South Africa Locks Down; Luxembourg PM Has Covid: Virus Update

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa raised the nation’s coronavirus alert status to its second-highest level, banning all gatherings and closing schools for two weeks. Luxembourg’s prime minister tested positive for Covid. In Australia, officials expect the number of infections in Sydney’s outbreak to increase in coming days, even as the city is now in a lockdown.

Hospitalizations and the number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care units across New York state have fallen to the lowest level since the pandemic began. AstraZeneca Plc started trials of a new variant vaccine that will be tested on people fully inoculated with two doses of Vaxzevria or an mRNA shot.

China’s influence on The World Health Organization needs to be reined in, according to U.S. Senator Mitt Romney.

Key Developments:

South Africa Locks Down; Luxembourg PM Has Covid: Virus Update

Arkansas Governor Blames Conspiracy Theories (3:30 p.m. NY)

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson blamed his state’s rising hospitalizations in part on “conspiracy theories” about the effectiveness of vaccines.

“We’ve used incentives that have not been very successful,” Hutchinson, a Republican, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “We’ve obviously done marketing for our vaccines. We are educating, doing everything that we can.”

The biggest concern is people who “don’t believe in the efficacy of it,” he said. “They believe in the conspiracy theories. I had emails today from a business person who was discouraging vaccines.”

Slightly more than 52% of Arkansas adults have received at least one shot, compared with a national average of 66%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

S. Africa Raised to Second-Highest Alert Level (2:37 p.m. NY)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa banned alcohol, outlawed public gatherings and closed schools to curb surging coronavirus infections.

The country will move to alert level 4, the nation’s second-highest, from level 3 with effect from midnight Sunday and the restrictions will remain for 14 days, Ramaphosa said in a televised address to the nation. Other restrictions include limiting travel to and from Gauteng, the nation’s commercial hub that’s been hardest-hit by a third wave of Covid-19 cases.

“We are in the grip of a devastating wave that by all indications seems like it will be worse than all those preceded it, its peak looks set to be higher than the previous waves,” Ramaphosa said. “The measures we are putting in place now are designed to allow as much economic activity to continue as possible while containing the spread of the virus.”

Luxembourg PM Tests Positive, Soon After Summit (2:19 p.m. NY)

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday, just days after he met face-to-face with the other 26 leaders of the European Union for a summit.

Bettel tested negative just before the two-day European Council began on Thursday and he wasn’t in close contact with any of the leaders, an EU spokesman said on Twitter.

“During the European Council, all sanitary measures were in place and the meeting was organized so as to ensure that social distancing could be observed at all times,” the spokesman wrote.

Cases in Turkey Decline to 2021 Low (12:51 p.m. NY)

New infections in Turkey fell to less than 5,000 for the first time since November, according to official data.

NY Says Hospitalizations Now at Pandemic Low (NY 12:35 p.m.)

Hospitalizations, the number of patients in intensive care and intubations across the state of New York are all at their lowest levels since the pandemic began, governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Some 346 New Yorkers tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday, with 198 of that total in New York City.

Almost 70% of state residents aged 18 and older have had at least one vaccine dose.

Saudi Arabia Wants Hajj Pilgrims to Have Two Vaccine Shots (12:10 p.m. NY)

Saudi Arabia stressed the importance of getting two vaccine doses for all those attending Hajj this year, the Hajj and Umra Ministry said on Sunday.

The Arab kingdom earlier said it will only allow 60,000 nationals and residents to attend the annual pilgrimage for the second year in a row, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Russian Tourists Face Extra Hurdle to Visit Greece (11:56 a.m. NY)

All tourists from Russia will need to present a negative PCR or rapid test for Covid-19 to enter Greece as of June 30, even if they are vaccinated.

Greece amended its policy given the rise in delta variant cases in Russia, the tourism ministry said Sunday. All tourists from Russia will also be tested for coronavirus upon their arrival.

The decision comes after a two-day EU summit in which southern European countries came under fire for letting in tourists who’ve had unauthorized vaccines.

China Shouldn’t Be Big Part of WHO, Senator Romney Says (11:20 a.m. NY)

Mitt Romney, Republican Senator of Utah, said he doesn’t know the origin of Covid-19 virus, but is against China playing an important role in the World Health Organization.

“China’s effort to play a more and more assertive role in international bodies has to be pushed back or, in some cases, eliminated,” Romney said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They really shouldn’t be part of WHO in any significant way. And I think it’s because they have not been open and transparent.”

China has rejected the theory that the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan, and a WHO report released in March called a lab leak unlikely. President Joe Biden has ordered the U.S. intelligence community to increase efforts to determine where the coronavirus came from.

U.K. New Cases and Death Numbers Decline (11:15 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported the fewest daily coronavirus cases in five days and the number of deaths fell by half, a potential sign that the recent surge in cases linked to the delta variant may be nearing its peak. A total of 14,876 new cases were reported Sunday, down from 18,270 on Saturday, with deaths declining to 11 from 23 on Saturday.

The success of the country’s vaccine campaign -- more than 84% of adults have had at least one shot -- has limited the impact of the latest outbreak with fewer people getting serious cases or requiring hospitalization than in the previous waves.

South Africa Likely to Raise Coronavirus Alert Level (10:33 a.m. NY)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to move the country to coronavirus alert level 4, the country’s second highest, to curb a rapidly escalating number of Covid-19 infections, Timeslive reported, citing people it didn’t identify.

The move may result in a ban on alcohol sales and an increased night-time curfew, the news website said. Other measures could include closing public parks and beaches, as well as a ban on public gatherings apart from funerals, it said.

Ramaphosa is scheduled to address the nation on Sunday at 8 p.m. in Pretoria.

AstraZeneca Vaccinates First Subjects in New Trial (8:54 p.m. NY)

The first participants in a Phase II/III trial for the new Covid-19 variant shot AZD2816 were vaccinated on Sunday to assess its safety and immunogenicity in both previously vaccinated and unvaccinated adults, AstraZeneca said in a statement.

The trial will recruit about 2,250 participants across the U.K., South Africa, Brazil and Poland. The vaccine will be administered to individuals who’ve previously been fully vaccinated with two doses of Vaxzevria or an mRNA vaccine, at least three months after their last injection.

Ireland to Decide Soon on Possible Reopening Delay (8:52 a.m. NY)

Ireland’s prime minister said the government will decide early this week on whether to delay a planned reopening of indoor hospitality venues beyond July 5 over concerns about the delta variant.

Nphet, the Irish public health agency, is likely to meet on Monday in advance of a planned Tuesday Cabinet meeting, Taoiseach Micheal Martinsaid Sunday on RTE Television, according to the Irish Independent newspaper.

Martin said the nation’s calculus is different now from when it locked down over Christmas. Data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control show Ireland has the highest uptake in Europe of Covid vaccines among people 50 or older.

Bangladesh Halts Public Transport as Virus Deaths Mount (8:50 p.m. NY)

Bangladesh will halt public transport from Monday as the daily Covid death count surges to a record, the Cabinet Division said in a notice on Sunday. All shopping malls, tourist sites, resorts and places of entertainment will also remain closed under the new rules.

The country on Sunday reported 119 deaths from Covid-19, the highest daily count since the start of the pandemic; the caseload surged by 5,268 in the same period to 888,406.

U.K.’s Javid Says Priority Is Getting Country Back to Normal (7:08 a.m. NY)

The U.K.’s new health chief Sajid Javid, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, said his top priority is ending the pandemic amid a surge in virus cases that’s delayed the easing of restrictions. Javid was named to the post Saturday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The latest official figures show new coronavirus cases in the U.K. have climbed to their highest level since early February, with 18,270 new infections reported Saturday.

Indonesia Reports Record Daily Cases (5:56 p.m. HK)

Indonesia reported a record number of daily Covid-19 infections, with 21,342 positive cases on June 27 taking the number of people who’ve been infected at any point to more than 2.1 million. As many as 409 people died, bringing the total death count to more than 57,000.

The country innoculated 1.3 million people on June 26, according to a statement posted on the cabinet secretary’s website. More than 27 million people have had their first vaccine shot and about 13 million people their second dose.

Denmark Records First Case of New Delta-Plus Variant (4:46 p.m. HK)

Denmark recorded its first case of the delta-plus variant, a mutation of the strain first discovered in India, the state agency dealing with infectious diseases said in a statement. The variant was brought in by an infected passenger traveling from Portugal by plane. The passenger and the other people on board the plane are being tracked down and will have to go into isolation, the agency said.

Sweden Sees Removal of Restrictions by November (4:32 p.m. HK)

Sweden’s state epidemiologist said he expects all virus restrictions will have ended by November. By then, Sweden will probably have removed its work from home recommendation and social distance requirement, Anders Tegnell said in an interview published in the DN newspaper.

Sweden is entering a more stable phase, Tegnell told the newspaper. One of the remaining threats are pockets of people who remain unvaccinated, a problem best solved by local authorities rather than the central government, he said.

Russia Cases Drop First Time in Five Days (4:30 p.m. HK)

In the past day Russia reported 20,538 new confirmed coronavirus infections, the first drop in five days, raising the total to 5.45 million, according to data from the government’s virus response center. In the past day, 599 people died of the disease, the first decline in deaths in six days. That brings the total death toll to 133,282.

Johnson & Johnson Vaccine to Arrive in India (1:30 p.m. HK)

Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine could be available in India as early as July, India Today reported, without saying where it got the information. The Association of Healthcare Providers is privately procuring the vaccine, which will be priced at $25, the publication said. The vaccine will have limited supply, however, with only a few thousands thousand available initially.

Malaysia to Extend Total Lockdown, PM Says (1:05 p.m. HK)

Malaysia is set to extend a nationwide lockdown as the number of new Covid infections still remains elevated, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said.

The movement restrictions will now stay in place until the nation’s daily caseload falls below 4,000, Muhyiddin said on Sunday, according to a tweet from the Bernama news agency. The government will announce more comprehensive assistance to all groups of society on Monday or Tuesday, he said during a visit to a vaccination center in the state of Selangor.

Australia’s Darwin Joins Sydney in Lockdown (11:30 a.m. HK)

The Australian city of Darwin joined Sydney in lockdown as the nation grapples with a widening Covid-19 outbreak that includes the highly contagious Delta strain.

Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, was put into a snap, 48-hour lockdown starting Sunday after four new local cases were detected. Earlier, officials in the state of New South Wales warned they expect the number of infections in Sydney’s Delta-variant outbreak to increase over the next few days.

South Africa Locks Down; Luxembourg PM Has Covid: Virus Update

New Zealand Extends Wellington Curbs (10:25 a.m. HK)

New Zealand extended restrictions in the Wellington region for two days despite finding no evidence yet that an Australian tourist with Covid-19 spread the virus while visiting the city last weekend.

Gathering limits and social distancing requirements will remain in place until at least midnight on June 29, Covid Response Minister Chris Hipkins told a news conference Sunday in Wellington.

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