The highly contagious Delta variant is surging in countries around the world, from Indonesia to parts of Europe, leading governments to reimpose restrictions just weeks after they had taken steps to return to ordinary life.
The latest example is Portugal, which on Friday will impose a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. in Lisbon, Porto and other popular tourism spots, reversing course after it had reopened its economy to prepare for summer travelers.
Scientists believe that the Delta variant may be twice as transmissible as the original strain of the coronavirus. But in countries where high percentages of the population have been vaccinated, the outlook is encouraging, with death tolls and hospitalization numbers remaining low. The vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have been found to be effective against the Delta variant.
In Portugal, 34 percent of people are fully vaccinated, compared with about 46 percent in the United States, according to Our World In Data.
Portugal’s new curfews are designed to discourage gatherings of younger people at night, said Mariana Vieira da Silva, a cabinet minister. “This is a time to follow the rules, avoid gatherings, avoid parties and seek to contain the numbers,” she said.
The curfews apply in 19 municipalities ranked as having a “very elevated risk” of Covid-19 and a further 26 with an “elevated risk.” On Thursday, Portugal reported almost 2,500 new cases, the highest daily rise since mid-February, although cases have remained far below its January peak of more 16,000 per day.
In early June, cases in the country had remained so consistently low that Britain allowed its residents to visit without having to quarantine on return. But the day after that announcement was made, London jolted Portugal by downgrading it over concerns about the Delta variant.
London’s decisions were especially significant because Portugal is a popular destination for British tourists, including many who are eager to visit after a year of pandemic lockdowns. The abrupt change in travel rules prompted thousands of tourists in Portugal to catch early flights back to Britain ahead of a quarantine deadline.
The reversal in early June came less than a week after thousands of English soccer fans had visited Porto, in northern Portugal, to watch the final of the Champions League soccer tournament with no quarantine requirement.
Britain is also facing a surge in Delta cases, although its number of death remains low and hospital occupancy is rising much more slowly than in previous waves of the pandemic. As in Portugal, most of Britain’s new cases are among people under 30, and public health officials say that vaccinating younger people is critical to preventing new outbreaks.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is effective against the highly contagious Delta variant, even eight months after inoculation, the company reported on Thursday — a reassuring finding for the 11 million Americans who have gotten the shot.
The vaccine showed a small drop in potency against the variant, compared with its effectiveness against the original virus, the company said. But the vaccine was more effective against the Delta variant than the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa — the pattern also seen with mRNA vaccines like those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Antibodies stimulated by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine grow in strength over time, researchers also reported.
The results were described in a news release, and the company said that both studies had been submitted for online publication on Thursday. One of those studies has been accepted for publication in a scientific journal. Both studies are small, and the researchers said they had released the results early because of high interest from the public.
The intense discourse about Delta’s threat has left even people who are vaccinated feeling anxious about whether they are protected. The variant, first identified in India, is much more transmissible than earlier versions of the virus, and its global spread has prompted new restrictions from Ireland to Malaysia.
In the United States, the variant now accounts for one in four new cases. Public health officials had said the vaccines authorized in the United States worked against all existing variants, but the data was mostly based on studies of the mRNA vaccines.
That left some people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine asking, What about us?
The frustration was building even before the Delta variant emerged. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance that vaccinated people could forgo masks indoors in many situations was based mostly on data for the mRNA vaccines. And reports of a cluster of cases among players on the Yankees baseball team who had received the Johnson & Johnson shot did nothing to assuage fears that the vaccine was inferior.
Some people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine said that they felt cheated by experts who had said the vaccines were equally good. “I was surprised to see others making this claim,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida. “I didn’t like it. People don’t want to feel misled.”
Some experts said the clinical trials should have made it apparent earlier that the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was lower than that of the mRNA vaccines. “Seventy-two percent is of course lower than 95 or 94 percent,” said Florian Krammer, an immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Updates on the efficacy of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine have been slowbecause it was rolled out later than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in the United States.
When the fire alarm went off at a hotel in central Taiwan on Wednesday evening, Chen Chien-kuang, a 59-year-old missionary, immediately thought of escaping. But he was one of 29 people in coronavirus quarantine inside the hotel and worried about breaking the rules, which required those in quarantine to stay inside their rooms.
“I don’t know whether I can go out or not. I’m afraid that we will be fined if we go out,” Mr. Chen said in a video he took and sent to his son, which was released by the local news media and confirmed by his wife’s brother, Chen Yi-sa. “But if we don’t go, will we die in the fire,” he said.
Mr. Chen was among four people who died — three guests in quarantine and one firefighter — in the blaze, which has renewed concerns over the safety of Taiwan’s quarantine facilities and the wisdom of using hotels for the purpose. More than 20 people were injured.
The owner and manager of the Passion Fruit Hotel, which occupied three floors of a 15-story building in the central city of Changhua, told people to remain inside their rooms when the alarm sounded. At first he said that it was a false alarm, according to the video sent by Mr. Chen.
After the fire, the owner, Tsai Chin-feng, told the local news media that he had believed the building’s fire doors could withstand heavy smoke and keep the people inside safe. In a brief telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Tsai said he had not meant to put his guests at risk.
“We asked people to stay inside for the sake of safety,” Mr. Tsai said. “My intention was definitely not to let them fend for themselves.” He declined to comment further.
It took firefighters more than nine hours to extinguish the fire, the cause of which has not been determined. A spokesperson for Changhua County fire department said that building’s most recent fire safety inspection in May had turned up no violations.
The hotel, which was constructed in 1993, was previously a shopping center and arcade. But it suffered at least three earlier fires and sat mostly vacant for years. In 2018, investors renovated the building and reopened it, according to the Changhua government.
A spokesperson for Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center told a news conference on Thursday that people would not be fined for violating quarantine rules if they faced “special circumstances” such as fires or earthquakes.
With just a few days to go, there is no longer much doubt that the United States will fall just short of President Biden’s goal to have 70 percent of adults at least partly vaccinated against the coronavirus by Independence Day.
It was always more of a rhetorical deadline than a practical one: It doesn’t make much difference exactly what the national figure will be on July 4 (probably 67 or 68 percent) or which day the national odometer will roll past 70 percent (perhaps around mid-month). The point was to give the public something to shoot for, to keep up the pace of progress.
That progress has hardly been uniform. Some parts of the country have embraced vaccination avidly, others diffidently and some grudgingly — just as happened with precautions like mask-wearing, social distancing, and school and business closures.
Here is a rundown of which states have led the way and which have lagged, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tracked by The New York Times:
Over the goal line
Twenty states, Washington, D.C., and two territories exceeded the 70 percent threshold by Thursday, three days ahead of Mr. Biden’s target date.
Twelve are in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, including Vermont, the national leader, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
California, Oregon and Washington have surpassed 70 percent, as has Hawaii.
The other four states that have cleared 70 percent are Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota and New Mexico, along with the territories of Puerto Rico and Guam.
Close but not quite
Fourteen states, mainly in the Midwest and Southwest, were between 60 and 65 percent on Thursday. Two of the nation’s most populous states are in this group: Florida at 65 percent and Texas at 61 percent.
The remaining 16 states, including nearly the whole South, were below 60 percent, with Mississippi in last at 46 percent.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia has outlined a Covid exit plan that will include the end of lockdowns and travel restrictions for vaccinated residents, but it’s not clear when those things will come to pass.
Many people remain locked at home, lamenting canceled vacations or missed weddings and funerals, while businesses have once again been thrown into uncertainty and deeper debt. What’s worse, the transition plan will be slow going because vaccination rollout continues to be constrained.
Even as people in the country follow the daily news conferences and numbers of new Covid cases; even as they call again and again to schedule vaccinations, if they are even eligible, many can’t help but think: It didn’t need to be like this.
With a different bet on a different vaccines a few months ago by the government, with more diversification of options, more people would be vaccinated by now and the more contagious Delta variant would not be moving as quickly through the population — nor would it be as frightening.
Yet looking ahead, although there is a need for stamina, there is also reason for hope.