“The threat of COVID-19 remains,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his monthly broadcast Sunday, “and we have to focus on vaccination, as well as follow COVID-19 protocols.”
Modi encouraged Indians to get vaccinated and give up any vaccine hesitancy. He urged them to trust science and scientists in the battle against the coronavirus that has overwhelmed India.
On Sunday, India’s health ministry reported more than 50,000 new COVID-19 cases and more than 1,200 deaths.
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, India is second only to the U.S. in the number of coronavirus cases, but health officials have warned that India’s case numbers are likely significantly undercounted.
Johns Hopkins said Sunday that the U.S. has 33.6 million infections, while India has 30.2 million. Brazil follows with 18.3 million cases. The global count for cases is 180.8 million.
The delta variant of the coronavirus is sending Australia, New Zealand and Bangladesh into some form of lockdown, along with parts of Portugal. Even Israel, where more than half of the population is vaccinated, is reimposing a mask mandate in enclosed public places.
The variant, which was first discovered in India, has been identified in at least 85 countries and “is the most transmissible of the variants identified so far … and is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated populations,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday.
Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, on Saturday began a two-week lockdown because of the growing number of cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The delta variant is to blame for the first lockdown in Sydney since December. Stay-at-home orders will also apply to other areas in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state.
New Zealand, because of the Australian outbreaks, is suspending quarantine-free travel between the two neighbors for three days. On Monday, Bangladesh will enter a national lockdown for a week, with people allowed to leave their homes only for medical reasons.
The delta variant is also behind a surge in cases in Russia. On Saturday, St. Petersburg, which will host the quarter-final of the Euro 2020 matches Friday, announced 107 COVID-19 deaths, a daily record for the city since the pandemic began.
The variant is also prompting alarm across Africa, where cases rose 25% in a week.
"We are in the exponential phase of the pandemic with the numbers just growing very, very, extremely fast," virologist Tulio de Oliveira said, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, health officials say the delta variant of the coronavirus has its own variant, called delta plus. It has emerged in almost a dozen countries, including India, the United States, and the U.K. Authorities fear delta plus may be more contagious than the delta variant. Scientists are just beginning to study the new strain.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.