The World Health Organization and authorities in the U.K. have fired off a warning about the highly contagious COVID-19 Delta variant, which is being blamed for 90% of British cases.
First emerging in India, the Delta variant is now around 60% more infectious than the Alpha strain that was previously dominant in Britain, new Public Health England (PHE) analysis showed on Friday.
The variant now makes up for more than 90% of new COVID- cases in the country, the government agency said. Growth rates for Delta cases are high across all parts of the U.K., with regional estimates for doubling time ranging from 4.5 days to 11.5 days, it added.
The new analysis comes as the World Health Organization warned on Thursday that the Delta variant is “poised to take hold” across Europe, as dozens of countries lift restrictions and more social gatherings take place. It also comes as many European countries try to salvage their summer travel seasons.
Hans Kluge, WHO’s regional director for Europe, said the Delta variant (B1617.2.) had shown signs of being able to evade some vaccines and that some vulnerable people, such as those aged 60 years and over, remain unprotected.
Meanwhile, Madrid’s health authorities warned that the region is experiencing community transmission of the Delta variant, and said they would bring forward the administration of the second shot of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, together with the University of Oxford, for over 60 year olds to bolster protection.
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Antonio Zapatero, deputy health chief of the Madrid region, said the Delta strain could become the dominant one in Spain in between six and seven weeks, El Pais reported.
PHE cautioned that there is currently insufficient evidence to indicate that any of the variants recently detected in India cause more severe disease or render the vaccines currently deployed any less effective.
“With numbers of Delta variant cases on the rise across the country, vaccination is our best defence. Remember that two doses provide significantly more protection than a single dose, Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency, said.
The latest data will increase pressure on Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson to delay the next, and final stage of easing lockdown restrictions on June 21. The government is set to decide whether this can go ahead on Monday.
Earlier this week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, warned that the Delta variant now accounts for more than 6% of sequenced cases in the U.S. Fauci stressed that the U.S. must avoid what happened in the U.K.