One day after the U.K. lifted its COVID-19 restrictions and allowed its citizens to gather maskless in bars, restaurants and night clubs, the U.S. upgraded travel warnings to urge Americans not to travel there as long as the delta variant continues to spread rapidly.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ignored the advice of hundreds of scientists and health experts in moving ahead with a full reopening on Monday, dismissing their warnings that the highly transmissible delta variant makes it too soon to end face-mask mandates and other public safety measures.
Johnson himself — 15 months removed from a serious COVID case that landed him in intensive care — has been forced to isolate after being exposed to his virus-positive health secretary, but he has allowed businesses and individuals to resume normal activities and ended mandates on face masks on public transport and in other settings.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department responded by issuing advice to U.S. travelers alerting them to increased risk of contracting COVID-19 in the U.K., along with Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Fiji and the British Virgin Islands, the Associated Press reported. Previously, all had been covered by a less severe advisory that Americans “reconsider” any travel plans.
The advisories are recommendations that are constantly being reviewed. The warning for the U.K., for example, has fluctuated between Level 3, or “reconsider travel,” and Level 4, or “do not travel,” several times this year already.
Fears about the fast-spreading delta variant sent global equity markets down sharply on Monday, although they were in recovery mode early Tuesday.
The delta variant is also pushing cases higher across the U.S. with states including Arkansas, Missouri, Florida and Nevada currently suffering serious outbreaks that are filling hospitals. The seven-day average of new cases stood at 35,035, up 198% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker.
And while hospitalizations and deaths are far below the peak levels seen earlier this year, they are also rising. The seven-day average for hospitalizations with COVID stood at 24,291 on Monday, up 43% from two weeks ago, while fatalities averaged 324, up 75% from two weeks ago.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky reportedly told Congress that the delta variant is now responsible for 83% of all COVID cases sequenced in the U.S.
Most of the new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, and President Joe Biden and his COVID team are urging such people to get their shots.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who was head of the Food and Drug Administration between 2017 and 2019 and now sits on Pfizer’s board, added his voice to the chorus on Sunday. “[F]or most people who get this delta variant, it’s going to be the most serious virus that they get in their lifetime in terms of the risk of putting them in the hospital,” Gottlieb told CBS news program “Face of a Nation.”
The CDC’s vaccine tracker shows how difficult that push has become with the numbers barely budging from day to day.
The tracker shows there are 161.4 million Americans who are fully vaccinated, equal to 48.6% of the overall population, unchanged from Monday. That means they have had two shots of the vaccines developed by Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.07% with German partner BioNTech /zigman2/quotes/214419716/composite BNTX -0.61% or Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +1.54% , or one shot of Johnson & Johnson’s /zigman2/quotes/201724570/composite JNJ -0.36% single-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca /zigman2/quotes/200304487/composite AZN -0.66% /zigman2/quotes/203048482/delayed UK:AZN -1.07% vaccine that was widely used in the U.K. and other places has not received emergency-use authorization in the U.S.
Among adults 18 and over, 59.5% are fully vaccinated and 68.3% have received at least one shot, still narrowly below the target set by Biden of having at least 70% of adults receive at least one shot by the July 4 holiday.