Countries across Europe are scrambling to accelerate coronavirus vaccinations and outpace the spread of the more infectious delta variant, in a high-stakes race to prevent hospital wards from filling up again with patients fighting for their lives.
The urgency coincides with Europe’s summer holiday months, with fair weather bringing more social gatherings and governments reluctant to clamp down on them. Physical distancing is commonly neglected, especially among the young, and some countries are scrapping the requirement to wear masks outdoors.
Incentives for people to get shots include free groceries, travel and entertainment vouchers, and prize drawings. The president of Cyprus even appealed to a sense of patriotism.
The risk of infection from the delta variant is “high to very high” for partially or unvaccinated communities, according to the European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC), which monitors 30 countries on the continent. It estimates that by the end of August, the variant will account for 90 per cent of cases in the European Union.
“It is very important to progress with the vaccine rollout at a very high pace,” the ECDC warned.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is also concerned. The variant makes transmission growth “exponential,” according to Maria Van Kerkhove, its technical lead on COVID-19.
Daily new case numbers are already climbing sharply in countries like the United Kingdom, Portugal and Russia.
In some countries, the virus is spreading much faster among younger people. In Spain, the national 14-day case notification rate per 100,000 people rose to 152 on Friday. But for the 20-29 age group, it shot up to 449.
Those numbers have triggered alarm across the continent.
The Dutch government is extending its vaccination program to those aged 12-17 to help head off a feared new surge. Greece is offering young adults 150 euros ($219 Cdn) in credit after their first jab. Rome authorities are mulling the use of vans to vaccinate people at the beach. And Poland last week launched a lottery open only to adults who are fully vaccinated, with new cars among the prizes.
Portuguese authorities have extended the hours of vaccination centres, created new walk-in clinics, called up armed forces personnel to help run operations, and reduced the period between taking the two doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine from 12 weeks to eight weeks.
“We’re in a race against the clock,” Cabinet Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said.
The emerging variants have shone a light on the unprecedented scale of the immunization programs. The ECDC says that in the countries it surveys, 61 per cent of people over 18 have had one shot and 40 per cent are completely vaccinated.
What’s happening across Canada
As of 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had reported 1,416,661 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 6,256 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 26,348. More than 38 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far across the country.
In British Columbia, 78.5 per cent of eligible residents have been administered their first COVID-19 vaccine shot. About 33 per cent of those eligible have received a second dose.
In the Prairies, Saskatchewan logged 49 new COVID-19 cases and Manitoba added 48 and an additional death on Saturday, while in Alberta, demand for first shots has stagnated over the past two weeks.
Ontario registered 209 new cases and nine additional deaths on Saturday.
Starting Monday at 8 a.m., residents 12 to 17 years old will be eligible to book an appointment to receive their second shot of Pfizer through the provincial booking system. They must wait 28 days between doses, as recommended by the Ontario health ministry.
In Quebec, operating hours of the Olympic Stadium vaccination clinic in Montreal will be extended on July 5 given the nearby screening of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final, which will be played at the Bell Centre. People who wish to get vaccinated at the site can do so from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Monday.
In Prince Edward Island, more than 82 per cent of eligible residents have been administered their first vaccine dose, with just under 24 per cent fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the main drag of Newfoundland and Labrador’s capital city is now open to pedestrians only, as St. John’s has reopened a pedestrian mall along Water Street downtown. Businesses have built patios stretching across the sidewalk and onto the road where patrons can dine, shop and drink.
St. John’s city council introduced the pedestrian mall last year as a way to encourage people to stay outdoors safely during the pandemic.
In the North, Yukon health officials are now reducing the number of visitors to long-term care homes as the territory records 31 infections over the past two days. Nunavut reported 10 new infections; and in the Northwest Territories, mask requirements and appointments at many Yellowknife institutions — such as the public library and pools — will be lifted on Monday.
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday, more than 183.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University in the United States. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.9 million.
In Africa, South Africa registered more than 24,000 cases on Friday, its highest tally of new infections since the pandemic began.
In Asia, Malaysia will ease a coronavirus lockdown in five states next week in a bid to allow a quicker reopening of its economy.
In the Americas, protests against President Jair Bolsonaro spread across Brazil on Saturday, a day after a Supreme Court justice authorized a criminal investigation into his response to allegations of corruption involving a vaccine deal.