The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in its weekly epidemiological update that the so-called Delta variant is present in 96 countries. This marks an increase of eleven countries where the Delta variant has been detected compared to last week.
First identified in India, the Delta variant is considered to be more transmissible. It has been classified as a variant of concern by the WHO, Public Health England, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr Mike Ryan, the executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said that the variant could “be more lethal because it’s more efficient in the way it transmits between humans and it will eventually find those vulnerable individuals who will become severely ill, have to be hospitalised and potentially die.”
According to Scientific American, “studies to date suggest the Delta variant is between forty and sixty percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first identified in the U.K.—which was already fifty percent more transmissible than the original viral strain first detected in Wuhan, China. Delta has quickly become the dominant variant in the U.K. and has led to another surge in cases there, despite the population’s high vaccination rate. And it is rapidly becoming more prevalent in the U.S.”
The variant has sparked panic throughout Europe and has made landfall in multiple African countries including Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tunisia, and Uganda. Many countries, including Australia, Bangladesh, Israel, and New Zealand, are reimposing some form of restrictions due to concerns over the variant. Brazil recently reported its first death due to the Delta variant.
Adding to global concerns is the emergence of the Delta plus variant. First identified in Europe, the Delta plus variant has been deemed a variant of concern by India’s Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. Some scientists did, however, consider this decision to be premature. According to virologist Dr Gagandeep Kang, quoted by BBC News, “there is no data yet to support the variant of concern claim. You need biological and clinical information in order to consider whether it is truly a variant of concern. You need to study a few hundred patients who are sick with this condition and variant and find out whether they are at greater risk of greater disease than the ancestral variant.”
Of the Delta plus variant, Dr Randeep Guleria – director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) – has said there is a lack of data at present to indicate that the variant is more contagious, or more deadly. “There isn’t much data on [the] Delta plus variant to suggest it’s more infectious, causing more deaths, or has developed [a] significant immune escape mechanism,” he said. “But if we follow COVID-appropriate behaviour and get vaccinated, we’ll be safe against any…emerging variants.”