The Latest: UK official says variant may delay lockdown lift

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LONDON — Britain’s health secretary says the delta variant, which is fast becoming the dominant coronavirus variant in the U.K., is 40% more transmissible compared to the country’s existing strains.

Matt Hancock acknowledged Sunday that the rise in delta variant cases may delay the government’s plan to lift most remaining lockdown restrictions on June 21. He also said he wouldn’t rule out continuing measures such as face masks in public settings and working from home where possible.

Optimism that Britain can vaccinate its way out of the pandemic took a dent in recent weeks with growing concern that infections are again rising, fueled by the delta variant. More than 12,400 cases of the delta variant have been confirmed so far in the U.K.

On Friday the country recorded 6,238 new coronavirus cases, the highest number since late March. The figure came down to 5,765 on Saturday.

Authorities said Sunday they will start offering the COVID-19 vaccine to people under 30 from this week in hopes that the vaccine program can help combat the renewed surge in infections.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— Another COVID side effect: Many kids head to summer school

— States rebound from bleak forecasts to pass record budgets

— AP PHOTOS: Return of live music to London inspires artists

— U.K. urges commitment to vaccinate the world by end of 2022

— Normandy commemorates D-Day with small crowds, but big heart

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Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

PARIS — French health authorities are racing to contain scattered cases of the more contagious delta virus variant, as the country prepares to reopen its borders to vaccinated visitors and celebrates plunging COVID-19 infection and hospitalization rates.

Health Minister Olivier Veran said Sunday that France has multiple clusters of the variant, first identified in India, notably in the southwest Landes region. Speaking on BFM television, Veran said the variant hadn’t spread widely into the community and that health investigators are working to trace cases and stop their spread.

The delta variant is now dominant in Britain, and its spread has prompted France and some other countries to impose new restrictions on visitors from Britain.

Overall, Veran insisted, “the epidemic situation continues to strongly improve around the country.”

The French public health agency’s latest weekly epidemiological report shows a steady and sustained drop in virus infections, hospitalization rates and deaths even after France started reopening schools, stores, and restaurants last month. More than half the adult population has had at least one vaccine dose, and nearly a quarter are fully vaccinated.

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HONOLULU — A review of Hawaii Gov. David Ige’s emails shows the state epidemiologist spent key weeks in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic resisting suggestions and requests that she boost contact tracing to control the spread of COVID-19.

They also showed Dr. Sarah Park repeatedly telling her superiors that the state’s failure to adequately fund the division she headed was preventing her from quickly expanding their work to respond to the crisis.

The Associated Press obtained the emails last month in response to a May 2020 request submitted under Hawaii’s open records law.

Contact tracing was especially difficult for many states. The effort aims to alert people who may have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus and prevent them from spreading it to others. Health experts say it’s key to containing the virus.

The governor’s records show that University of Hawaii President David Lassner emailed administration officials on April 16, 2020, to say university researchers had written a report about the need to boost contact tracing and other steps to control COVID-19.

Park didn’t outright reject more contact tracing but replied: “I am increasingly disturbed that people seem to think contact tracing is somehow easily accomplished as a simple task when it is a part of the practice of applied epidemiology.”

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