The Delta variant is on its way to becoming the globally dominant coronavirus variant, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist of the World Health Organization, said during a news briefing in Geneva today.
“The Delta variant is well on its way to becoming the dominant variant globally because of its significantly increased transmissibility,” said Swaminathan.
According to the WHO’s weekly epidemiological report released Tuesday, 80 countries have reported the Delta variant.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday she anticipates that the Delta variant will become the dominant strain in the United States.
About the Delta variant: Officially the B.1.617.2 variant, it was first detected in India in February and has now spread across the globe. Some fear it could overwhelm health care systems and reverse reopening plans before vaccinations take hold.
It is also more contagious — perhaps 60% more contagious than the Alpha variant, which was responsible for a surge in Michigan this spring.
But remember: People who are fully vaccinated seem to have good protection against it. Those who have gotten only one shot of a two-dose vaccine do not.
Canada has extended its Covid-19 restrictions on non-essential international and US travel until at least July 21, according to the Canadian Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Minister Bill Blair tweeted:
Blair also added, “As we have said, the government is planning measures for fully vaccinated Canadians, Permanent Residents, and others who are currently permitted to enter Canada and will provide further details on Monday, June 21.”
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are both due to give updates on the Covid-19 pandemic in the US today.
Harris is traveling to Atlanta this morning as part of a nationwide tour to encourage Covid-19 vaccinations.
Just before noon, she’s scheduled to visit a pop-up vaccination site at Ebenezer Baptist Church. After that, at 1:40 p.m. ET, she’ll give a speech at the Covid-19 vaccination mobilization event at Clark Atlanta University, according to her schedule.
Biden will speak at 2:15 p.m. ET from the White House about the US’s Covid-19 response and the vaccination program, according to his schedule.
Earlier this week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designated the Delta variant as a “variant of concern,” which means scientists believe it is more transmissible or can cause more severe disease.
Here’s what we know about it:
- What is the “Delta variant”? Officially the B.1.617.2 variant, it was first detected in India in February and has now spread across the globe. Some fear it could overwhelm health care systems and reverse reopening plans before vaccinations take hold.
- Why is it called the Delta variant? It’s kind of like naming storms. Variants all have scientific names — B.1.617.2, for instance. But those numbers and letters don’t roll off the tongue, so they were for some time also known by their countries of origin. The UK and South Africa variants, for instance. The Delta variant would have been the India variant. In an effort to destigmatize countries associated with variants, the World Health Organization in May changed its designations to the Greek alphabet. The UK variant became the Alpha variant.
- How does the Delta variant compare with other variants? It is more contagious, perhaps 60% more contagious than the Alpha variant, which was responsible for a surge in Michigan this spring.
- Do vaccines work against the Delta variant? Yes, but there is a catch. People who are fully vaccinated seem to have good protection against it. But people who have gotten only one shot of a two-dose vaccine do not.
The Covid-19 Delta variant, which is also known as B1.617.2 and was first identified in India, accounts for 99% of new coronavirus cases in the UK, according to the latest data from Public Health England (PHE).
At least 33,630 cases of the Delta variant were identified in the week to 14 June, bringing the UK’s total number of cases of the variant to 75,953, PHE said on Friday.
As of Monday, a total of 806 people have been hospitalized with the Delta variant, an increase of 423 since last week, the report said.
The new data suggests that both the Oxford Astra/Zeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccines are about 75 percent effective in preventing hospitalization from the Delta variant after a single dose and 94% effective after two doses.
Dr. Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, warned on Friday that cases of the Delta variant were “rising rapidly” in the UK and that the variant is now “dominant.”
“The increase is primarily in younger age groups, a large proportion of which were unvaccinated but are now being invited to receive the vaccine,” she added.
The European Union’s governing body has recommended that the bloc should lift Covid-19 restrictions on non-essential travel from 14 countries, including the US.
In a statement on Friday, the European Council said member states should “gradually lift the travel restrictions at the external borders” for residents of the following third countries:
- New Zealand
- Republic of North Macedonia
- South Korea
- United States of America
- China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity
Travel restrictions should also be gradually lifted for the special administrative regions of China Hong Kong and Macao. The condition of reciprocity for these special administrative regions has been lifted, it added.
The decision was based on criteria covering the “epidemiological situation and overall response to COVID-19, as well as the reliability of the available information and data sources.” It adds that reciprocity should also be taken into account on a case by case basis.
The list is to be reviewed every two weeks.
With the odds stacked against the US reaching the target of 70% of adults at least partially vaccinated by July 4 — a goal set by President Joe Biden — a vaccine expert said time is running out to get ahead of the potential spread of Covid-19 variants.
“Vaccines are our only way out of this,” Dr. Paul Offit told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “Unless we vaccinate a significant percentage of the population before winter hits, you’re going to see more spread and the creation of more variants, which will only make this task more difficult.”
The numbers of Covid-19 cases and infections have decreased, Offit said. But with hundreds of people dying and at least 10,000 people infected most days, the rates are still too high to prevent the summer lull from turning into a winter surge, he said.
Already the US has seen surges of the highly transmissible Alpha and Delta variants, while the spread of the Gamma variant is growing in several states.
In order to attain herd immunity, or the point at which the virus cannot easily spread within the community, experts have offered estimates of it requiring the innoculation through infection or vaccination of between 70 to 85% of the population. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 53% of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.