The slow return to normal: Delta variant threatens plans to lift pandemic restrictions across the world

With the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus spreading quickly across the globe, countries are racing against time to vaccinate their populations, with plans to reopen after lengthy lockdowns at risk.

And while the United States and countries in western Europe are cautiously easing social restrictions, elsewhere nations that once enjoyed relative success containing the spread of the virus are now faltering.

On Wednesday, France lifted its strict “deconfinement” after weeks of closures, granting the country a semblance of normality.

All restrictions on theaters, cinemas, museums and sports venues were lifted Wednesday, along with a return to full capacity in restaurants. In a boost for tourism, ports will also reopen to cruises and the Cannes Film Festival is gearing up to return in July.

Austria will begin allowing vaccinated American tourists back into the country from Thursday, while the United Kingdom’s new health minster this week hinted the country was on track to remove the last of its social limits by mid-July, despite climbing case numbers among young unvaccinated people.

Populations in relatively rich nations with successful vaccination programs shouldn’t get too comfortable, said Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London.

“If you start easing restrictions while it’s spreading all you will do is accelerate its spread,” she told NBC News.

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