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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 rapidly 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 short of the 70 percent target for the summer.
The new data came as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said cases in her country were increasing “exponentially” and she urged more Germans to get shots.
“For the past few days, the number of infections has been rising again, with a clear and, in my opinion, worrying momentum. The whole thing is powered by the Delta variant of the coronavirus,” she said at a press conference in Berlin on Thursday.
Germany has seen an incidence of 12.2 new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days – more than double that of early July.
“With a rising incidence, we may need to take additional measures,” she said.
Germany joins a number of European countries that have seen cases rise in recent weeks, spurred by the Delta variant, which was first discovered in India.
The head of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, warned of the growing economic uncertainty resulting from the Delta variant, as the bank held onto its huge stimulus for the eurozone after a meeting of its 25-member board of directors.
“The euro area economy is recovering strongly,” Lagarde said, but the Delta variant could dampen the post-lockdown recovery “in services, especially in tourism and hospitality.”
France introduced new rules this week requiring a so-called health pass for all events or places with more than 50 people before expanding to restaurants, cafes and shopping centers in August.
People must show proof of vaccination or a negative test to gain entry, after the country reported another rise – more than 21,000 new cases on Wednesday, the highest level since early May.
The Italian government, which is also looking for a new wave of coronavirus cases, announced on Thursday that from August 6, people will have to present proof of immunity to access a range of services and leisure activities.
Cases are also rising in the UK, where most restrictions were lifted this week, and on Thursday UK supermarkets warned of possible food shortages as staff were forced to self-isolate.
Outbreaks in Asia
Meanwhile, countries in Asia are seeing some of their worst outbreaks yet, with Indonesia becoming a new global hotspot as Vietnam and Thailand face new antivirus regulations.
Indonesia has surpassed more than 3 million COVID cases so far.
However, Al Jazeera’s Jessica Washington report from the capital Jakarta said on Thursday the government has been able to ramp up testing.
“They were able to test 200,000 individuals in one day, which is a marked improvement, but still a long way from the goal of testing 400,000 people every day,” she said.
“Epidemiologists say the government needs to take strong action as the situation in hospital intensive care units continues to deteriorate, not just in Jakarta… but across the country.”
In Tokyo, the Olympics were set to open on Friday after a one-year pandemic delay, but spectators have mostly been banned and athletes, journalists and organizers are subject to strict virus measures.
“It’s completely different from the last Games (in 1964) when the whole city was in a festive mood,” said 80-year-old Tokyo resident Michiko Fukui.
South Africa struggles with golf
Elsewhere, South Africa is also struggling with a wave of infections. However, the vaccination campaign is progressing with a record quarter of a million people getting their shots in one day.
But so far, only 7 percent of the population has even received a single dose.
South Africa is the worst-hit country in Africa and health experts warn of a possible rise in cases following the unrest last week following the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma.
“The government is really pushing for the registration of people over the age of 35,” Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller reported from Johannesburg.
Delta drives US rise
The seven-day average of new cases in the United States is 53 percent higher than the previous week, Rochelle Walensky, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday.
Some hospitals in the United States are reaching capacity limits as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, Walensky said.
The increase in the number of cases is concentrated in regions of the United States with lower vaccination rates.
Israeli PM urges people to get vaccinated
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday called on hundreds of thousands of citizens who have not yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus to receive the shot as new infections have risen rapidly 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 reintroduce measures, including an indoor mask mandate.
Israel’s coronavirus task force has recommended that the green pass program be partially reintroduced on Thursday, restricting access to certain events to vaccinated people, a decision likely to be approved by Bennett’s government on Sunday.
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