As the world continues to vaccinate, the Delta variant and the Delta Plus variant are a concern for many global mobility programs. The World Health Organization is predicting that the Delta variant, which has already spread to over 80 countries, will become the dominant strain of the COVID-19 virus worldwide and is encouraging those who have been vaccinated to continue wearing masks inside and in crowds. Then, in an effort to boost immunity against variants, there is a trial of a modified version of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The trial will involve about 2,250 participants across the UK, South Africa, Brazil and Poland. The modified "booster" vaccine will be given to people who have previously been fully vaccinated with two doses of the original AstraZeneca vaccine, or with an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, at least three months after their most recent jab. The data won't be available until later in the year, however.
The situation globally is very dynamic because of the variants, continued vaccination challenges and ongoing learnings from recent outbreaks, like the degree of vaccinated people becoming infected in some places and the number of children getting infected. To keep you in the loop in case you missed any recent developments, here are a few things happening across the globe that could impact your mobility program:
- The European Union: Already spread across 23 of the EU countries, the Delta variant is expected to account for 90% of all coronavirus cases in the European Union by the end of August. It is currently accountable for 66% of new cases in Portugal and 90% of new cases in Moscow. At the same time, according to BAL, European countries are increasingly reducing or lifting travel restrictions for U.S. residents following the European Council’s move to add the U.S. to its “green list” earlier this month.
- Sweden: After more than one year, Sweden recently updated its travel guidelines to allow entry from the U.S., Albania, Hong Kong, Lebanon, Macao, Serbia and Taiwan as of June 30. All travelers will need to bring proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of departure, and no exceptions are made for those who have received a complete dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Per The Points Guy, the Scandinavian country allows travel — without testing or vaccination requirements — from neighboring countries including Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland.
- Australia: Facing simultaneous outbreaks, Sydney and surrounding regions on June 26 introduced a two-week lockdown due to increasing cases of the Delta variant. The stay-home orders mark the first full-city lockdown for Australia’s largest city since early 2020. Per the New York Times, people across the Sydney metropolitan area will be allowed to leave their homes only to exercise, seek medical attention, care for loved ones, buy food or carry out other essential activities. The lockdown is scheduled to end on July 9, but could be extended. The country will remain prone to the need for these kinds of reactions to COVID-19 until vaccination rates increase dramatically.
- Malaysia: Per the Bangkok Post, Malaysia has been in a national lockdown since June 1 and extended it indefinitely as the cases continue to surge there. Intensive care unit bed occupancy is almost full and only 6.4 percent of the population has completed two doses of the vaccine as of Sunday. The government has said the lockdown measures will be eased only when daily Covid-19 cases fall below a weekly average of 4,000 and providing other conditions are also cleared.
- Indonesia: sounding like a broken record, but the Delta variant has cases soaring and setting records for daily cases in Indonesia, which is probably the worst-hit country in Southeast Asia. Per Bloomberg, Jakarta, the epicenter of infections, this week buried a daily record number of people who died of the virus as hospital occupancy rates exceeded 80% across Java, the most populated island. The country tightened movement restrictions in designated red zones until July 5 as record number of new cases threatens to overwhelm health system. In the capital Jakarta, curfews will be implemented from 9pm to 4am in 10 of the most crowded areas, including on Gunawarman and Senopati roads in Jakarta’s central business district.
- Greece: Meet the "freedom pass!" Greece is offering its young people between the ages of 18 to 25 a 150 euro ($180) cash card and a free month of phone data to get their first COVID-19 shot, in a government drive to boost vaccination rates in the build-up to the holidays.
- South Africa: There has been a "massive resurgence" according to the country's president. With a doubling of new daily cases, South Africa is one more example of where the Delta variant is creating surging infections. Health facilities are stretched to the limit and they are implementing a ban on all gatherings for the next two weeks, except for funerals where numbers will be capped at 50, and also ordered a ban on the sale of alcohol. Eateries and restaurants can no longer serve sit-down meals, and will only be allowed to sell food for take-away or delivery. A nighttime curfew has been lengthened by an hour.
- Israel: A new outbreak (highest number of new cases in two and a half months) of the Delta variant seems to have infected many who had been vaccinated already (with the Pfizer vaccine) and caused enough concern that Israel has re-imposed indoor mask mandates as of June 25. Children under 16, most of whom haven’t been vaccinated, accounted for about half of those infected. On the positive side, the local coronavirus czar does not believe Israel is facing another major wave of infections and said he hoped that the high number of those vaccinated would prevent hospitalizations and serious illness. The fast-spreading Delta variant that was first detected in India is believed to be responsible for 70% of the new cases in the country in recent weeks. Additional restrictions and enforcements are being considered. The news is raising alarms about the new variant – especially since Israel has a high vaccination rate. Per EIG, on June 20, Israel had announced that as of July 1, all vaccinated travelers would be able to enter the country without an entry permit, but this has been postponed to August 1.
- The United Kingdom: Given that both the Alpha and Delta variants seemed to emerge here, many are watching what is happening in the UK at the moment to consider how the Delta variant impacts infection rates. According to CNBC, the delta variant now makes up more than 60% of new cases in the region. The UK on June 26 recorded its highest daily number of coronavirus infections since early February, raising questions over whether England will be able to end lockdown restrictions next month as planned. However, as of June 28, Britain plans to lift most of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on July 19 (for what has been dubbed "Freedom Day"). For a full list of what you can and cannot do currently, try this.
- Canada: Canada is lifting most international travel restrictions for many travelers who are fully vaccinated starting July 5. According to All Points Relocation, travelers who are currently able to enter Canada (returning Canadians, permanent residents and those deemed essential, which has always encompassed those arriving on Work Permits) under the existing rules will be able to do so without having to self-isolate for 14 days, taking a test on day eight, or having to stay in a quarantine hotel upon arrival, if they are fully immunized against COVID-19 (by Canada’s definition). The change does not apply to fully vaccinated non-citizens who are looking to visit for non-essential reasons, and for any Canadian traveler who is not fully-vaccinated, the existing suite of travel restrictions will remain in effect.
- United States: There are numerous low-vaccination-rate states (think the Mountain West - Montana, Idaho, Utah, Nevada) seeing increases in infections, and statistics are showing that for unvaccinated people, the Delta variant is significantly more contagious than earlier variants. Missouri offers an example that highlights the dichotomy where counties with lower vaccination rates (23-32% vaccinated) showed the highest number of new cases and those counties in the state with the lowest infection numbers had higher vaccination rates of between 37-46%. According to Bloomberg, it will take another six months at the current vaccination pace to get 75% of the U.S. population vaccinated.
With another travel holiday approaching in the U.S., keep in mind that this is projected to be the second-highest Independence Day travel volume on record, trailing only 2019. There will be more than 47.7 million Americans who will travel between July 1-5. Our advice? Have patience, prepare for higher prices and costs, and consider some extra precautions to keep you and your family safe.
Instead, after initially resisting a full lockdown, officials said on Saturday that strict citywide stay-at-home orders were necessary because they had found several additional chains of transmission around the city among people who had been infectious for days. Gladys Berejiklian, the state premier, said the virus was simply moving too quickly through the population. Over the past 10 days, a cluster that began with an airport limousine driver in Sydney, a city of five million, has jumped to nearly 100 cases, with dozens more expected over the coming days.