COVID-19 deaths and cases are on the rise again globally in a dispiriting setback that is triggering another round of restrictions and dampening hopes for a return to normal life.
The World Health Organization reported Wednesday that deaths climbed last week after nine straight weeks of decline. It recorded more than 55,000 lives lost, a 3% increase from the week before.
Cases rose 10% last week to nearly 3 million, with the highest numbers recorded in Brazil, India, Indonesia and Britain, WHO said.
The reversal has been attributed to low vaccination rates, the relaxation of mask rules and other precautions, and the swift spread of the more-contagious delta variant, which WHO said has now been identified in 111 countries and is expected to become globally dominant in the coming months.
Sarah McCool, a professor of public health at Georgia State University, said the combination amounts to a “recipe for a potential tinderbox.”
“It’s important that we recognize that COVID has the potential for explosive outbreaks,’’ warned Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University.
Amid the surge, the death toll in hard-hit Argentina surpassed 100,000. Daily coronavirus deaths in Russia hit record highs this week. In Belgium, COVID-19 infections, driven by the delta variant among the young, have almost doubled over the past week. Britain recorded a one-day total of more than 40,000 new cases for the first time in six months.
In Myanmar, crematoriums are working morning to night. In Indonesia, which recorded almost 1,000 deaths and over 54,000 new cases Wednesday, up from around 8,000 cases per day a month ago, people near Jakarta are pitching in to help gravediggers keep up.
“As the diggers are too tired and do not have enough resources to dig, the residents in my neighbourhood decided to help,” Jaya Abidin said. “Because if we do not do this, we will have to wait in turn a long time for a burial.”
In the U.S., with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, newly confirmed infections per day have doubled over the past two weeks to an average of about 24,000, though deaths are still on a downward trajectory at around 260 a day.
Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the U.S., reported its fifth straight day Tuesday of more than 1,000 new cases.
The spike has led to additional restrictions in places like Sydney, Australia, where the 5 million residents will remain in lockdown through at least the end of July, two weeks longer than planned. South Korea has placed the Seoul area under its toughest distancing rules yet because of record case levels.
Parts of Spain, including Barcelona, moved to impose an overnight curfew. London Mayor Sadiq Khan said masks will be required on buses and trains even after other restrictions in England are lifted next week. Italy warned all those going abroad that they might have to quarantine before returning home.