The World Health Organization is emphasizing its position that even fully vaccinated people should continue to wear face masks in public given the risk presented by the delta variant of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19, which is currently racing across the world.
“People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products, told reporters last week.
WHO officials have said the delta variant, now present in 92 countries, has the potential to become more lethal than others, because of the ease with which it is transmitted. The agency’s stance on face masks puts it at odds with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has dropped that requirement as more Americans are vaccinated and cases fall.
Some experts are warning, however, that even with the progress the U.S. vaccine program has achieved under President Joe Biden, there is still a long way to go before people should let their guard down.
The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that 153.8 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 46.3% of the overall population. That means they have received two shots of Pfizer PFE, -0.05% and German partner BioNTech’s BNTX, -0.17% vaccine or the similar one developed by Moderna MRNA, +5.17%, or a single shot of Johnson & Johnson’s JNJ, +0.01% one-shot regimen. The AstraZeneca AZN, +0.18% AZN, +0.09% vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.
Among adults 18-year-and-older, 57% are fully vaccinated, while 66.1% have received at least one dose.
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Individual communities are recommending, though not mandating, the use of face masks in public spaces, including Los Angeles County, where officials are suggesting people wear masks when inside grocery or retail stores as well as at theaters and family entertainment centers and in workplaces when people’s vaccination statuses are not known, as the Associated Press reported.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday urged residents to get vaccinated and to stick with face masks, the Chicago Sun-Times reported from an event at which Pritzker wore a face covering himself, “out of an abundance of caution.”
The delta variant continues to drive lockdowns around the world with Bangladesh and Malaysia now among the Asian countries imposing restrictions on movement, the New York Times reported. In Australia, four major cities are locked down, namely Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Darwin.
In Europe, the variant accounted for 36% of cases recorded in Germany in the week to June 20, up from 15% the previous week, Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute public health agency told officials, as reported by Reuters.
Officials have warned that delta could account for 90% of cases in Europe by August. The variant is already dominant in the U.K., where it accounts for 99% of new cases. However, hospitalizations and deaths have remained low in the country, which has vaccinated more than 80% of the adult population with at least one dose, as MarketWatch’s Callum Keown reported.
Two studies conducted by Public Health England concluded earlier this month that a double dose of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer significant protection against the Delta variant, cutting the risk of hospitalization by 96% and 92% respectively.
The spread in the U.K., which recorded 22,868 new cases on Monday, has led Hong Kong to ban all flights from the country, designating it an “extremely high-risk” destination.
Israel, another country that has led the way with its vaccination program, has reported surging infections in the past two weeks — rising from 206 active cases on June 14 to 1,254 on Monday, according to The Times of Israel. However, Israel has recorded just one death in that period, with severe cases also falling from 30 to 22.
The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness headed above 181.5 million on Tuesday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while deaths climbed above 3.93 million.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases at 33.6 million, and by deaths that total 604,204.
India is second in total cases at 30.3 million and third by fatalities at 397,637, although those numbers are expected to be undercounted given a shortage of tests.
Brazil has the third-highest caseload at 18.4 million, according to JHU data, and is second in deaths at 514,092.
Mexico has fourth-highest death toll at 232,608 and 2.5 million cases.
In Europe, Russia has overtaken the U.K. by deaths. Russia has 132,314 fatalities, while the U.K. has 128,390, making Russia the country with the fifth-highest death toll in the world and highest in Europe.
China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 103,746 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.