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The Latest: UK official says variant may delay lockdown lift

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.

People socialize and drink at a cafe terrace in Paris, France, Saturday, June 5, 2021. (AP PhotoLewis Joly)

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.

MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

FILE - In this Thursday, May 27, 2021 file photo, Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks during a coronavirus media briefing in Downing Street in London. Britain’s health secretary said Sunday, June 6, 2021 the delta variant, which is fast becoming the dominant coronavirus variant in the U.K., is 40 percent more transmissible compared to the country’s existing strains. Hancock admitted that the rise in the 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. (AP PhotoMatt Dunham, Pool, File)

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British ambassador to France, Edward Llewellyn, right, arrives with French Defense Minister Florence Parly for the inauguration of the British Normandy Memorial, in Ver-sur-Mer, France, Sunday, June 6, 2021. The monument, built under a project launched in 2016, pays tribute to those under British command who died on D-Day and during the Battle of Normandy. The names of more than 22,000 men and women, mostly British soldiers, are written on its stone columns. (Sameer Al-DoumyPool via AP)

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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

HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

A couple wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walk by a structure of a shopping mall in Beijing, Sunday, June 6, 2021. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

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.

A couple wearing face masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus sit on an angel statue browsing their smartphones at a shopping mall in Beijing, Sunday, June 6, 2021. (AP PhotoAndy Wong)

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.

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.”