More reports about the spread of the Delta variant (particularly in Asia, where Indonesia just saw its deaths per million surpass India's tally as a new Delta-driven outbreak takes hold) are spooking global markets, as shares in EU trade lower and US equity futures point toward a drop at the open.
Indonesia's daily confirmed infections set a new record for the fourth straight day on Thursday. There have been 56,757 new cases in the past 24 hours and 982 deaths, bringing total infections to 2,726,803 and total deaths to 70,192. The situation is growing so dire that Pfizer has agreed to deliver 50MM doses by the end of the year (while the highest-risk Israelis are about to receive their third jab).
The country also just welcomed a second shipment of Moderna jabs from the US delivered via the WHO's Covax facility, amounting to 1.5MM doses. The Japanese government (which is still struggling to vaccinate its own citizens) has just delivered a second batch of the AstraZeneca jab (perhaps because nobody in Japan wants to touch it).
The WHO warned on Wednesday that the world has entered "the early stages of a third wave" as the Delta variant spreads rapidly across Asia, Europe and, increasingly, even the heavily vaccinated US. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the variant has now been confirmed in 111 countries, and that deaths worldwide are climbing again after 10 weeks of declines. "As increasing vaccination rates in Europe and North America started to take effect, we saw sustained declines in cases and deaths," the WHO director-general said. "Unfortunately, those trends have now reversed, and we are in the early stages of a third wave."
The situation in Indonesia has gotten so unsettling that a plane load of Japanese expatriates and family members left Indonesia for Tokyo. The flight was organized by a major government contractor.
Speaking of Japan, with the Olympics just days away, the situation in Tokyo has continued to worsen, threatening to transform the (now spectator-free) Olympics into a "super-spreader event" . Tokyo reports 1,308 new confirmed cases, up from 1,149 a day earlier. The 7-day average of new cases in the capital is 882, up 32.9% from a week ago, raising concerns over an explosive outbreak of the delta variant ahead of the Olympics Games, which will open on July 23.
Meanwhile, as authorities in Australia imposed a 5-day lockdown on Melbourne (Australia's second-largest city), Malaysia is reporting 13,215 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, up from 11,618 from a day earlier and marking a record for a third straight day. Health authorities have reported 880,782 cases in total in Malaysia. One Malaysian doctor warned on Thursday that the Delta variant is much more infectious than its predecessors and other variants. He says people can be infected in just 5 seconds.
"In the past, we learnt that a person can get infected from another individual through close contact of less than one metre over a duration of 15 minutes.
"Now, however, we are informed that the Delta variant can infect someone in just five seconds, and the virus is airborne.
By comparison, India reported 41,806 new infections in the last 24 hours, up from 38,792 during the prior period. This brought the case load to nearly 31 million, while deaths jumped by 581 to 411,989.
In tiny Singapore, health authorities reported their highest number of local coronavirus cases in 10 months, after the discovery of a cluster of infections among hostesses and customers of the KTV karaoke lounges. Of the 56 new community infections, 42 were linked to the KTV outbreak, according to health authorities. The health ministry is presently investigating.
In the West, the focus remains on the US and the UK, which are both seeing resurgences of new COVID cases (while hospitalizations and deaths have remained mostly subdued). However, in the UK, the FT reported yesterday that the variant is "wreaking havoc" on the industry as factory workers are self-isolating and business groups warn that some companies are missing 20% of staff.
As the fear campaign about the risks posed by the Delta variant intensifies, it's worth considering the latest projections from a team of analysts at Goldman Sachs, who attempt to derive insights for the US economy from the situation in the UK, where cases have led those in the US.