Delta infections are forcing China to lock down provinces and the US to announce sweeping reforms as new infections driven by coronavirus‘s most virulent variant are wreaking havoc across the globe.
After China’s southeastern province of Fujian reported more than double the number of new local Covid-19 infections earlier this week prompting officials to quickly roll out measures including travel restrictions to halt the spread of the virus, a second city in southeastern China has seen a similar jump. The port city of Xiamen has confirmed 33 cases in the past two days. Another 59 cases have been found in Putian, about 150 kilometers (90 miles) north on the coast, where the outbreak was first detected. Xiamen has now locked down affected neighbourhoods, closed entertainment and fitness venues and cancelled group activities including those for the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival holiday. Long-distance bus service to other parts of the province has been suspended.
China has largely stopped the spread of Covid but has sporadic outbreaks. A delta variant outbreak in July and August spread to several provinces, raising concern about new and more contagious variants.
The fresh outbreak has prompted cities in other parts of the country to issue travel warnings ahead of major holidays. The travel warnings come ahead of the week-long National Day holiday starting on Oct. 1, a major tourist season, as well as a shorter Mid-Autumn Festival holiday next week.
The last outbreak in July-August, which saw strict movement restrictions in some cities, hit tourism, hospitality and transportation sectors and significantly slowed retail sales growth.
Even though all new local cases in China since Sept. 10 were reported in southeastern Fujian province only, the northeastern city of Jilin, as well as Maoming and Guangzhou in the south, have advised people against non-essential trips out of their provinces. Shanxi and Heilongjiang provinces have also made similar advisories.
The cities of Chifeng and Hohhot in the northern autonomous region of Inner Mongolia have advised residents to stay put during the holidays, while Xian in Shaanxi province told residents to avoid leaving town for unnecessary reasons.
In the US, the Delta outbreak forced the Joe Biden administration to roll out a “new action plan” plan to confront the surge. It mandates vaccines for government workers and contractors and certain health care workers, requires employees at companies with 100 or more workers to be vaccinated or tested weekly, lays the groundwork for a booster shot campaign and recommends that large venues require proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test. The plan also makes recommendations on keeping schools open.
Children at risk
With the highly contagious delta variant spreading across the US, children are filling hospital intensive care beds instead of classrooms in record numbers, more even than at the height of the pandemic. Many are too young to get the vaccine, which is available only to those 12 and over.
With millions of children returning to classrooms this month, experts say the stakes are unquestionably high.
While pediatric Covid-19 hospitalization rates are lower than those for adults, they have surged in recent weeks, reaching 0.41 per 100,000 children ages 0 to 17, compared with 0.31 per 100,000, the previous high set in mid-January, according to an August 13 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, said that the spike in cases among children very worrisome, as reported by AP.
He noted that over 400 US children have died of Covid-19 since the pandemic began. And right now we have almost 2,000 kids in the hospital, many of them in ICU, some of them under the age of 4, Collins told Fox News on Sunday.
Adults need to get the shot to protect kids
Health experts believe adults who have not gotten their shots are contributing to the surge among grownups and children alike. It has been especially bad in places with lower vaccination rates, such as parts of the South.
While it is clear the delta variant is much more contagious than the original version, scientists are not yet able to say with any certainty whether it makes people more severely ill or whether youngsters are especially vulnerable to it.
As experts work to answer those questions, many hospitals are reeling. Those in Texas are among the hardest hit. Last week, they reported 196 children being treated with confirmed Covid-19. That compares with 163 during the previous peak, in December.
At Texas Childrens Hospital in Houston, the nation’s largest pediatric hospital, the number of youngsters treated for Covid-19 is at an all-time high, said Dr. Jim Versalovic, interim pediatrician-in-chief. In recent weeks, the vast majority have had delta infections, and most patients 12 and up have not had shots.
The delta surge is yet another test for the US’s schools, which are dealing with students who fell behind academically as a result of remote learning or developed mental health problems from the upheaval.
Outbreaks have already occurred at reopened schools in the South that are facing resistance to mask-wearing.
In Texas, some school administrators are mandating masks in defiance of the governor and state Supreme Court. Among them is Michael Hinojosa of the Dallas school system, one of the states largest districts.