China outbreak spreads as WHO sounds alarm on Delta

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BEIJING (AFP) – Mushrooming outbreaks of the highly contagious Delta variant prompted China and Australia to impose stricter Covid-19 restrictions on Saturday as the WHO urged the world to quickly contain the mutation before it turns into something deadlier and draws out the pandemic.

China’s most serious surge of coronavirus infections in months spread to two more areas Saturday — Fujian province and the sprawling megacity of Chongqing.

More than 200 cases have been linked to a Delta cluster in Nanjing city where nine cleaners at an international airport tested positive, with the outbreak spanning Beijing, Chongqing and five provinces as of Saturday.

The nation where the disease first emerged has rushed to prevent the highly transmissible strain from taking root by putting more than one million people under lockdown and reinstituting mass testing campaigns.

Worldwide, coronavirus infections are once again on the upswing, with the World Health Organization announcing an 80 percent average increase over the past four weeks in five of the health agency’s six regions, a jump largely fuelled by the Delta variant.

First detected in India, it has now reached 132 countries and territories.

“Delta is a warning: it’s a warning that the virus is evolving but it is also a call to action that we need to move now before more dangerous variants emerge,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told a press conference.

He stressed that the “game plan” still works, namely physical distancing, wearing masks, hand hygiene and vaccination.

But both high- and low-income countries are struggling to gain the upper hand against Delta, with the vastly unequal sprint for shots leaving plenty of room for variants to wreak havoc and further evolve.

In Australia, where only about 14 percent of the population is jabbed, the third-largest city of Brisbane and other parts of Queensland state were to enter a snap Covid-19 lockdown Saturday as a cluster of the Delta variant bubbled into six new cases.

“The only way to beat the Delta strain is to move quickly, to be fast and to be strong,” Queensland’s Deputy Premier Steven Miles said while informing millions they will be under three days of strict stay-at-home orders.

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