Q&A: What is the Delta variant and should we be worried?

It's more transmissable, and less susceptible to vaccines — so there is growing concern about the rise of this Covid variant
Q&A: What is the Delta variant and should we be worried?

While daily cases of Covid-19 are steadily decreasing in Ireland, there is concern about the rate at which Delta (formerly known as the Indian variant) is spreading in Britain and the North.

Ireland's Covid-19 landscape is continuing to improve, with daily cases, hospitalisations, and admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) steadily decreasing.

However, despite these positive signs, there remains concern about the impact the Delta variant could have as the country continues to reopen.

What is the Delta variant and why is its presence troubling?

The Delta variant, formerly known as the Indian variant, was categorised as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on May 10.

A study published in The Lancet medical journal last week suggested there could be reduced vaccine efficacy associated with the variant.

Research from Public Health England has also shown that the Delta variant reduces the effectiveness of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines among those who have only received one jab, though protection is higher for those who have received both doses.

The Delta variant has a transmission rate between 40% and 60% higher than the alpha variant (B117), which already had a 50% higher transmissibility than the original strain of the virus.

What is the situation in Northern Ireland and Britain?

In a press briefing, First Minister Arlene Foster said "about 20% of new Covid-19 cases" recorded in the North are thought to be the Delta variant.

The North's Public Health Agency said it has identified 111 probable or confirmed cases of the Delta variant across the North, with 28 cases in Kilkeel, Co Down.

In the UK, the variant now accounts for 91% of new cases, with new data suggesting the number of cases appears to be doubling every four and a half days in parts of England.

How many cases are there in the Republic?

According to today's report by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, there have been 126 cases of the Delta variant reported in the State.

What measures do we have in place to prevent importation?

A key aspect of the mandatory hotel and home quarantine is to prevent the importation of variants of concern.

However, on Thursday, the Health Information and Quality Authority expressed concern that this system may be “ineffective” due to the high volume of travel between Ireland and the UK, with the UK not being a designated country for mandatory hotel quarantine.

The increasing prevalence of the variant in the North is also a concern as there are no restrictions on cross-border travel.

Are Irish officials concerned?

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan has previously described the variant as a “dark cloud on the horizon”.

Health minister Stephen Donnelly has said new data on the potential for so-called vaccine escape associated with the variant has to be taken “very seriously”.

Dr Cillian De Gascun, from the National Virus Reference Laboratory, told a briefing last week there remains concern around this variant, but that it appears the rate of increase in its incidence is decreasing.

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