HONG KONG — Hong Kong says it will ban all passenger flights from the U.K. starting Thursday as it seeks to curb the spread of new variants of the coronavirus.
It said in a statement Monday that the U.K. has been classified as “extremely high risk“ because of the “recent rebound of the epidemic situation in the U.K. and the widespread delta variant virus strain there.”
Under the classification, people who have stayed in the U.K. for more than two hours will be restricted from boarding passenger flights to Hong Kong.
It is the second time that the Hong Kong government has banned flights from the U.K., following a restriction imposed last December.
The ban comes amid heightened tensions between the U.K. and China over semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which was a British colony until it was handed over to China in 1997.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC
— Australia battles variant clusters; Sydney and Darwin are in lockdown
— Portugal and Spain announce new restrictions on travelers from Britain
— Bangkok, 9 provinces restrict movements to curb rising cases
— As variant rises, U.S. vaccine plan targets ‘movable middle’
— Bruce Springsteen marks the return of live shows on Broadway
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus is proceeding with the voluntary vaccination against COVID-19 of 16- and 17 year-olds after data showed that nearly 30% of all new infections are among socially active youths 18 and under.
Cyprus’ Health Ministry said on Monday that the teenagers will be vaccinated with mRNA-based shots such as those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.
Vaccination appointments will be made through an online platform and permission forms will be required from parents or guardians.
The ministry said scientific data shows that the characteristics of the virus found among adolescents, including symptoms and transmission, are identical to those found among adults.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece will give young adults 150 euros ($180) in credit to get vaccinated as it launches a two-tier access policy over the summer.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Monday that starting July 15, Greek citizens under age 26 would be eligible for the credit in a digital wallet after receiving the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccination.
“We hope that young people will take advantage of this opportunity,” Mitsotakis said in a televised speech.
Heavily reliant on tourism, Greece is looking for ways to fully reopen its economy after recently making the vaccination available to all adult age groups.
PORTUGAL — Spain and Portugal have placed new restrictions on U.K. travelers.
Portugal says they must go into quarantine for two weeks unless they have proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 finished 14 days earlier. The policy took effect Monday. The government says people can quarantine at home or in a place stipulated by Portuguese health authorities. Arrivals from Brazil, India and South Africa come under the same rule.
All others entering Portugal must show either the European Union’s COVID Digital Certificate or a negative PCR test.
In Spain, beginning Thursday, people arriving from the U.K. in the Balearic Islands will have to show they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a negative PCR test.
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia was battling to contain several COVID-19 clusters around the country on Monday in what some experts have described as the nation’s most dangerous stage of the pandemic since the earliest days.
Sydney in the east and Darwin in the north were locked down on Monday. Perth in the west made masks compulsory for three days and warned a lockdown could follow after a resident tested positive after visiting Sydney more than a week ago.
Brisbane and Canberra have or will soon make wearing masks compulsory. South Australia state announced new statewide restrictions beginning Tuesday.
Australia has been relatively successful in containing clusters throughout the pandemic, registering fewer than 31,000 cases since the pandemic began. But the new clusters have highlighted the nation’s slow vaccine rollout with only 5% of the population fully vaccinated.
Most of the new cases stem from a Sydney limousine driver who tested positive on June 16 to the delta variant, which is thought to be more contagious. He was not vaccinated, reportedly did not wear a mask and is suspected to have been infected while transporting a foreign air crew from Sydney Airport.
MADRID - Spain’s prime minister says arrivals from the United Kingdom in the Balearic Islands will have to show they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or a negative PCR test.
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told Cadena SER radio on Monday that the measure would be introduced Thursday to give tour group operators and travelers time to adapt to the new rule.
Britain last week added the Mediterranean islands, which include Mallorca and Ibiza, to its “green” list of safe travel destinations amid pressure from airlines and travel companies to relax COVID-19 restrictions.
Southern European Union countries are keen for British holidaymakers to visit and help their tourism-based economies recover from the economic consequences of the epidemic, but a U.K. surge in infections due to the delta variant has made them wary.
MADRID -- Authorities on the Spanish Mediterranean island of Mallorca are restricting hundreds of visiting high-school students to their hotels after class vacations to mark the end of the academic year turned into a major COVID-19 outbreak.
Officials say more than 800 COVID-19 cases in eight regions across mainland Spain have been traced back to the Mallorca outbreak, which started last week.
Scores of infected teens are still on Mallorca. Some are being kept in their hotel rooms, others have been moved to a hotel being used by local authorities for the isolation of those with mild symptoms or suspected cases. Nine have mild symptoms and are in a local hospital as a precaution.
Mallorca health authorities carried out mass testing on hundreds of students after the outbreak became clear. It is believed to have spread as hundreds of partying students gathered at a concert and street parties.
BANGKOK — Health authorities in Thailand on Monday announced 5,406 new COVID-19 cases, as the country struggles with how to cope with new coronavirus variants and contain its rapid spread around the capital Bangkok and in southern provinces.
Nine of the new cases were in prisoners, while the others among the general public marked a record high for that category of patients.
Thailand has had 249,853 confirmed COVID cases since the pandemic began last year, more than 88% occurring in the third wave of the coronavirus that started this April. Twenty-two related deaths announced Monday brought the total deaths to 1,934, 95% in the third wave.
Health officials also announced they have found Bangkok’s first case of the beta variant, which originated in South Africa. The patient was a worker in a Bangkok market whose son came up from the southern province of Narathiwat to visit him. The beta variant is believed to have entered Thailand from Malaysia.
Random testing of virus samples by Thailand’s Department of Medical Sciences from April to June found that 86.3% were the alpha variant from Britain, 12.3% were the delta variant from India and 1.4% were the beta variant
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has reintroduced tough restrictions including a ban on alcohol sales and an extended nightly curfew as it fights a fast-increasing surge of COVID-19 cases.
President Cyril Ramaphosa says the delta variant that was first discovered in India appears to be driving South Africa’s new increase.
South Africa recorded more than 15,000 new cases Sunday including 122 deaths. That brings its total fatalities to near 60,000.
The country’s most populous province of Gauteng has the brunt of the current surge accounting for about 66% of new infections. The province includes the largest city Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.
Health authorities are concerned that the country’s eight other provinces are likely to soon see spikes in cases to match those in Gauteng, where hospitals are running short of COVID-19 beds and patients are being taken to health facilities in other provinces. Neighboring Zimbabwe, Namibia and Mozambique are also fighting growing numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — A Malaysian state says it will ease lockdown restrictions, despite the federal government’s move to extend a nation-wide lockdown indefinitely to curb the pandemic.
Hajiji Noor, chief minister of Sabah state on Borneo island, says more sectors including rubber, timber and furniture factories will be allowed to reopen from Tuesday. He says dine-in will also be allowed at restaurants and hotels, hair salons can operate and sports that do not involve physical contact such as golf and fishing can resume. But he said in a statement Monday that other restrictions will remain in place.
State governments have jurisdiction over the lockdown implementation. Sabah is the only state so far that has decided to loosen curbs.
Just a day earlier, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the national lockdown, imposed since June 1, will continue until daily infections fall below 4,000 and 6% of the population has been vaccinated.
PARIS — The government of Luxembourg says Prime Minister Xavier Bettel has tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation for 10 days.
A statement Sunday on the government website said Bettel’s symptoms are mild, including a fever and headaches, and that he will continue to work, remotely.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s capital did not record any new coronavirus cases on Sunday, officials said.
Just a few months ago, Bucharest’s intensive care units were stretched to maximum capacity as its 14-day accumulative infection rate topped 7 per 1,000 inhabitants. Now the capital’s infection rate — the same as the country as a whole — stands at just 0.05 per 1,000 inhabitants.
“Bucharest has the highest vaccination rate in the country,” Prime Minister Florin Citu wrote online Sunday. “Also in Bucharest, in the last 24 hours we had 0 (!!!) infected people with SARS-COV2. Vaccination is the only solution to overcome the pandemic.”
Romania’s vaccination drive has seen nearly 9 million vaccine doses administered in the country of more than 19 million, but there are now concerns as daily vaccine doses administered have slowed dramatically and just 23% of the country’s population is fully inoculated against COVID-19.
Since the pandemic, more than 33,000 have died.
ROME — Italian health and regional officials are urging people to leave for vacation only after they are vaccinated, as the delta variant of COVID-19 is becoming more prevalent in the country.
Virus experts in Italy are sounding warnings that the virus with that variant is more transmissible and less sensitive to COVID-19 antibodies.
Italians in some places are increasingly not showing up for their second vaccine dose, or even keeping first-dose appointments, as holiday season gears up.
Gov. Vincenzo De Luca of the Campania region, which includes Naples, is warning that if the metropolis’ vaccination rate doesn’t improve, a new lockdown could be ordered after summer.
So far, about 30% of people in Italy have completed COVID-19 vaccination.
In the nation of 60 million people, doctors are particularly worried about the 2.7 million persons older than 60 who haven’t signed up to receive a first dose.
TOKYO — Tokyo’s governor, who has taken time off due to severe fatigue, needs to rest several more days this week, the metropolitan government said Sunday, as experts warn a resurgence of the infections less than a month before the capital city hosts the Olympics.
Gov. Yuriko Koike has been resting since last Wednesday due to severe fatigue. Tokyo metropolitan officials said she will be off several more days. She has been deeply involved with preparations for the Olympics and Paralympics as well as leading the capital’s coronavirus response. Officials refused to confirm media reports that Koike has been hospitalized.
After a 1-year postponement, the Olympics will begin on July 23. Last week, Olympic officials decided to allow the public to attend the Games, though caps were set on spectators. Health experts have expressed deep concern the Games could cause the virus to surge in the Tokyo region.
Japan last week eased a state of emergency in most other areas, but daily new cases have already been rising back in Tokyo.
Tokyo on Sunday reported 386 new cases, up from 376 a week earlier as the capital makes a week-on-week increase for a eighth consecutive day. Japan had 14,657 deaths amid the pandemic.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s new prime minister is urging the country’s youth to get vaccinated as coronavirus case numbers have crept up in recent days due to a localized outbreak of the delta variant.
Naftali Bennett’s comments came at a meeting of the government Sunday in Jerusalem.
“We don’t want to impose any restrictions: not on parties, on trips or anything like that. But specifically because of this, if you don’t want restrictions, go get vaccinated today. Talk to your parents and get vaccinated,” he said.
Israel reinstated a mask mandate indoors amid a rise in new infections in the past week. Israel’s Health Ministry recorded 113 new coronavirus cases Saturday.
The prime minister also says the government has appointed a special director in charge of managing the country’s border crossings — with particular emphasis on Israel’s main international airport — and preventing the spread of the coronavirus and other diseases.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization lamented the lack of coronavirus vaccines being immediately donated by rich countries to the developing world.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday that there was nothing to discuss during a recent meeting of an advisory group established to allocate vaccines.
In his words: “There are no vaccines to allocate.”
Tedros says concerns being raised by some donors that African countries don’t have the infrastructure to deliver vaccines or that there are vaccine hesitancy problems are inconsequential. He criticized rich countries that may be using that as a “pretext” not to donate vaccines.
GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization said the COVID-19 variant first seen in India, also known as the delta variant, is “the most transmissible of the variants identified so far” and that it is now spreading in at least 85 countries.
At a press briefing, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the U.N. agency was concerned about it’s the increasing reach of the delta variant, particularly among unvaccinated populations.
“We are starting to see increases in transmission around the world,” Tedros said, adding that “more cases means more hospitalizations ... which increases the risk of death.”
WHO has previously said that two doses of the licensed COVID-19 vaccines appear to provide strong protection against the variant first seen in India, but warned the lack of access to vaccines in poor countries — which have received fewer than 2% of the billion doses administered so far — makes them extremely vulnerable.
Tedros also said the unchecked circulation of the coronavirus could lead to the emergence of even more variants.
“That’s what viruses do. They evolve,” he said. “But we can prevent the emergence of variants by preventing transmission.”