The latest coronavirus variant of concern, which experts say appears to be more transmissible and cause more severe symptoms than other variants, could become the dominant strain of the virus in Ontario within weeks.
The coronavirus variant labeled the Delta variant by the World Health Organization (WHO), is one of two variants in the B.1.617 family first identified in India and is believed to be anywhere from 30 to nearly 100 percent more transmissible.
“The best estimate at the moment is this [new] variant may be 60 percent more transmissible than the Alpha [‘U.K.’] variant,” epidemiologist Neil Ferguson told The Guardian.
The Delta variant has now spread to 62 countries, including the U.S. and Canada. According to Public Health England (PHE), on Thursday, they said the B.1.617.2 coronavirus variant (Delta variant) is now believed to be dominant in the United Kingdom.;
The PHE cautioned that while more data is needed, their early findings showed that the B.1.617.2 or “Delta” variant was more likely to cause serious illness than the B.1.1.7 or “Alpha” variant, which had been dominant in the UK since it was first detected in southeast England last fall, reports CNN.
And with the number of new cases in England, primarily identified as the Delta variant, and with most of the patients not being vaccinated, serious doubts are being raised over the plan to lift all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England on June 21.
“The virus is definitely upping its game”
Dr. Peter Juni, the scientific director of the Ontario government’s Science Advisory Table, told CTV News on Wednesday the Delta variant was probably about 50 percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant, which fueled Canada’s third coronavirus wave.
He added that the Alpha variant was much more infectious than the strain of SARS-CoV-2 that had originally been predominant in Canada. “The virus is definitely upping its game,” he said.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Dr. Lawrence Loh, the medical officer of health for Peel Region in suburban Toronto, said that B.1.617 cases are “quickly replacing” B.1.117 as the most prevalent form of the virus locally.
He also pointed out that modeling data indicates an impending surge in cases. “The trends being observed are concerning,” he told reporters.
“Preliminary data suggests that … within one month, the delta variant will be the dominant strain in our region, with the rest of Ontario weeks behind.”
The importance of being fully vaccinated
Researcher Zeynep Tufekci wrote an article for The New York Times titled “COVID’s deadliest phase may be here soon” on May 28. One thing he wrote stands out like a sore thumb.
“A variant with higher transmissibility is a huge danger to people without immunity either from vaccination or prior infection, even if the variant is no more deadly than previous versions of the virus … A more transmissible variant can burn through such an immunologically naïve population very fast.”Zeynep Tufekci
And here is what is particularly interesting – UK researchers have found that two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine appear to be slightly less effective against the Delta variant (providing 81 percent protection, versus the 87 percent against the dominant U.K. variant).
But for the many people who have only received one shot of the two-dose vaccine, the protection drops to only 33 percent.
“If that is accurate,” writes Intelligencer, “it means that [the Delta variant] may be the variant that currently poses the biggest threat to partially vaccinated populations worldwide.”