It was a short break, too short. In recent months the media and experts in many European countries have stopped warning of the spread of the corona, new infected numbers have dropped as temperatures and vaccinated numbers have risen, most restrictions have been lifted, restaurants have filled and Europeans have imagined a return to normal life. This is still a possible scenario, but a new enemy is looming on the horizon – the Indian Delta variant. “Now that the fear of a fourth wave already exists, the pleasure of seeing the rate of infection decreases, decreases,” the German newspaper Di Walt wrote this morning.
The next few months will prove if this is a false concern. Meanwhile, the UK is recording more than ten thousand new corona cases a day in the past week. Portugal recorded a tens of percent jump in infections each week, imposing a curfew on nearly three million Lisbon residents. Russia has imposed a vaccination requirement on workers in certain sectors, making life difficult for those who do not want to be vaccinated with the Russian vaccine (“Sputnik V”), meaning most residents.
What these countries have in common is that more than 90% of the cases are attributed to the Indian variant, which developed in the subcontinent at the end of 2020 and is responsible for the mega-eruption recorded there this year. In Germany, a leading economic research institute has already warned that the “fourth wave” is a “heavy threat to the projected economic recovery” and the head of the Robert Koch Institute said “it is not a question of whether the variant variant will become the leading strain in Germany, only when”.
Another big question, which experts are still unable to answer because of the primacy of the situation, is whether the outbreaks in the UK, Russia and Portugal, as well as the ongoing “small fire” morbidity in the US, stem from local vaccine operators’ characteristics. The dishes and the length of time between them – or they just precede the rest, due to circumstances like tourism and open borders.
A British study published in Lancet last week showed high efficacy for Pfizer-Biontech vaccines against the variant, but only after two doses, and at a lower level than that recorded against the English variant. As time goes on from the vaccination campaign, the unanswered question about the validity of the vaccines also becomes relevant, especially in the context of dealing with new and more contagious variants. The “Variant Delta,” which is flooding with these questions, has become the hottest European topic of conversation in the past week.
UK: The opening of the economy has been postponed, mortality is low despite 10,000 cases a day
On Monday, the United Kingdom was scheduled to celebrate “Freedom Day,” as the media called it, the date on which restrictions on gatherings, office work and tourism were to be lifted. The date on which the British economy, which has been hit hard by the corona plague since the early 19th century, will return to full activity. But amid more than ten thousand new corona cases a day in the past week (compared to 1,000 cases a month ago), Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided last week to postpone the opening for at least a month.
99% of Corona’s current cases in the UK are of a Delta mutation. Despite paper restrictions on tourist entry and the need for isolation, the country is relatively open to flights from around the world, which may explain how it is becoming a variant incubator.
The UK has launched its first vaccination campaign among Western countries, and has provided 73 million vaccine doses since the end of December. In March, the government reported that about half of them were from AstraZeneca (in a vaccine developed in conjunction with Oxford University) and half from Biontech-Pfizer, while a small minority were from Modern. At the same time, the government decided to initially vaccinate with only one vaccine, out of a desire to partially protect as many residents as possible, and extended the interval between doses to three months, instead of three weeks. To date, 63% of UK residents have received one dose of a vaccine, compared to 45% who have received two doses and are considered fully vaccinated.
This combination – single dose and partial reliance on AstraZeneca vaccines – may, according to scientists, explain the current outbreak, especially due to the virus’ improved infectivity. “The tricky thing about the Delta variant is that people who become infected very quickly develop a high viral load in the throat, and can infect others before they even notice they are infected,” said the head of the World Medical Association, Dr. Frank Montgomery. More than the English “Kent” variant, which itself was more contagious by tens of percent than the original Wuhan strain. Preliminary studies in the UK showed only 33% protection of the new strain after one dose of “Astra-Zanka”, compared to 60% after two, and 88% after two doses Pfizer-Biontech.
Demonstration outside the British Parliament against the continuation of the Corona restrictions, last week / Photo: Associated Press, Alberto Pezzali
This is why the British government is throwing its weight on the vaccines these days again, trying to vaccinate the entire elderly population in two doses, including in stadiums. It places special emphasis on young people, who are considered vectors of the plague. At the same time, one positive phenomenon despite the outbreak is that, according to Attorney General Chris Witty, the link between morbidity and mortality has been “severed” because the adult population is mostly vaccinated twice. This is why there are now about 10 casualties per day, compared to 170 casualties daily in February, when the morbidity rate was similar.
Economically, the decision to postpone the opening of the economy caused an economic shock among business owners, shops and office owners who were expecting this date after restrictions that lasted close to six months. It also led the government to demand isolation for Britons returning from holidays from destinations like Portugal, so in a chain reaction also to a significant disappointment to the southern European countries that had hoped to “boom” tourism from the UK this summer.
Russia: Only 13% of the public is vaccinated with “Sputnik”, the government begins to require vaccines
99% of the new corona cases in Russia are of the Indian variant. The country was the first in the world to approve a vaccine against the corona virus, a vaccine it developed itself called “Sputnik V”, but has experienced a new outbreak in recent weeks. Across Russia, about 17,000 cases were recorded daily in the past week, and the vast majority of them are concentrated in Moscow. Despite the pleas of the authorities, the Russian public is voting on foot, and only 13% of the country’s population has been vaccinated so far.
Against this background, the Moscow municipality, backed by the government, has begun to make vaccines mandatory in many work sectors, threatening those who will not be vaccinated by going on unpaid immediate leave. Among the employees – lecturers, students and employees of universities and teachers and employees of schools and employees of the public sector. Moscow is currently organizing a huge campaign to vaccinate public employees, including in the fields of transportation, banking, trade and more, which will include giving a first dose in mid-July and a second dose about a month later.
In contrast to the situation in the UK, the number of victims in Russia is very high, standing at about 450 people a day in the last week. According to most experts this is an underestimation of the real situation.
Alongside Moscow, four other regions and cities have announced massive measures of encouragement for vaccines, the main ones being the imposition of sanctions on those who refuse to do so, including the city of St. Petersburg. Recent polls suggest that 60% of residents say they do not intend to get vaccinated.
Portugal: Closed ports on Lisbon, 75% of new cases are of the Delta variant
As in other European countries, Portugal also thought that the corona crisis was behind them. The country, which reopened to tourism in June, was preparing to receive the masses of British tourists who make up about a third of summer tourists. But in the meantime, the British are reluctant to come because Portugal has been placed on a list of countries requiring isolation, and the number of corona patients is rising. About 75% of the new cases in the country are also of the Delta variant.
Police stop cars at checkpoint over weekend to contain spread of plague in Alberca, Portugal / Photo: Reuters, Pedro Nunes
Some explain the phenomenon with the lowest full vaccination rate in the country – only 25% of residents received two doses of vaccine (most of them Pfizer-Biontech) and 47% received one dose of vaccine. If this is the case, then the whole EU is in danger of a new outbreak, because on average only 27% of its inhabitants are completely vaccinated against corona, and some are vaccinated with “Astra-Zanka” (the exact rate is unknown).
As a result of the increase in the number of cases in Portugal, the government in Lisbon has decided on further restrictions, in contrast to the trend of opening up and pan-European relief. 2.8 million Lisbon residents were actually quarantined over the weekend, and they were allowed to leave the city only from Monday morning. The state recorded about 1,100 cases a day recently, the highest number since February.
As in the UK, the number of deaths in Portugal is still low – whether due to a higher immunization rate in older age groups or because the outbreak is in its infancy. “The Lisbon region is exceptional in terms of the level of eruption in Portugal,” said a senior government official. “The numbers there are rising very fast and the obvious reason is the Delta variant.”
Other countries: USA with 600,000 dead – Brazil with 500,000
In Germany, too, there is growing concern about the effects of the Indian variant. The head of the Robert Koch Institute called on the government to prepare for a “fourth wave”, and other experts also recommended that Germany “not repeat last summer’s mistake”, so the low number of cases in the country led to the illusion that the country was coping. One of the county heads of state warned the media today that “restrictions may come back in the winter.” Currently, only 7% of the samples in the country are of the Indian mutation, however the rate is doubling every week.
In the US where 600,000 of the virus have died so far, about 10% of the specimens today are of the Indian variant. The Center for Disease Prevention and Control said it is expected to be the dominant strain in the coming months. The US enjoys higher vaccination rates than the UK and EU, so experts Many are looking with concern at what will happen to it in the coming weeks in terms of the spread of the variant. The rate of new cases is currently declining.
Demonstration against President Bolsonero and his government over the death of Corona 500,000 this week / Photo: Associated Press, Marcelo Chello
In Brazil, however, last week the threshold of 500,000 victims of the disease was crossed, and masses took to the streets in protest of President Bolsnero’s policy of downplaying the struggle in Corona. It is not known what the rate of the Indian variant is in the new corona cases in Brazil, which continue to be at a high level with about 350 new cases per million inhabitants per day – three times that of the UK.