Spain's Catalonia reimposes virus rules as Delta strain wreaks global havoc

·3-min read

The Spanish region of Catalonia was on Saturday set to reimpose virus restrictions in the face of rising coronavirus infections, as the highly contagious Delta strain forced nations worldwide to put the brakes on a long-awaited return to normalcy.

The highly transmissible Delta variant, first detected in India, is sweeping the globe as countries race to inoculate their populations to ward off fresh outbreaks that are increasingly affecting the unvaccinated young.

After an "exponential" rise in cases in recent days, officials in the autonomous region in the northeast of Spain said they had no choice but to reimpose restrictions.

Nightclubs will be closed as of this weekend and a negative Covid-19 test or proof of vaccination will be needed to take part in outdoor activities involving more than 500 people.

"The pandemic has not ended, the new variants are very contagious and we still have significant segments of the population that are not vaccinated," Patricia Plaja, a spokeswoman for the regional government told a news conference.

Also set to reimpose controls Saturday is the Netherlands, where infections rose sevenfold in one week, a surge officials have blamed on the Delta variant.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte ordered the closure of all nightclubs and the curbing of restaurant hours, with visitors to eateries now required to adhere to a 1.5-metre social distancing rule.

But the new measures did not mean the Netherlands would return to a lockdown or curfew as in previous months, and Rutte promised the Dutch people could still enjoy a "beautiful summer".

- Struggling to cope -

Officials were equally optimistic despite a surge of cases in Thailand, which will impose a 9 pm to 4 am curfew on Bangkok and nine other provinces Monday to stem a severe third wave of infections that kicked off in April.

"We apologise for difficulties of people living in areas with maximum restrictions, but this will support disease control efficiently. Thailand will be victorious," said Apisamai Srirangson, assistant spokeswoman for the task force.

Residents will also be barred from gathering in groups of more than five people, while public transport networks will shut down from 9 pm each night. Supermarkets, restaurants, banks, pharmacies and electronics stores within malls can stay open but other shops must close.

Farther south, the Delta virus is wreaking havoc in badly-hit Indonesia, where emergency supplies arrived from Singapore Friday as the country reports hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of cases daily.

Hospitals are struggling to cope, with many now refusing new patients, leaving scores to die at home, while desperate relatives hunt for oxygen tanks to treat the sick.

Nearly 1,000 Indonesian medical workers have died of Covid-19, including more than a dozen who were already fully inoculated, according to the country's medical association.

Authorities said Friday that medics would be given a third booster jab using the vaccine made by US company Moderna, to provide them extra protection.

- Vaccine politics -

Despite the slow resumption of activities in the United States and parts of Europe, the virus continues to wage devastation everywhere from Africa to South America, exposing crucial vaccine supply shortages for some of the world's most vulnerable and accelerating efforts to expand access.

Senegal, the EU, the United States, several European governments and other partners, signed an accord in Dakar on Friday to finance vaccine production in the West African state.

And Cuba approved its home-grown Abdala vaccine for emergency use, the first Latin American coronavirus jab to do so and a possible lifeline for a region trying to battle a killer pandemic with modest means.

High vaccination rates may be the only way to stem the spread of the Delta variant, according to a panel of scientists advising the French government, who have warned that as many as 95 percent of people might need to receive jabs before the strain is under control.