The highly contagious Delta variant is surging in countries around the world, from Indonesia to parts of Europe, leading governments to reimpose restrictions just weeks after they had taken steps to return to ordinary life.
The latest example is Portugal, which on Friday will impose nighttime curfews in Lisbon, Porto and other popular tourism spots, reversing course after it had reopened its economy to prepare for summer travelers.
Scientists believe that the Delta variant may be twice as transmissible as the original strain of the coronavirus. But in countries where high percentages of the population have been vaccinated, the outlook is encouraging, with death tolls and hospitalization numbers remaining low. The vaccines made by Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have been found to be effective against the Delta variant.
In Portugal, 56 percent of people have gotten at least one vaccine dose, compared with about 54 percent in the United States, according to Our World In Data.
Portugal’s new curfews are designed to discourage gatherings of younger people at night, said Mariana Vieira da Silva, a cabinet minister. “This is a time to follow the rules, avoid gatherings, avoid parties and seek to contain the numbers,” she said.
Lisbon is now among the areas that will have a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., along with Porto, the second-largest city, and Albufeira, a tourism hub in the southern region of the Algarve. The curfew, which comes into force at 11 p.m. on Friday, applies in 19 municipalities ranked as having a “very elevated risk” of Covid-19 and a further 26 with an “elevated risk.”
On Thursday, Portugal reported almost 2,500 new coronavirus cases, the highest daily rise since February, although cases have remained far below their January peak of more 16,000 per day.
In early June, coronavirus cases in the country had dropped so sharply that Britain allowed its residents to visit without having to quarantine on return. But the day after that announcement was made, London jolted Portugal by downgrading it over concerns about the Delta variant.
London’s decisions were especially significant because the British traditionally flock to Portugal as a respite from their often-dreary weather and were even more eager to visit after year of pandemic lockdowns. The switch of travel rules prompted thousands of British tourists in Portugal to pay extra to rebook early return flights to beat a quarantine deadline.
The decision also came less than a week after thousands of English soccer fans had visited Porto, in northern Portugal, to watch the final of the Champions League tournament with no quarantine requirement.
Britain is also facing a surge in Delta cases, although its number of death remains low and hospital occupancy is rising much more slowly than in previous waves of the pandemic. Most of the new cases are among people under 30, and public health officials say that vaccinating younger people is critical to preventing new outbreaks.
The Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine is effective against the highly contagious Delta variant, even eight months after inoculation, the company reported on Thursday — a finding that could help reassure the 11 million Americans who have gotten the shot.
The vaccine showed a small drop in potency against the variant, compared with its effectiveness against the original virus, the company said. But the vaccine was more effective against the Delta variant than the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa — the pattern also seen with mRNA vaccines like those made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Antibodies stimulated by the Johnson & Johnson vaccine grow in strength over time, researchers also reported.
The results were described in a news release, and the company said that both studies had been submitted for online publication on Thursday. One of those studies has been accepted for publication in a scientific journal. Both studies are small, and the researchers said they had released the results early because of high interest from the public.
The intense discourse about Delta’s threat has left even people who are immunized feeling anxious about whether they are protected. The variant, first identified in India, is much more transmissible than earlier versions of the virus, and its global spread has prompted new health restrictions from Ireland to Malaysia.
In the United States, the variant now accounts for one in four new infections. Public health officials have said the vaccines authorized in the United States work against all existing variants, but the data are mostly based on studies of the mRNA vaccines.
That left some people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine asking, What about us?
The frustration was building even before the Delta variant emerged. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance that vaccinated people could forgo masks indoors in many situations was based mostly on data for the mRNA vaccines. And reports of a cluster of infections among players on the Yankees baseball team who had received the Johnson & Johnson shot did nothing to assuage fears that the vaccine might be inferior.
Some people who were immunized with the vaccine complained that they felt cheated by experts who had said the vaccines were equally good. “I was surprised to see others making this claim,” said Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at the University of Florida. “I didn’t like it. People don’t want to feel misled.”
But other experts said the clinical trials should have made it apparent that the efficacy of the J.&J. vaccine was lower than that of the mRNA vaccines. “Seventy-two percent is of course lower than 95 or 94 percent,” said Florian Krammer, an immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Information about the effectiveness of the J.&J. vaccine has been slow to arrive, because it was rolled out later and because of the pause on its use amid concerns about rare blood clots.
When the fire alarm went off at a hotel in central Taiwan on Wednesday evening, Chen Chien-kuang, a 59-year-old missionary, immediately thought of escaping. But he was one of 28 people in coronavirus quarantine inside the hotel and worried about breaking the rules, which required those in quarantine to stay inside their rooms.
“I don’t know whether I can go out or not. I’m afraid that we will be fined if we go out,” Mr. Chen said in a video he took and sent to his son, which was released by the local news media and confirmed by his wife’s brother, Chen Yi-sa. “But if we don’t go, will we die in the fire,” he said.
Mr. Chen was among four people who died — three guests in quarantine and one firefighter — in the blaze, which has renewed concerns over the safety of Taiwan’s quarantine facilities and the wisdom of using hotels for the purpose. More than 20 people were injured.
The owner and manager of the Passion Fruit Hotel, which occupied three floors of a 15-story building in the central city of Changhua, told people to remain inside their rooms when the alarm sounded. At first he said that it was a false alarm, according to the video sent by Mr. Chen.
After the fire, the owner, Tsai Chin-feng, told the local news media that he had believed the building’s fire doors could withstand heavy smoke and keep the people inside safe. In a brief telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Tsai said he had not meant to put his guests at risk.
“We asked people to stay inside for the sake of safety,” Mr. Tsai said. “My intention was definitely not to let them fend for themselves.” He declined to comment further.
It took firefighters more than nine hours to subdue the blaze, the cause of which has not been determined. A spokesperson for the Changhua County Fire Bureau said that building’s most recent fire safety inspection in May had turned up no violations.
The building, which was constructed in 1993, once operated as a shopping center and amusement arcade. But it suffered at least three earlier fires and sat mostly vacant for years. In 2018, several investors reopened the building after a renovation, according to the Changhua government.
The fire has highlighted the potential risks of using hotels as quarantine facilities, as governments do in Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere, despite concerns that the facilities are not designed for the purpose. In Australia, several coronavirus outbreaks have begun when infections escaped from quarantine hotels, prompting the government to announce a plan to build dedicated quarantine sites.
A spokesperson for Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center told a press briefing on Thursday that people would not be fined for violating quarantine regulations if they faced “special circumstances” such as fires or earthquakes.
With just a few days to go, there is no longer much doubt that the United States will fall just short of President Biden’s goal to have 70 percent of adults at least partly vaccinated against the coronavirus by Independence Day.
It was always more of a rhetorical deadline than a practical one: It doesn’t make much difference exactly what the national figure will be on July 4 (probably 67 or 68 percent) or which day the national odometer will roll past 70 percent (perhaps around mid-month). The point was to give the public something to shoot for, to keep up the pace of progress.
That progress has hardly been uniform. Some parts of the country have embraced vaccination avidly, others diffidently and some grudgingly — just as happened with precautions like mask-wearing, social distancing, and school and business closures.
Here is a rundown of which states have led the way and which have lagged, according to C.D.C. data tracked by The New York Times:
Over the goal line
Twenty states, Washington, D.C., and two territories exceeded the 70-percent threshold by Thursday, three days ahead of Mr. Biden’s target date.
Twelve are in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region: The six in New England — including Vermont, the national leader — plus Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia (with the District of Columbia as well).
All three West Coast states — California, Oregon and Washington — have surpassed 70 percent, as has Hawaii. It mattered more in Oregon than in most states, since Gov. Kate Brown had tied the lifting of some restrictions in part to reaching 70 percent.
The other four states that have cleared 70 percent are Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota and New Mexico. The territories of Puerto Rico, at 74 percent, and Guam, at 73 percent, have also cleared the bar.
Close but not quite
Fourteen states, mainly in the Midwest and Southwest, were between 60 and 65 percent on Thursday. Two of the nation’s most populous states are in this group: Florida at 65 percent and Texas at 61 percent.
The remaining 16 states, including nearly the whole South, were below 60 percent, with Mississippi bringing up the rear at 46 percent.