The Coronavirus Delta Variant Threat – More Contagious and Deadly

Despite all the robust and costly measures in place, the authorities have as yet been unable to stem the spread of the second wave of Covid-19 infection. The government cannot water down or botch crucial decisions

By Mrinal Roy

Covid-19 and climate change are existential threats to the world and humanity. They are severely testing the crisis management acumen of governments across the world. It is far from being a glorious story. It is sorting the men from the boys.

After more than 18 months of battling against Covid-19, a death toll of more than 3.9 million and wide disparities in access to vaccines and vaccination programmes among countries across the world, normality still seems very elusive. Second and third waves of infection, mutations and more infectious variants of coronavirus have repeatedly hobbled and disrupted plans to open up the economy and forced countries across the world to reimpose lockdowns, curfews and restrictions to robustly contain the deadly spread of the virus.

The world is therefore still groping its way in its protracted battle against Covid-19. There are new developments about the virus almost every week. Countries have to keep diligent watch on these developments in order to factor in and fine tune their strategies to fight the battle against a formidable virus. All relevant developments must therefore be carefully weighed and assessed.

Highly contagious

The biggest threat currently faced by the world is the spread of the extremely contagious Delta Plus variant of Covid-19 — a new and slightly changed version of the  Delta variant. The World Health Organization warned last week that ‘the delta variant of coronavirus has been identified in at least 92 countries, including the US and Europe and is widely considered the most transmissible Covid-19 strain observed so far and is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated populations.’ He added: ‘As some countries ease public health and social measures, we are starting to see increases in transmission around the world.’

Dr Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said last week that 20.6% of new cases in the US are due to the delta variant. He added that it is the ‘greatest threat’ to the nation’s efforts to eliminate Covid-19. Other scientists tracking the variant say it is on track to become the dominant virus variant in the U.S. and globally. It is also driving spikes of infections in Europe, despite vaccination rates in some countries being on the rise.

Health experts warn that the rapid spread of the highly infectious delta variant is a sign that the global race between vaccination and the coronavirus could tilt in favour of the virus, unless countries ramp up their immunization campaigns and practise caution instead of hastily and rashly opening borders or economic activities.

Preying ability

The Delta Plus variant has an enhanced ability to prey on the vulnerable especially in places with low vaccination rates. Research conducted in the U.K., where the strain already accounts for 99% of new Covid-19 cases, suggests it is about 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which previously dominated. It also increases the risk of hospitalization and is more resistant to vaccines when only one dose has been taken in two-jab vaccines.

The delta variant is dominant in the UK, according to the latest data from Public Health England, with younger people, the unvaccinated and the partially vaccinated more at risk from infection while older people are still most at risk of dying from an infection. The warning is clear. The young, unvaccinated, over 50 or those having received only one vaccine dose are most at risk from the Delta variant.

The delta variant has thus fuelled a third wave of infection in the UK which is currently registering about 20,000 new cases daily, about 10-times the average in early May. This surge has triggered travel restrictions from other countries and caused the government to push its campaign to vaccinate all adults as quickly as possible. It has also forced the government to delay the lifting of remaining restrictions it had planned for 21 June till 19 July.

Protective measures

Drawing lessons from the UK delta variant experience, the US, Europe and other countries with ample access to vaccines are boosting their vaccination campaigns in a bid to cushion the impact of the delta variant. However, in Africa and other developing countries with limited access to vaccines and low rate of vaccination of the population, the impact of the delta variant could be devastating.

Its rapid spread has forced a growing number of countries to reimpose lockdowns and other restrictions, amid fears that this more contagious virus strain would hobble global efforts to contain the pandemic. The new curbs on travel and daily life stretch from Australia and Bangladesh to South Africa and Germany, where the authorities imposed new restrictions on travellers from Covid-19 variant affected countries such as Portugal and Russia.

Thai authorities declared a month-long limited lockdown in the capital, Bangkok, and neighbouring provinces owing to a surge in new cases of Covid-19 infection attributed to the delta variant. Malaysia extended a nationwide shutdown that was scheduled to be relaxed next week. Taiwan, which reported its first delta case on Saturday announced new restrictions for people arriving from seven ‘high-risk countries’ namely Bangladesh, Britain, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Israel and Peru. Israel, which has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, has also registered a jump in delta variant cases in recent weeks, causing the authorities to reinstate an indoor mask mandate that was dropped. Hong Kong also said that it was banning all passenger flights from Britain as from 1 July because of the spike of delta variant virus strain there.

What if?

The delta variant represents a serious threat to people. We cannot take this threat lightly. Our priority must be to save people. It is therefore important that Mauritius takes on board the strong actions taken by counties across the world to robustly contain the delta variant and urgently factors the potent risks of the variant on the health and lives of people in its plans to open its borders to fully vaccinated international travellers as from 15 July under certain conditions and more openly as from 1 October 2021.

This is doubly necessary as the delta variant has a dominant presence in a number of countries which are our principal sources of tourists. The country cannot take any risks with such a deadly variant of coronavirus and put the hotel and frontliners of the hospitality sector as well as the vulnerable elderly and people at large at risk. It would be disastrous if the delta variant were to enter the country.

Every precaution must therefore be taken to prevent the delta variant from entering the country. This means very carefully choosing the countries air flights to Mauritius will be allowed from and more importantly which delta variant free countries whose nationals would be allowed to come. The prudent and sensible action to take would be to ban tourists and travellers from all delta variant infected countries. The government cannot water down or botch such crucial decisions.

Preventing mayhem

We should remember that despite months having elapsed since the start of the second wave of infection in Mauritius, we still do not know how it all started. It is obvious that, as was the case for the 2020 Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was imported into the country through an incoming traveller. Rodrigues remains Covid-free because every precaution is taken to limit travel to the island and prevent the spread of the virus to Rodrigues.

The facts are telling. Despite all the robust and costly measures in place in terms of contact tracing, thousands of daily PCR tests, quarantine and sanitary and social distancing measures since early March, the authorities have as yet been unable to stem the spread of the second wave of Covid-19 infection as new cases continue to be detected almost daily in the community. Under such circumstances, the more contagious and deadly delta variant would wreak havoc and cause socio-economic and health mayhem if it were to enter the country. The authorities must therefore take every action necessary to prevent this.

* Published in print edition on 2 July 2021

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