A new strain of the emerging coronavirus that appeared in India for the first time and caused an increase in new cases in Britain has raised questions about its seriousness and the ability of vaccines to prevent it.
The so-called “delta” strain has spread widely in India, causing a record spike in cases this spring.
The new strain has become the dominant cause in Britain, although vaccination programs in Britain are considered one of the most successful in the world. With these increases, the British were divided over whether plans to return to normal life should be implemented, according to a report in the Washington Post.
The New York Times report says that Covid-19 has declined in Britain more than any other country, in recent weeks, with less than 10 Britons dying daily from the disease, down from about 1,200 a day in late January.
But despite this success, Britain is now dealing with a new rise in cases, with more than 41 percent of its population fully vaccinated, and more than 60 percent receiving at least one dose.
The number of new cases registered daily is rising slowly but steadily, and although the rate of increase is considered small compared to previous months, there is “a cause for concern”, according to the New York Times, as the cases doubled, during the past month, from two thousand cases per day to about four thousand.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday the government was still assessing the data to see if the country could fully reopen by June 21 as planned.
And the Washington Post says that “the situation may have a significant impact on vaccination plans and the reopening of the economy around the world, including in the United States.”
One of three breeds
The strain B.1.617 is called a triple mutation, because it is divided into three sub-strains, and the World Health Organization has warned that the B.1.617.2 strain, in particular, is “alarming”, because the rate of transmission through it is greater than the other two strains.
The organization confirmed the spread of the new strain “Delta” in 62 countries, including the United States, where it accounted for about 3 percent of cases of coronavirus infections as of May 8, according to the “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”.
How dangerous it is
The Washington Post says that it has contributed to an increase in the number of cases, over the past months, in India, where the number of daily cases has become about 4,500.
In his remarks to Parliament on Monday, Hancock indicated that the British government believes that “delta” is 40 percent more transmissible than the “alpha” strain, known as B.1.1.7, which was first discovered in Britain.
With about 40 percent of Britons not receiving any vaccinations, the New York Times says, the recent increases are likely to get significantly worse. Dr Chand Nagpol, of the British Medical Association, said the country was going through a “pivotal moment”.
The increase in infections could lead to an increase in deaths “but it will be less because most people at risk of serious disease have already been vaccinated, and about 90 percent of Britons aged 65 and older have already received both doses.”
Effect of vaccines
Researchers say vaccines appear to be effective against Delta and British data have shown that the majority of new cases in the country are among those not yet vaccinated. Almost all serious cases were recorded among those who were not vaccinated or who were not fully vaccinated.
According to the data Hancock cited, only three people were hospitalized after contracting the Indian strain who had been fully vaccinated.
“Vaccines are working,” Hancock said. “We have to keep applying, and this critically includes that second dose, which we know provides better protection against Delta.”
But according to the Washington Post, there are greater concerns for countries that are implementing slow vaccination programs or using vaccines that are less effective, such as the Chinese “Sinopharma” vaccine.
WHO officials warn that the presence of new strains in conjunction with the reopening of countries could lead to an outbreak.
“Easing public health rules and social measures, and increasing social mobility, with strains of the virus and unfair vaccination, is a very dangerous combination,” WHO official Maria Van Kerkhove said at a press conference, last week.