The delta type of coronavirus that has infected the UK has become dominant in Portugal and has emerged in clusters in Germany, France and Spain, prompting European health officials to warn that more measures are needed to slow its spread.
While the new strain, which first emerged in India, still represents a fraction of the total coronavirus cases in continental Europe, it is gaining ground, according to a Financial Times analysis of global genetic data from the virus-tracking database Gisaid. The Financial Times revealed that it is responsible for 96% of serial infections with the Covid-19 virus in Portugal, more than 20% in Italy and about 16% in Belgium.
The small but growing number of cases has raised concerns that the alternate delta may stall the European Union’s progress over the past two months in cutting new infections and deaths to their lowest levels since at least the fall.
“We are in the process of destroying the virus and the epidemic and there is no way to allow the delta type to get the upper hand,” French Health Minister Olivier Veran told reporters at a vaccination center in Paris on Tuesday.
Ferran said that 2 to 4 per cent of virus samples analyzed in France had the delta type: “You could say that’s still low, but it’s similar to what was in the UK a few weeks ago.” FT analysis of JSAID data shows that this number could be higher.
In Portugal, co-transmission of the variant was found in the greater Lisbon region, where more than 60 percent of the country’s novel coronavirus cases were identified in the past week. Non-essential travel in and out of the city has been banned to prevent cases from spreading to the rest of the country.
Scientists across the continent are now looking to the UK – where Covid-19 cases have tripled in the past month and the delta variant accounts for about 98 percent of all new infections – for clues about what might happen next and what actions might be needed. It’s taken.
After official data showed that the delta variant appeared to increase the risk of hospitalization by 2.2 times compared to the alpha variant, the UK government this week imposed a one-month delay in lifting the remaining coronavirus restrictions.
“Britain’s decisions to reopen life and society will serve as a laboratory for us in Europe,” said Bruno Lina, a virologist in Lyon who advises the French government and helps coordinate the country’s changing regime.
Whether clusters of delta infections spreading across the European Union lead to larger outbreaks depends in part on how many people have been fully vaccinated and how people behave now, with many restrictions on life and health lifted, the scientists said.
Recent research by the UK government has highlighted the need to complete vaccination programs as quickly as possible. to me Data collected by Public Health EnglandHowever, the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine is generally less effective against the delta variant than previous strains. The two doses increase protection against delta-symptomatic infection from 33 percent to 81 percent.
While around 46 per cent of the UK population receives full immunizations, vaccination rates across most of continental Europe are between 20 and 30 per cent. About 26 percent of France’s population has been fully vaccinated.
French authorities are currently trying to contain the outbreak in the Landes region near the Spanish border, where 125 cases of the delta variant have been confirmed through genetic sequencing and another 130 suspected, representing about 30 percent of the latest infections in the region. Delta-style groups have also been identified in the southern suburbs of Paris and an art school in Strasbourg in recent weeks.
In each case, health officials responded with the same formula: ramp up contact tracing and try again to vaccinate people in affected areas.
“If we continue vaccination at a good pace and do some non-pharmacological interventions such as masks indoors, we can still contain the spread of the virus this summer,” said Lina, the French virologist. “This alternative will replace other variables – we have to keep that in mind – but that does not mean that it will lead to a new wave of epidemics.”
Some scientists fear that the delta variant may have already spread further but does not need to be discovered yet as the genetic sequencing required to identify variants in continental Europe has been completed. While the United Kingdom has sequenced more than 500,000 genomes for Sars-Cov-2, Germany, France and Spain have sequenced about 130,000, 47,000 and 34,000, respectively.
“It is expensive, it takes time and it has been neglected,” says Antoine Flaholt, director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of Geneva.
However, Denmark has sequenced a high percentage of cases and is still identifying a low number of Delta infections, although the variant arrived in the country around the same time as the UK.
Experts said this could be partly explained by differences in demographics and movement, including the number of cases imported into the country from high prevalence areas such as India and living conditions in the communities to which they were transferred.
Jeff Barrett, director of the COVID-19 Genome Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge, said the difference in delta prevalence across European countries was “a bit ambiguous”.
However, many experts believe that wherever the delta variant is introduced, it will eventually become dominant. The key, they say, is to increase the proportion of people fully vaccinated while slowing transmission of the virus as much as possible.
“We have to make the messages very clear,” said Lena from Lyon. “not finished yet.”
Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey, Peter Wise, Guy Chazan, and Clive Cookson