Delta COVID Variant Concerns Delay Israel Reopening to Travelers

Israel's plan to reopen its borders to vaccinated tourists on July 1 has been delayed as an increased number of outbreaks attributed to the more-contagious delta variant of COVID-19 raise concerns over further spread of the virus, the Associated Press reported.

Israel began allowing groups of vaccinated tourists to enter in May, provided they were tested before boarding flights to Israel and had proof of vaccination.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel's tourism industry suffered as a result of lockdowns, and the country was hoping for some recovery by opening its borders.

An increase in infections over the past week made government officials delay the opening, pushing it back a month to August 1. There were 110 new coronavirus cases in the past day recorded by Israel's Health Ministry.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Israel vaccine
A medic prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Clalit Healthcare Services in the Israeli city of Holon near Tel Aviv on June 21, 2021, as Israel begins coronavirus vaccination campaign for 12- to 15-year-olds. Israel is now urging more in that age group to be vaccinated, citing new outbreaks attributed to the more-infectious Delta variant. Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

N.Y. lifting more restrictions

New York will lift more COVID-19 restrictions when the state of emergency expires later this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

New Yorkers will still have to wear masks on public transit, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities and homeless shelters, in accordance with federal guidance.

But Cuomo's announcement Wednesday means public meetings, for example, no longer must occur virtually.

"Fighting COVID & vaccinating New Yorkers are still top priorities, but the emergency chapter of this fight is over," Cuomo tweeted.

It's the governor's latest announcement about lifting COVID-19 restrictions at a time when rates of new positives are dipping to record lows as more New Yorkers get vaccinated. And it follows months of pushback from Republicans and business groups who have called for Cuomo's executive power to be reined in.

Delta doubling in Germany

Germany's disease control center says the delta variant accounted for more than 15 percent of coronavirus infections in the country by mid-June, with its share roughly doubling in a week.

The Robert Koch Institute said in a weekly report Wednesday that the more contagious delta variant's share in sequenced samples rose to 15.1 percent in the week ending June 13. That compares with 7.9 percent a week earlier.

The alpha variant, first detected in Britain, remained dominant in Germany, though its share declined to 74.1 percent from 83.5 percent.

Overall cases in Germany have declined to their lowest level in months. On Wednesday, the disease control center said that 1,016 new cases were reported over the previous day — a rate of 7.2 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.

Authorities have relaxed many restrictions but are pointing to surges in Britain, Portugal and Russia driven by the delta variant, first detected in India, as illustrating the need to remain vigilant.

Spain ending outdoor masks

Spain is scrapping its requirement to wear face masks outdoors, as long as people can remain at least 1.5 meters (5 feet) apart, beginning next Saturday.

Health Minister Carolina Darias said masks will still be needed at large gatherings, such as concerts, when people are on their feet instead of sitting on distanced chairs.

Masks remain mandatory indoors in public places and on public transport.

She said Wednesday that face coverings have been "tremendously efficient and useful" in helping curb the spread of COVID-19.

She noted that 32 percent of Spaniards have had two vaccine doses and 50 percent have had a single doses so far, allowing a relaxation of mask rules.

Merkel receives 2 vaccines

A spokesman for Angela Merkel says the German chancellor received two different vaccines in a conscious effort to encourage people not to be afraid if they are advised to get a mix of shots.

Merkel's office confirmed Tuesday that the 66-year-old received a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine on April 16. For the second shot, she received the Moderna vaccine.

Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Merkel intentionally opted for the initial AstraZeneca shot at a time when there were concerns about possible serious side effects.

"And so she can now perhaps take away the fears of people...who were or are worried about this so-called cross-vaccination," he said.

Idaho finally halfway vaccinated

Just over half of Idaho adults have now received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine—about two months after the 50 percent mark was reached nationwide.

Idaho Public Health Administrator Elke Shaw-Tulloch said during a press conference Tuesday that the state is unlikely to meet the national goal of at least 70 percent of adults with at least one vaccine dose by July 4.

Still, she said the state continues to make slow gains in vaccination rates. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Idaho has the eighth-lowest adult partial COVID-19 vaccination rate in the U.S.

Turkey ramps up program

Turkey's health minister says anyone 18 years old and older will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines as of Friday, as the country ramps up its vaccination campaign.

Speaking after a meeting of the country's scientific advisory council on Wednesday, Fahrettin Koca said the government aims to administer at least one dose to around 70 percent of the 55 million people that are eligible to be vaccinated, by mid-July.

So far, close to 30 million people in a population of 84 million have received their first dose and 14.6 million people have received both doses.

Meanwhile, Koca said 40,800 people would be involved in the late-stage trial of Turkey's first local COVID-19 jab, which had been named TURCOVAC. The vaccine that uses the "inactivated virus" technology, was developed by Turkey's Erciyes University.

Some volunteers would be administered the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac pharmaceutical instead of a placebo, allowing researchers to compare the two inactivated vaccines' safety and efficacy, the minister said. Volunteers in Hungary, Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan would also be involved in the trials.

First Russian regional lockdown

Buryatia, a republic in Siberia, became the first Russian region on Wednesday to announce a lockdown because of a surge in coronavirus infections.

The lockdown will take affect on Sunday and last for two weeks, during which only essential services such as grocery shops, pharmacies, utility companies, public transport and media organizations will be allowed to operate.

Coronavirus infections in Russia have surged in recent weeks, with the daily tally of new cases growing from approximately 9,000 in early June to over 17,000 last Friday.

Buryatia is the only Russian region so far that imposed several lockdowns since the beginning of the pandemic. Last November, the region's governor also closed all non-essential businesses for two weeks in an effort to cope with a resurgence of the outbreak.

Russia had only one, six-week nationwide lockdown last spring, and most coronavirus restrictions in the country were lifted over the summer. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday no plans to reimpose another nationwide lockdown were being discussed by authorities.

Portugal hits 4-month high

The Lisbon region's recent surge in COVID-19 cases is powering ahead, with new infections pushing Portugal's number of daily cases to a four-month high.

Portugal on Wednesday reported almost 1,500 new cases, with two thirds of them in the region of the capital where some 2.8 million people live.

The national 14-day cumulative COVID-19 case notification rate per 100,000 people has risen to 130.

The pressure on hospitals remains manageable, with just 437 virus patients admitted and 100 in intensive care.

The Portuguese government has already banned travel into and out of the Lisbon region at weekends. Experts blame the delta variant for the virus spread there.

It is widely expected to announce new restrictions for Lisbon after a Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Switzerland easing COVID measures

Swiss authorities are vastly easing measures aimed to combat COVID-19 and relaxing some key requirements facing incoming travelers, as case counts and deaths from the pandemic have plunged in Switzerland in recent weeks.

Among the new steps effective Saturday, the Federal Council said work-from-home rules and the requirement to wear masks outdoors will be lifted. Restaurants will also no longer have to limit the number of patrons that can dine together.

The Swiss government said people from the European Schengen area—a vast zone that allows visa-free travel between countries—will no longer be required to quarantine upon entry to Switzerland.

Rules limiting entries of people from abroad will focus on countries with worrying levels of coronavirus variants in circulation.

The council—Switzerland's executive branch—is also extending the estimated duration of vaccine effectiveness for mRNA vaccines like those from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to 12 months, from six months.

Swiss health authorities said Wednesday that 154 new cases and 2 new deaths were recorded from Tuesday to Wednesday in the country of about 8.5 million. Overall, Switzerland has tallied over 700,000 cases and 10,000 deaths linked to COVID-19.

Russia on France's 'red list'

France is adding Russia to its "red list" of countries from which travels are banned unless imperious motives because they are struggling with virus surges and worrisome variants.

French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said Wednesday that Russia, Namibia and Seychelles are being added to the list of now 21 countries.

The "red list" notably includes India, South Africa and Brazil and implies that vaccinated travelers arriving in France must justify their trip, show a negative test and self-isolate for a week. Those not vaccinated must go on a quarantine for 10 days, risking a 1000-euro fine, equivalent to $1,194.

Attal also called for enhanced vigilance about the more contagious delta variant, first identified in India.

The delta variant is estimated to represent 9 to 10 percent overall in France, he said. But authorities are closely monitoring the situation in a region of southwestern France, the Landes, where 70 percent of confirmed infections are due to the delta variant, he added.

The epidemic situation in France has rapidly improved in recent weeks, with about 2,300 new daily infections reported each day, down from 35,000 in the March-April peak.

Belgium's underlying condition vaccinations

Teenagers in Belgium aged from 12 to 15 with underlying conditions will be able to get vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The move was adopted Wednesday following a meeting of the country's health ministers.

They said COVID-19 shots will be offered to youngsters affected by pathologies such as leukemia, Down syndrome or liver and kidney diseases because the risk they face to develop a severe form of coronavirus requiring a stay in hospital higher than the general population.

A decision has yet been taken on the vaccination of others in that age group.

Netherlands' J&J line overwhelmed

A telephone line set up to allow people in the Netherlands to book a Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccination has been overwhelmed with callers.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge tweeted Wednesday that more than 130,000 people had attempted to call the line a total of more than 2 million times on the first morning that the government allowed anybody over the age of 18 to make an appointment for a J&J vaccination.

The J&J single-dose shot has largely been removed from the Dutch COVID-19 vaccination program because of the tiny risk of an extremely rare blood clotting disorder.

However, the government has about 200,000 J&J shots available over the next two weeks and is making them available to the public on a first-come-first-served basis.

Swedish, Danish economies recovering

The Swedish and Danish economies are recovering quickly after last year's deep downturn due to the coronavirus.

Sweden's Finance Ministry said Wednesday that she expects the gross domestic product to grow by 4.7 percent in 2021 while Denmark's Central Bank said in its prognosis that the GDP will increase by 3.3 percent.

As the spread of the virus decreases and restrictions are relaxed, household consumption in Sweden is expected to increase by 4.7 percent — an upward revision of 1.3 percentage points compared with the previous forecast.

Exports from Sweden also are contributing to the growth and are expected to increase by 8.9 percent, Andersson said.

She warned there is a risk that the shortage of certain input products and bottlenecks in transport chains may slow global trade and thus also Swedish exports.

In neighboring Denmark, the Nationalbanken boss said "the reopening of the Danish economy is in full swing" with the overall activity recovering to more or less recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

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Naftali Bennett
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to journalists after touring Ben Gurion Airport with Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz and Minister of Transportation Merav Michaeli on June 22, 2021. Israel's plan to reopen its borders to vaccinated tourists on July 1 has been delayed as an increased number of outbreaks attributed to the more-contagious delta variant of COVID-19 raise concerns over further spread of the virus. Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo