As the Delta variant of the coronavirus is spreading globally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued a cautionary note, asking countries not to lift COVID curbs prematurely. It has further urged them to exercise extreme caution while reopening their economies.
“We would ask governments at this moment not to lose the gains you’ve made,” said WHO emergencies programme head Michael Ryan in Geneva.
According to an Indian Express report, Ryan emphasised that the pandemic is not over yet. “Remember last summer when we thought everything was good? We got relaxed and we arrived in September-October and ended up in huge trouble,” he said.
“I think that is where we are going again, but with a much more transmissible variant (Delta variant) this time around,” he added.
The England example
England, which has vaccinated a big chunk of its population against COVID, is set to almost completely ease restrictions — even those regarding social distancing and wearing face masks. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Britons much “exercise judgment” and “learn to live with the virus”.
The IE report pointed out that England has now recorded 32,548 fresh COVID cases, crossing the 30,000-mark for the first time since January. Public Health England data have revealed that the Delta variant accounts for about 90% of the new cases in the country.
The US, another country eager to ease COVID curbs, is also witnessing Delta becoming the dominant variant, accounting for 51.7% of all new cases. On July 4, the American Independence Day, President Joe Biden had announced ‘victory’ over the pandemic.
Vis-à-vis England, the US’ vaccination success is patchy, health experts have pointed out. The vaccination rate is very low in certain states, though it is impressively high in some. Washington plans to fully reopen the economy though just 47% of the population is fully inoculated against COVID. Companies such as Apple are looking at bringing employees back to the office a few months from now.
Global spread of Delta
The Delta variant, said to be behind the virulent second wave of COVID in India, has rapidly spread worldwide, and is now record in 98 countries. It is also found to be the dominant variant in countries such as Fiji, Bangladesh, Australia, Vietnam, Russia, the US and the UK.
Health experts say the variant is worrisome because it is highly transmissible. WHO studies have revealed that the Delta is 55% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which was around 50% more transmissible than the original Wuhan strain, according to the IE report.
In a region with low vaccination levels, a person with the Delta variant can infect at least five other people, it is estimated. This estimated number — the R number — was just two or three for the original strain, it is reported.
The prevalence of Delta has led to Europe resorting to curbs again. Several countries such as Australia and Israel are seeing a surge in cases due to this strain.
“I have urged leaders across the world to work together to ensure that by this time next year, 70% of all people in every country are vaccinated,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, highlighting that this was the best way to contain the pandemic and prevent further variants from getting the ‘upper hand’.