The delta variant of the coronavirus has caused concern even in countries that have already vaccinated a large part of the population, as it has spread rapidly among the unvaccinated population, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). United Kingdom, Portugal, Israel and Australia are some of the countries that resumed restriction measures after outbreaks of Covid-19 attributed to this strain.
The variant, formerly known as B.1.617.2, was first detected in India in October 2020, and is one of the so-called “worrying variants” by the WHO. With a set of mutations that make it more transmissible than the original coronavirus, it already circulating in at least 85 countries and accounts for over 90% of Covid-19 cases in the UK and India.
In Russia and Indonesia, the delta variant also accounts for over 90% of cases and has caused one of the worst death rates from the pandemic in those countries, where vaccination is still limited. In Bangladesh, there will be a one-week lockdown starting on Monday (28); throughout the country, people will only be able to leave their homes during this period for medical reasons. The delta has also raised alarm in Africa, as across the continent Covid-19 cases have increased by 25% in one week.
Experts say that while this variant is more transmissible, like the other forms of the coronavirus, it is also fought off with vaccines and other measures that are already being used, such as social distancing and wearing masks.
Delta is the variant that transmits with greater speed and could take advantage of the relaxation of restrictive measures in many countries to expand, as warned this week the WHO. “The delta variant now has the opportunity to be transmitted with increased socialization, if the easing of measures is done too early at a time when large populations are not yet vaccinated,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the anti-technical cell. Covid-19 of the WHO, at a press conference.
Van Kerkhove noted that, on the positive side, there is no evidence that the delta variant represents an increase in mortality among those affected by Covid-19 and that vaccines continue to be effective against it, at least in reducing cases. “Anyway, it is important to emphasize that it is necessary to receive two doses of the vaccine to be fully protected,” he added.
Likewise, sanitary measures are also effective to prevent the transmission of this variant, which, in Van Kerkhove’s opinion, may mean “that they should be applied for a longer period”.
“It is the fastest variant and can easily affect the most vulnerable,” reiterated WHO Health Emergencies Director Mike Ryan.
In the United States, about 35% of new Covid cases reported last week were of the delta variant, an increase from about 10% identified in early June. Infectologist Anthony Fauci, leader of the country’s coronavirus task force, said on Friday that the delta variant “is currently the biggest threat in the US to our attempt to eliminate Covid-19.” The good news, he said, is that the vaccines in use in the country are effective against the variant. “We have the tools. We’re going to use them and wipe out the outbreaks,” Fauci said, according to US media.
In the UK, delta emerged in late April and quickly became the dominant variant among Covid-19 cases in the country. Last week, around 94% of new cases of the disease among Britons were attributed to this variant.
On the positive side, an analysis showed that vaccines used in the country are highly effective against the delta variant. Second data released two weeks ago by Public Health England (PHE), the Department of Health agency in the United Kingdom, the Pfizer vaccine reduced by 96% and the Astraneca vaccine reduced hospitalizations for the delta variant by 92%, after the application of two doses of the immunizers. Values are similar to the effectiveness of vaccines against the alpha variant.
That is, even when those vaccinated end up being infected by the variant, the chances of the disease getting worse are drastically reduced.
But the analysis also shows that the first dose of these immunizers is less effective in preventing symptomatic delta-variant infections compared to the first-dose effectiveness of the alpha variant, so authorities are stressing that it is crucial that people take both doses. .
According to the PHE, the delta variant mutations, which occur in the gene that encodes the spike protein, used by the virus to enter human cells, increase its transmissibility by 50% to 60%. Virologist Wendy Barclay of Imperial College London told the newspaper The Guardian that delta appears to make it easier for more viruses to accumulate in infected people, which causes them to expel more virus particles that can infect other individuals.
Sydney, Australia, began on Saturday night (26) a two-week confinement to contain an outbreak caused by the delta variant of the coronavirus. The approximately five million residents of the city’s metropolitan area and surrounding regions will be able to leave their homes only for essential chores, medical services and exercise. This is the first lockdown in Australia’s largest city since December.
Within two weeks, more than 110 cases were registered in Sydney. The outbreak is related to a driver who transported airline crews from the airport to quarantine hotels.
Four other Australian states also reinforced the restriction measures, with stricter rules of social distancing and the resumption of the mandatory use of masks in closed places, after recording the highest number of local contagions this year in Australia. In the country, 23.8% of the population has received at least the first dose of a vaccine, while 4.6% are fully immunized.
Because of the outbreaks in Australia, New Zealand will suspend quarantine-free travel between the two countries for three days.
Israel, one of the countries with the most advanced vaccination campaign in the world, which combined with strict mobility restriction measures managed to zero the number of deaths by Covid for several days in recent weeks, is also on the alert with new outbreaks caused by the delta variant .
On Thursday, Israeli authorities announced that the use of masks indoors will once again be mandatory and that the permission for vaccinated tourists to enter the country, planned for 1 July, has been postponed to 1 August. Other measures include increasing fines for breaches of quarantine and intensifying the monitoring of contagion chains and information campaigns.
Dozens of infections have recently occurred in schools in two Israeli cities, which have forced hundreds of people to quarantine. The country has already released vaccination for adolescents aged 12 to 15 years, but many have not yet been immunized.
Despite the new outbreaks, the death rate in the country remains close to zero, and only 26 of the 729 active cases of coronavirus needed to be hospitalized, according to data released by the Ministry of Health this week. At the height of the pandemic in Israel, before vaccination, the average number of new cases per day was 8,000.
About half of the delta-infected adults in the country had already been vaccinated, although authorities did not specify whether this group had received one or both doses of the immunizers. About half of the new infections registered in Israel are in those under the age of 16, which is why the Israeli government is stepping up vaccination of teenagers.