass for all events or venues with more than 50 people before rolling out to restaurants, cafes and shopping malls in August.
People must show proof of vaccination or negative test to gain access, after the country reported a further increase: more than 21,000 new cases on Wednesday, the highest level since early May.
The Italian government, which also seeks to contain a further increase in coronavirus cases, announced on Thursday that starting August 6, people must present proof of immunity to access a variety of services and leisure activities.
Cases are also skyrocketing in the UK, where most restrictions were lifted this week, and on Thursday British supermarkets warned of a possible food shortage as staff were forced to isolate themselves.
Outbreaks in Asia
Meanwhile, Asian countries are experiencing some of their worst outbreaks to date., with Indonesia becoming a new global hotspot as Vietnam and Thailand face new anti-virus rules.
Indonesia has now surpassed more than 3 million COVID cases to date.
However, Jessica Washington of Al Jazeera, reporting from the capital Jakarta on Thursday said the government has been able to increase testing.
“They were able to test 200,000 people in one day, which is a remarkable improvement, yet it is still a long way from the goal of trying to test 400,000 people every day,” he said.
“Epidemiologists say that the government must act firmly because the situation continues to operate in the intensive care units of hospitals, not only in Jakarta … but throughout the country.”
In Tokyo, the Olympics were due to open on Friday after a one-year pandemic delay, but most spectators are banned and athletes, journalists and organizers are subject to strict measures against the virus.
“It is completely different from the last Games (in 1964) when the whole city was filled with a festive atmosphere,” said Michiko Fukui, an 80-year-old Tokyo resident.
South Africa fights the surge
Elsewhere, South Africa is battling an increase in infections as well. However, the vaccination campaign is progressing with a record of a quarter of a million people receiving their injections in a single day.
But so far, only 7 percent of the population has received a single dose.
South Africa is the hardest-hit country in Africa and health experts warn of a possible increase in cases after last week’s riots following the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.
“The government is really pushing for people over 35 to be registered,” Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller reported from Johannesburg.
Delta Drives US Surge
The seven-day average of new cases in the United States is up 53 percent from the previous week, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Thursday.
Some hospitals in the United States are reaching their capacity limits as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Walensky said.
The increase in cases is concentrated in the regions of the United States with the lowest vaccination rates.
Israeli prime minister urges people to get vaccinated
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday called on hundreds of thousands of citizens who have not yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus to get vaccinated, as new infections soared in recent weeks.
Just a few weeks ago, Israel lifted almost all remaining virus restrictions, but the arrival of the Delta variant has forced the government to reimpose the measures, including an interior mask mandate.
Israel’s coronavirus task force recommended partially reinstating the green pass program on Thursday, restricting access to certain events to vaccinated people, a decision likely to be approved by the Bennett government on Sunday.