The highly transmissible variant, first identified in India in late-2020, is behind the fresh surge being reported in countries like the UK, Israel, Russia and Australia.
While vaccination campaigns have helped bring down infections in numerous — mostly wealthy — countries, the rise of the Delta variant (also known as B.1.617.2) has led to fears of new waves of a virus that has already killed nearly 3.9 million people.
Delta threat looms over Europe
After India, UK has reported the second highest number of Delta cases so far.
In the last week, Britain reported 35,204 new cases of the Delta coronavirus variant, taking the total number of confirmed cases to 111,157, Public Health England said on Friday.
The Delta variant now comprises 96% of sequenced cases, Public Health England said. This means that an overwhelming majority of the cases in Britain are now being caused by the new strain.
In Germany too, the share of Covid-19 infections caused by the more easily transmitted Delta variant has doubled in a week.
In fact, German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Thursday that Europe is “on thin ice” in its battle against the coronavirus, as the highly contagious delta variant threatens to undo progress made in reducing infections.
Russia is also battling rising Delta cases, reporting more than 20,000 cases on Thursday, the country’s highest number since January.
The explosion of new cases since mid-June has been spurred largely by the Delta variant. It accounts for nearly 90 per cent of new infections in capital Moscow.
Across Europe, the variant has triggered widespread concerns as countries are rethinking their plans of lifting Covid restrictions.
The European Union’s disease control agency said earlier this week that the Delta variant could account for 90 per cent of new Covid cases in the coming months.
“It is very likely that the Delta variant will circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals that are not targeted for vaccination,” Andrea Ammon, director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), said in a statement.
“The Delta variant is more transmissible than other circulating variants and we estimate that by the end of August it will represent 90 percent of new cases in the EU,” she added.
Australia, Israel impose new curbs
It’s not just European nations that are grappling with the Delta-led resurgence.
Australia and Israel, which had been successful in fending off Covid-19, have started reimposing restrictions as cases of the Delta variant have started surging.
The centre of Australia’s largest city Sydney entered lockdown, a shock for a population that had returned to relative normality after months of recording very few local cases. Sydney is the capital of New South Wales, which saw cases surge to 64 this week from 20 last week.
Vaccination success story Israel, which has inoculated well over half of its population, reimposed indoor mask-wearing less than two weeks after it lifted the measure.
The Israel health ministry reversed the decision after four days of logging more than 100 new cases a day. On Thursday, the middle eastern nation reported 227 new cases – nearly six-fold rise since the start of this month.
The head of Israel’s pandemic response taskforce, Nachman Ash, said the rise was likely due to the Delta variant, adding that the increasing cases were not yet matched by a parallel rise in hospitalisations or deaths.
The strain is also affecting India’s neighbours, with Bangladesh mulling fresh lockdown amid a steep surge in Covid deaths.
At 108, Bangladesh reported its second highest single-day toll since the pandemic’s outbreak in the country, according to health authorities. Health officials blame the surge on the deadly Delta variant, which has spread to Dhaka and is mounting pressure on health facilities in the country’s capital.
Third wave in Africa
In Africa, which has so far been spared the worst of the pandemic, infections are surging at an alarming rate in at least 12 countries. In several countries, Delta variant is leading the resurgence in infections.
Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) director John Nkengasong described the third wave hitting the continent as “extremely brutal” and “very devastating”.
The Delta variant has been reported in 14 African countries, making up the bulk of new cases in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, according to the World Health Organization.
‘Delta variant greatest threat to US’
While Covid cases in the US have remained largely under control due to a massive vaccination push, the situation in the UK and recent spurt in Delta cases have caused some alarm.
White House chief medical advisor Dr Anthony Fauci had recently warned that the Delta variant is the “greatest threat” to America’s attempt to eradicate the Covid-19 pandemic.
The variant now makes up more than 20 per cent of all new cases in the US, nearly doubling from nearly 10 per cent two weeks ago.
“The transmissibility is unquestionably greater than the wild-type SARS-CoV-2, as well as the Alpha variant. It is associated with an increased disease severity, as reflected by hospitalisation risk, compared to Alpha. And in lab tests, associated with modest decreased neutralisation by sera from previously infected and vaccinated individuals,” Fauci noted.
What should I know about the Delta variant?
It’s a version of the coronavirus that has been found in more than 80 countries since it was first detected in India. It got its name from the World Health Organization, which names notable variants after letters of the Greek alphabet.
The World Health Organization classified it as a variant of concern (VOC) on May 10. Later, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Union health ministry of India also classified it as a VOC.
Experts say the Delta variant spreads more easily because of mutations that make it better at latching onto cells in our bodies.
‘Vaccines effective against Delta variant’
Various studies have shown that the available vaccines work against variants, including the Delta variant.
Researchers in England studied how effective the two-dose AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were against it, compared with the Alpha variant that was first detected in the UK.
The vaccines were protective for those who got both doses but were less so among those who got one dose.
(With inputs from agencies)